Posts Tagged ‘IAEA’

Former CIA Director Jim Woosey: Iran Needs To Be Taken Down a Notch

November 10, 2017
 NOVEMBER 10, 2017 12:39

“The hell with proportionality.”

EX-CIA CHIEF James Woolsey

EX-CIA CHIEF James Woolsey. (photo credit:REUTERS)

The US should destroy virtually all of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps infrastructure as well as Iran’s nuclear facilities to reduce its terrorist and nuclear threats, former CIA director James Woolsey told The Jerusalem Post in an interview.

“The next time the IRGC looks cross-eyed at us… we should turn loose six to 12 MOAB [GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast] bombs on their facilities,” said Woolsey, who was CIA director from 1993 to 1995 during the Clinton administration. He spoke to the Post in the famous Rotunda Room of the Pierre Hotel in Midtown Manhattan.

MOAB bombs, with 18,000 pounds of TNT, are the second-largest conventional weapon in the US arsenal, and the largest ever used, after one was dropped on a suspected Islamic State target in Afghanistan in April.

“Given what a source of terrorism the IRGC is… instead of talking and proportionality – the hell with proportionality. We should destroy virtually everything we can that has to do with the IRGC,” he said.

Woolsey, wearing a gray charcoal coat and a red sweater, said, “I think their seizing of a US ship [in January 2016] was an act of war. We went to war on less than that in the War of 1812,” noting that the US attacked England because it had captured or killed a relatively small number of sailors.

The intensity of Woolsey’s aggressive program contrasted with the heavenly blue sky displaying the Greek gods in paintings on the dome-shaped ceiling above and across the walls below.

The former CIA director did qualify that he “would not use MOABs against civilian facilities, but against military facilities… and we would be wise to take out everything related to their nuclear program.”

Pressed that this approach could drag the US into a highly volatile and unpredictable war with Iran and its proxies, he was unfazed.

He suggested that taking a strong approach might also correct what he saw as a failure of the Reagan administration when it withdrew from Lebanon in response to the 1983 Hezbollah bombing of a US barracks.

Regarding the Iran deal, unlike former CIA director Michael Hayden, who told the Post in October that he was in favor of fixing the deal but against Trump’s decertification of the deal, Woolsey was disappointed that Trump did not scrap the deal entirely.

Though Hayden was a Republican appointee and Woolsey a Democratic one, on the Iran deal, Woolsey outflanked Hayden from the right, saying that “the Iran nuclear deal is worse than worthless.”

Explaining his view, he called the deal’s provisions for nuclear inspections weak regarding military nuclear facilities. He discussed a scenario where “the US or the IAEA got recordings from overflying airplanes or satellites that there is a spot 100 miles north of Tehran which is highly radioactive.”

“You tell the Iranians you are going to inspect the next day. The next morning they say you cannot go, because it is a military facility. You respond that it was not a declared military facility yesterday. They say, ‘We can make it a military facility anytime we want.’” In other words, the Iranians could arbitrarily use the military facility definition to skirt inspections.

What specifically would Woolsey suggest Trump do with the deal?

“I would deal with the deal under American constitutional law. Any really major international agreement must be a treaty. You are committing the entire American people to something. This should have been a treaty. Its executive agreement status should be canceled, and it should be submitted to the Senate. If approved, it goes into effect, and if not, not.”

But for Woolsey, all of the above is treating the symptoms without confronting the heart of the issue: how to weaken Iran’s damaging influence.

To reduce Iran’s power in the long term “and bring about a saner world,” Woolsey suggested “undermining OPEC, ending the cartel” and bringing the price of oil down to a historic low of $30 a barrel.

Essentially, his idea is to “return oil to a free market, which in turn could lead to competition against oil products in the realm of transportation and fuel markets for cars.”

If the US, Israel and other allies “want to damage Iran and keep them from running the Gulf, they need to break Iran’s economy, and getting the price of oil down is the only thing that does that.”

OPEC is an organization of 14 oil-rich countries, mostly developing countries in the Middle East, which work together to control the price of oil in order to spread their economic and geopolitical influence.

Woolsey said that the beauty of the idea is that it is just applying free market principles and is not even Iran-specific; rather, it would have the impact of reducing the power of Iran, as well as other countries such as Russia, to use their strength in oil as a weapon economically and to pay for their foreign adventurism.

He cited energy experts Gal Luft and Anne Korin’s 2009 book Turning Oil Into Salt in arguing that a simple technical fix, which according to General Motors costs only $70 per car, should be added to every new vehicle sold in the US.

“Flex fuel vehicles” would ensure that cars could run on different combinations of gasoline and a range of alcohol fuels such as methanol or ethanol.

Standards ensuring new cars are flex fuel vehicles would open the transportation fuel market to fuels made from energy sources other than oil, and the price of methanol made from natural gas is competitive on a per-mile basis with gasoline.

Woolsey contended that such a standard could virtually cap the price of oil, with consumers choosing the most economic fuel on a per-mile cost basis, creating a shield against OPEC trying to inflate the price of oil.

He said that Israel and China are both “doing a lot with methanol,” and that, working together with the US, they could undermine the basis of Iranian and Russian power.

But this flexible fuel plan for undermining Iran and Russia in the long term would have no obvious timeline on it, making it unattractive to a president like Donald Trump who is eager to show off quick photo ops.

Woolsey, who consulted for the Trump campaign at certain stages, said he would pitch Trump by saying, “You are undermining the country’s enemies, working together with our good friend Israel and our sometimes friend China…

“Every soccer mom, as she drives home from taking kids to play soccer after school, stops to get groceries before dinner. She will save $2-$3 on what she buys for dinner. That means her family gets a better meal, as opposed to if she has to spend that extra $3 on petroleum fuels…. You are for soccer moms, aren’t you Mr. President? Aren’t they called constituents?” he added with a flicker in his eye.

The former CIA director dismissed possible objections from oil-heavy allies such as Saudi Arabia, Canada and Norway, saying they can eventually “all get along” without oil being such a centerpiece of their economy.

This concept of financially attacking adversaries is also a major part of how Woolsey conceives of fighting terrorism.

Commenting on a new book called Harpoon: Inside the Covert War Against Terrorism’s Money Masters by Shurat Hadin director Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and Samuel Katz, he said, “Offense is the key thing, not just to play defense. You need to go after terrorists with litigation. You have to take it to the terrorists and the relevant states who support terrorism. You need to make it financially unattractive to stay in the business,” he said.

Groups like Shurat Hadin, which promote that kind of litigation, “are a big part of that, along with law enforcement.”

Harpoon tells the story of legendary Mossad director Meir Dagan, his top-secret task force and of Darshan-Leitner, who collectively waged parallel cloak-and-dagger and litigation campaigns targeting the finances that funded attacks against Israel.

Woolsey’s quote on the book’s back cover talks about the need “to ‘follow the money.’ This is the story of how the Mossad led this movement and substantially effected investigations of terrorism and similarly important matters and how this influenced the CIA’s later work in the same field.”

He confirmed that the CIA was significantly and positively influenced by the Mossad and Shurat Hadin’s work in this area. He added that he worked well and closely with then-Mossad director Shabtai Shavit, and this despite the fresh Jonathan Pollard controversy which hung over them at the time.

Continuing his grim – or realistic, depending on your perspective – sizing up of various security challenges, the former CIA director was extremely negative about the ongoing Palestinian efforts at reconciliation between the West Bank-based Fatah and Gaza-based Hamas.

He said, “I don’t trust either of those organizations. Israel should take zero risk while incitement in education of Palestinian kids continues.” Whether Israel attempts to negotiate a deal with the Palestinian Authority or with a PA-Hamas national unity government, peace negotiations “will not likely succeed. Some degree of negotiation sometimes should be maintained, in case something unexpected happens, and you want to be able to take advantage of that.”

He noted that such an unexpected event “happened to me in early fall 1989 when I was picked to take over the European negotiation over conventional forces. One week after I took over the job, I was sitting in my apartment in Vienna…. I had misheated something in the microwave and was watching CNN. Then the Berlin Wall goes down. I said, ‘That might have an effect on the talks!’”

Despite that positive example, he returned to his theme that he does not “see any reasonable chance of success, given what the Palestinians teach their kids, the hatred they propagate against Israel.”

Recounting happier times between Israel and the Palestinians, he said, “I remember going over there as CIA director in 1994, seeing some of the joint training between Fatah and the Israelis. It was quite dramatic. And there was also the handshake in the garden,” between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat.

However, Woolsey has an additional off-camera memory from his attendance at the ceremony, reflecting his and other US officials’ distrust of Arafat even in the best of times.

He said that after “the handshake,” Arafat starts down one side of the attendees and “starts grabbing each Arab ambassador and planting a wet kiss on their mouths – not their cheeks.”

Colin Powell, then-head of the US armed forces, was standing next to Woolsey and said, “Damn, Jim, he is going to kiss us.”

To avoid an Arafat kiss on the mouth, Powell saluted and elevated to his straightest height, towering over the short Arafat, who could not reach him. Woolsey then seized the moment by grabbing Arafat’s hand to shake it, and then handing him off to then-US secretary of defense Les Aspin.

Woolsey said he told Powell, “I never thought I would have to shake hands with that son of a bitch – but at least he didn’t kiss us!”

About the Oslo negotiations, which he witnessed up close, he said, “I thought it was worth trying at the time. But Arafat was never serious about it; it was nothing but a ploy for him.”

Woolsey said that the only chance for peace with the Palestinians would be if they changed “what they teach their kids” and got a new leader on the scene with the bold drive for peace of former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.

Reviewing his current successor at the CIA, director Mike Pompeo, he said, “So far, so good.”

Asked about allegations that Pompeo has politicized aspects of intelligence related to Iran, or that his public views as a congressman act to pressure CIA analysts on the issue, Woolsey said that, if that was an issue, “it will go away with time… and people can discount what someone’s views were” before they were director.

Woolsey was critical of Trump for leaking Israeli intelligence to Russia and for his propensity for broadcasting so much of his national security strategy.

He contrasted Trump with former president Ronald Reagan, recalling that Reagan’s administration once discovered that Russia was stealing small electronic US government devices and that Reagan quietly ordered some of them booby-trapped.

“Reagan could look at some reconnaissance satellite feeds of Russian oil and gas pipelines going up in smoke – boom, boom, boom from the boobytraps!” he said with a big smile. “But they did not publicize it. The whole thing was very classified until years later.”

In intelligence you need to “speak softly, carry a big stick and sometimes use the big stick.”


Is Iran Fulfilling the Letter and Spirit of the Nuclear Deal?

November 7, 2017


 NOVEMBER 7, 2017 10:07

After President Trump decertified the Iran Nuclear Deal in October, a new focus has been placed on whether Tehran is in compliance and how that is monitored.

Iran rocket launch

Rocket launch in Iran. (photo credit:FARS)

Over two years have passed since the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA), was signed between Iran and six world powers, but officials continue to disagree over whether Tehran is in compliance with the accord.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared in September that Iran is in “technical compliance” with the nuclear deal. The same month, US General Joseph Dunford expressed his position in a written statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee: “The briefings I have received indicate that Iran is adhering to its JCPOA obligations.” In October, US Defense Secretary James Mattis told a hearing at the House of Representatives that Iran was abiding by its obligations under the deal.

Evidencing the divisions within the American administration, US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster has accused the Islamic Republic of directly contravening the deal. The Iranians are “not just walking up to the line on the agreement,” he asserted, “they’re crossing the line at times.” Likewise, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley recent contended that Trump “has grounds” to declare that Iran is not complying with the JCPOA.

Indeed, Tehran has twice crossed that line, including surpassing the designated limit on heavy water, although some officials and experts have downplayed the violations. Iran’s development of advanced centrifuges is also seen as problematic, as per the accord’s stated restrictions.

Prof. Emily Landau, a Senior Research Fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, shared with The Media Line her belief that Iran is not complying with the deal and expressed particular reservations about the Procurement Working Group (PWG), which was set up to monitor Tehran’s nuclear-related purchases.

“While the PWG has in the past announced that Iran is complying with the deal, [the body] is not under the purview of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and therefore it is not their business to determine whether Iran is in compliance or not.” This, she emphasized, “is often misconstrued in the media.”

In this respect, Landau pointed to German intelligence reports detailing numerous attempts by the Islamic Republic to procure military technology that could be used to produce an atomic weapon.

Under a law called the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA), passed by Congress during the Obama administration without consulting the Republican-controlled Senate, the US president must re-certify Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal every 90 days.

In a controversial move, President Donald Trump chose to decertify the deal in October, but stopped short of scrapping it altogether. This left Congress with 60 days to decide whether to re-impose sanctions on Iran.

Can the IAEA fulfill its mandate?

According to the Institute for Science and International Security, “One of the most serious compliance issues concerns the IAEA’s access to [Iranian] military sites and credible verification of Section T, which prohibits key nuclear weapons development activities.”

“Section T,” Landau explained, “relates to ensuring everything Iran does in the nuclear realm is for peaceful purposes. This would require going beyond inspections of nuclear sites to include military sites. But Iran doesn’t allow inspections of its military sites, leaving the IAEA unable to fulfill its mandate.”

Then-US president Barack Obama repeatedly pledged that the JCPOA would allow for broad oversight of Iran’s nuclear program. And in October, Director General of the IAEA Yukiya Amano said that “Iran is subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime” while stressing that Tehran was implementing all of its commitments under the accord.

But the IAEA itself has demonstrated otherwise. Before the deal, the UN nuclear agency included in its reports details on Iran’s atomic-related activities along with the organization’s ability, or lack thereof, to access suspicious sites.

After the deal, however, the IAEA omitted such data on Iranian compliance.

The latest IAEA report released on August 31 “looks to be a politically motivated document to deflect discussion of problems in the JCPOA, possibly resulting from Iranian intimidation or a misplaced fear about the deal’s survival,” according to the Institute.

Amano has indeed seemingly contradicted himself in the past, conceding that he does not have the tools to carry out rigorous inspections and admitting that the IAEA has proven unable to verify Iran’s compliance with Section T of the nuclear deal.

“There is a gross lack of transparency in IAEA reports since the deal has been implemented,” said Landau. “In fact”, she noted, “the IAEA didn’t even ask Iran for inspections since they expected a refusal.”

By contrast, Dr. Sanam Vakil, an Associate Fellow for the Middle East and North Africa Program at London-based Chatham House, told The Media Line that “the IAEA has repeatedly verified compliance since the deal was signed and they have monitored Iran, ensuring they keep to the deal.

“There is uniform agreement that Iran has complied,” she elaborated. “It would have been brought up in the Joint Commission if there was any tangible evidence should Iran not be in compliance.”

Iran’s Ballistic Missile Threat

Iran’s continued development of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) has generated concern. While the 2015 nuclear deal did not place restrictions on the program, United Nations resolution 2231 requires Tehran to grant full access to IAEA inspectors and discourages Iran from advancing its ballistic missile technology.

Iranian ballistic missile development had been prohibited in UNSC resolution 1929, but Tehran pushed hard to rescind the ban and the Obama administration relented, softening the language in UNSC resolution 2231, which replaced resolution 1929.

The new resolution’s ambiguous language essentially paves the way for Iran to develop its delivery system for nuclear payloads without violating the nuclear deal and without triggering any international response.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has insisted that his country is developing missiles for defensive purposes only. Perhaps to reinforce this image of compliance, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently restricted the range of Iran’s ballistic missiles to 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles), according to an announcement by General Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of the Revolutionary Guard Corps.

This is speculated to be an effort by Iran to differentiate its missile program from that of North Korea, which has escalated its threats against the United States.

Is Iran violating the spirit of the deal?

In addition to possibly violating the deal itself, Iran has also been accused of violating the spirit of the accord, which President Donald Trump defined as the Iranian regime’s support for terrorism and exportation of “violence, bloodshed and chaos across the Middle East”.

While Dunford said he believes Iran is upholding the technical aspects of the deal, he emphasized that “Iran has not changed its malign activity in the region since the JCPOA was signed.”

When Iran test-launched missiles in March 2016, Jacqueline Shire, a former member of the UN Security Council panel responsible for overseeing UN sanctions against Iran said, “The missile launches are a clear violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of [UN] resolution 2231.”

Last year, former UN chief Ban Ki-moon said in a report to the Security Council that Iran’s ballistic missile tests were “not consistent” with the spirit of the nuclear agreement signed with world powers.

And Tillerson also admitted that “perhaps the technical aspects have [been met], but in the broader context the aspiration has not.”

Vakil believes that the “spirit of the deal” is subject to interpretation. “President Obama hoped this would result in something transformational, but I do not believe countries change overnight. Whatever is inside the [JCPOA] document—that is the spirit of the deal.”

She suggested that all parties are perhaps guilty of violating the spirit of the deal and that includes Iran, Europe and the United States.

“It’s important to understand each side’s interpretation,” she concluded.


Former CIA agent says European Union should stop slamming US President Donald Trump and stand with him against Iran’s missile tests and terrorism

November 1, 2017
 NOVEMBER 1, 2017 12:16


Tehran has “gobsmacked” the West in leveraging the agreement to its advantage to increase its regional meddling, Mary Beth Long said.

Missiles and a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, Iran

Missiles and a portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran. (photo credit:NAZANIN TABATABAEE YAZDI/ TIMA VIA REUTERS)

Former CIA operative and senior defense official Mary Beth Long said the European Union should stop slamming US President Donald Trump and stand with him against Iran’s missile tests and terrorism, if only to avoid seeing the US leader act out “rashly.”

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Long said of Trump’s decertification and public campaign against Iran, that she thought “the president is doing a great thing, leaving everyone guessing,” as to what his ultimate policy goal will be.

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She hoped Trump would succeed at “scaring the bejesus out of the Europeans” into joining his pressure-Tehran strategy.

Long, a 12-year CIA field operative, said the guessing game as to whether Trump will ultimately scrap the deal or weigh military action “gives him time to go to the Europeans… to address the things that were left out [of the Iran nuclear deal] including missile testing, pushing the IAEA for more aggressive inspections of military sites and other bad behavior.”

Long, who is currently affiliated with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and involved in under-the-radar international consultations in alignment with the administration’s goals, said Trump has also left “Iran in a spin about what he will do next.”

“Nobody believes in ‘snap-back sanctions,’” she said, “so we can get our own unilateral ducks in order and use the threat of new or increased sanctions against the Europeans” to get their cooperation in addressing the deal’s gaps.

Long, combining a hard-nosed worldview with a refreshingly down-to-earth style, said she thought the “Iranians smoked us in the negotiations” in the pre-deal era.

“It was a brilliant piece of negotiating by them.” She also believes that post-deal, Tehran has “gobsmacked” the West in leveraging the agreement to its advantage to increase its regional meddling.

Long said that Iran “closed every door and window” to prevent bringing direct pressure on them in the deal on the issues of ballistic-missile testing and terrorism.

Also, she felt Iran has convinced the international community that any violation of the deal’s technicalities or spirit “just need to be quickly settled” by anticipating the West’s every move.

Recounting a recent discussion she had with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Long said she was “really surprised to hear him call violations of the limits on heavy water a mere overproduction.” Heavy water is limited under the deal because it can help produce nuclear reactions.

Confronting Zarif about a brief period when Iran produced more heavy water than it was supposed to, she told him that Iran had violated the deal – even acknowledging that the violation was minor and that Iran corrected the violation by selling the excess to Russia.

Zarif completely deflected this argument by saying Iran “did not have a violation.

But we can produce up to a certain point, and beyond that we just need to find someone to sell to.”

Long said that attitude, which the international community has tolerated for the two years since the deal was made, makes it clear that without Trump shaking things up, “we would eventually get an Iran with nuclear weapons that doesn’t even believe it has to be responsible.”

Long’s insights into Iran and the Middle East come not just from her years working in the higher echelons of government, but also from extensive field experience in which she delved into the psyche of foreign cultures.

Regarding Syria, she said the US had “given up a significant portion of our leverage.”

Long warned that there is a vacuum in Syria with the fall of ISIS, adding, “My fear is having not made an arrangement with the Russians, the Iranians and their ilk. The US doesn’t have the resources and manpower to move as quickly as it needs to in order to move to protect our allies.”

If those concerns are justified, then the US would be unable to save “those we supplied on the ground and to provide them secure spaces to continue to exist free from Assad, Russia and Iran dividing up all of the vacant or weak territory,” she stated.

Further, she said some US-supported groups like the Kurds are already taking a beating.

“Everyone knew that the Iraqi Army and the Shi’a militias would move on [Kurdish control of] Kirkuk. But we grossly underestimated how quickly and how successful they would be.”

Long said the US “saw the writing on the wall, but there was little US intelligence or air support. The US dropped the ball” and once again “abandoned the Kurds.”

The slow adjustment of the US to events in Syria parallels an issue Long helped then-US defense secretary Bob Gates solve in late 2006.

While still a top official in the Defense Department, Long walked with Gates “down rows and rows of Humvees [armored personnel carriers] destroyed by mines as, far as the eye could see, that the US Third Army had in Kuwait.”

Though the army seemed to find it impossible to “get mine-resistant vehicles” that it had to the front, Long found that solving the issue was a matter of identifying a series of large-bureaucracy logistics issues to cut through.

Without identifying the right diagnosis and working the system, the problem could have continued, even as a solution – mine-resistant vehicles – existed.

Long played down Trump’s leak of Israeli intelligence to Russia in May. She said, “I am not excusing it… it was a mistake, [but] this president just did not have experience as an intelligence consumer or in protocols.”

In other words, instead of seeing the leak as proof of some kind of collusion with Russia, she said Trump “was drinking from the fire hose with the amount of information he was receiving and likely did not have clear in his mind what he even did – even as he did it.”

Long dismissed some former Mossad chiefs who called for cutting back intelligence sharing. But she agreed with other top Israeli officials who saw the bigger picture and said US-Israeli intelligence sharing was a necessity, despite the leak.

Long also explained a CIA spy’s perspective on why intelligence gathering by humans still cannot be replaced by ever-expanding cyber spying capabilities.

“Maybe I am biased because I was a HUMINT [human intelligence] collector in my day… But algorithms aren’t able to capture nuances and information tidbits that never make it into an intelligence report. At the end of the day, spying is about people.”

“So cyber can never replace human intuition…

the feel of the street when it does not sound the same. And I know that, but I do not know why… Or that an agent would never pass trustworthy information on to another person because long ago their sons had a fight and one of them ended up crippled,” she said.

Long concluded, “Technology is a necessity and a tool, but it is just that, a tool…

The world still comes down to individuals making decisions.”

She recounted how “the most dangerous thing I had ever done” was to personally “terminate” an agent she had recruited in a South American country where the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement was trying to overthrow the government in favor of a socialist regime.

The agent, “was suspected of being a dual agent,” Long said.

A dual agent, unlike a double agent, meant that he was not necessarily double-crossing the CIA, but that he was potentially passing on real intelligence to both the CIA and an adversary.

“As the only woman in the office and with a curfew in place, I would go out in the evenings with our more senior folk under sleazy local cover, as a prostitute or a mistress,” armed and with counter-surveillance nearby, she recalled.

“He saw the counter-surveillance, as I wanted him to know that I was not by myself… He also did an accidental discharge of his weapon when he pounded his fist on the car… He was as surprised as I was,” Long said.

The experience with the dual agent taught her “a lot about how politics, intelligence and military affairs work. You think that people who have chosen a side… stick with it. But most people are not sure what side they are supposed to be on. And some are on both. The idea that things are as black and white and clear, especially in the Middle East” is a misconception, she said.

Long said that experiences in the field taught her to love the “many different shades” of Middle Eastern culture and to anticipate “how the other side is going to view” things – a key lesson in handling Iran and the nuclear issue.


Oil-rich Saudi Arabia plans dramatic shift to nuclear power

November 1, 2017

Kingdom’s atomic energy chief says country will begin extracting uranium domestically, seeks as many as 17 reactors ‘for peaceful purposes’

Illustrative photo of the Riyadh skyline in Saudi Arabia. (Screen capture/YouTube)

Illustrative photo of the Riyadh skyline in Saudi Arabia. (Screen capture/YouTube)

Saudi Arabia is planning to become “self-sufficient” in producing nuclear fuel and intends to begin extracting uranium domestically, the head of the country’s nuclear agency said at a conference organized by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency.

“Regarding the production of uranium in the kingdom, this is a program which is our first step towards self-sufficiency in producing nuclear fuel,” Hashim bin Abdullah Yamani, head of the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, said Monday at the Abu Dhabi conference on nuclear power, Reuters reported.

Officials in the famously oil-rich kingdom say nuclear power could fuel an economic boon. “We utilize the uranium ore that has been proven to be economically efficient,” Yamani said.

KACARE believes there are about 60,000 tons of uranium ore that can be extracted on Saudi soil.

Yamani added that the kingdom would establish a regulatory agency and pass the necessary legislative framework for a nuclear program within roughly a year.

According to Reuters, Saudi Arabia is now looking to major nuclear powers, including the US, Russia, and China, to build its first two reactors. Preliminary plans suggest the Saudis may be looking to build as many as 17 reactors in all.

The comments raised eyebrows at the conference, as they suggested a Saudi push to increase its domestic nuclear development despite a long-running standoff with Iran over the latter’s nuclear ambitions.

There were no indications in Yamani’s comments that Riyadh had plans to begin enriching the uranium on Saudi soil, a key step that could give the kingdom the infrastructure for a military nuclear program.

The nuclear energy program, Yamani insisted, would be solely “for peaceful purposes.”

Saudi Arabia follows the neighboring United Arab Emirates, which is slated to open its own nuclear power reactor in 2018, and which has committed not to enrich uranium domestically.


Iran skips UN conference on nuclear energy in Abu Dhabi

October 31, 2017

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In this photo released by the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani, right, speaks with Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Yukiya Amano, left, during their meeting, in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017. An unidentified interpreter sits at center. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)


ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Oct 30, 2017, 1:26 PM ET

Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers may hang in the balance, but you wouldn’t know it at the United Nations conference on atomic energy held Monday in the United Arab Emirates.

Iran decided to skip the Abu Dhabi conference, leaving its seats empty as Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, avoided speaking about the nuclear deal at all in his address at the venue.

Officials at the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press. The semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted an anonymous source at the organization late Monday saying the delegation could not attend as the UAE did not grant them visas.?

At a later news conference, Amano himself declined to discuss it.

“This conference is open to all the countries and we welcome the participation of all the countries,” Amano said. “But of course it depends on each country whether to attend or not. I do not comment on Iran’s participation. It is (up to) Iran to decide.”

During a visit to Iran the day before, Amano told reporters that Tehran was still honoring the 2015 nuclear accord. President Donald Trump has declined to re-certify the 2015 nuclear deal, sending it to Congress to address.

Both the UAE and neighboring Saudi Arabia remain highly suspicious of the nuclear deal, which saw economic sanctions on Iran lifted in exchange for it limiting its enrichment of uranium. The two Gulf Arab countries say that new money flowing into Iran has aided its ability to back Shiite militias in Iraq and support embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Also sharing that suspicion is Israel, which sent a delegation to the nuclear conference. The UAE, like many Arab countries, does not have diplomatic ties with Israel and remains opposed to its occupation of lands Palestinians want for a future state.

Conference organizers asked journalists not to film the Israeli delegation.

Israeli officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Their presence also nearly created a unique diplomatic conundrum, as conference organizers had seated them next to Iran.

Trump’s refusal this month to re-certify the agreement has sparked a new war of words between Iran and the United States, fueling growing mistrust and a sense of nationalism among Iranians. The European Union, Britain and other parties to the deal have all encouraged Trump to keep the accord in place.

Amano reiterated that Iran remains in compliance with the deal when pressed by reporters in Abu Dhabi on Monday. However, he demurred when asked to discuss what actions Trump could take in the future.

“We do not speculate,” Amano said. “So I do not have any comments on the future action of the president of the United States.”


Associated Press writer Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.?


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Iran’s nuclear chief says weapons-grade uranium only 4 days away — Iran’s military sites will remain off-limits to nuclear inspectors

October 30, 2017

Ali Akbar Salehi says his country can quickly return to producing 20% enriched material if nuke deal is abandoned

Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi talks at a conference on international cooperation for enhancing nuclear safety, security, safeguards and non-profileration, at the Lincei Academy, in Rome, October 10, 2017. (AP/Gregorio Borgia)

Head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi talks at a conference on international cooperation for enhancing nuclear safety, security, safeguards and non-profileration, at the Lincei Academy, in Rome, October 10, 2017. (AP/Gregorio Borgia)

Iran’s nuclear program chief said Sunday that his country can begin producing weapons-grade nuclear material in just four days if the nuclear deal with foreign powers falls through, and stressed that international inspectors will not be given access to closed Iranian military sites.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, said that while Tehran prefers to keep the landmark nuclear agreement intact the Fordo site can quickly begin ramping up uranium enrichment.

“We can produce 20% (enriched uranium) at Fordo in 4 days but we don’t want the nuclear deal to collapse,” Salehi told reporters, according to an English translation of his comments provided by the semi-official Fars news agency. He spoke to media after a joint press conference with the visiting director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, in Tehran.

Amano also met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. At the press conference he said that Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear deal.

Salehi also maintained that Iran’s military sites will remain off-limits to nuclear inspectors.

“We have spoken about the section T and our positions have been clearly declared,” he said, referring to the clause in the agreement that deals with inspections at Iranian facilities. “The section T does not include any peculiar inspections. When the section T was being compiled, these considerations were taken into account but unfortunately, the other side is after its own interpretations.”

A satellite image of Iran's Fordo uranium enrichment facility (photo credit: AP/DigitalGlobe)

A satellite image of Iran’s Fordo uranium enrichment facility. (AP/DigitalGlobe)

In July US officials said the Trump administration was pushing for inspections of suspicious Iranian military sites in a bid to test the strength of the nuclear deal that Tehran struck in July 2015 with world powers.

The inspections are one element of what is designed to be a more aggressive approach to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. While the Trump administration seeks to police the existing deal more strictly, it is also working to fix what US President Donald Trump’s aides have called “serious flaws” in the landmark deal that — if not resolved quickly — will likely lead Trump to pull out.

Earlier this month US President Donald Trump decided to not recertify the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, saying the agreement had failed to curb Iran’s missile program and destabilizing activities in the Middle East.

The deal was signed by Iran and five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) plus Germany — establishing controls to prevent Tehran from developing an atomic bomb before the deal’s expiration in 2025.

While Trump — and Israeli officials — have been very critical of the deal, the other partners have all indicated that they intend to uphold the pact.

Yukiya Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), pictured prior to a session of the IAEA Board of Governors in Vienna,  November 17, 2016. (AFP/APA/ROLAND SCHLAGER)

An IAEA report released last month had also affirmed Iran’s compliance with the program, which froze some of Tehran’s nuclear activities.

In August Salehi made a similar threat about Iran’s ability to restart uranium production. According to Israeli media reports, Iran needs about 240 kg (529 lb) of 20% enriched uranium to produce one atom bomb. IAEA reports in 2012, at a time when the nuclear deal was still being negotiated, found that Iran produced about 30kg (75 lb) of 20% enriched uranium during a period of three months.

Under the terms of the deal Iran agreed to water down any uranium it possessed to below 5% purity.

Continued Support for The Iran Nuclear Deal Puts America at Risk

October 27, 2017
John Bolton: Mr. President, don't put America at risk with flawed Iran deal
© Getty Images

President Trump will address U.S. policy toward Iran on Thursday, doubtless focusing on his decision regarding Barack Obama’s badly flawed nuclear deal. Key officials are now briefing Congress, the press and foreign governments about the speech, cautioning that the final product is, in fact, not yet final. The preponderant media speculation is that Trump’s senior advisers are positioning him to make a serious mistake, based on their flawed advice. Wishful thinking about Iran’s mullahs, near-religious faith in the power of pieces of paper, and a retreat from executive authority are hallmarks of the impending crash.

In short, Obama’s Iran nuclear deal is poised to become the Trump-Obama deal. The media report that the president will not withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but instead, under the misbegotten Corker-Cardin legislation, will “decertify” that it is in America’s national interest. Congress may then reimpose sanctions, or try somehow to “fix” the deal. Curiously, most of the suggested “fixes” involve repairing Corker-Cardin rather than the JCPOA directly.

Sure, give Congress the lead on Iran. What could go wrong? Whatever the problem with Iran, Congress is not the answer. No president should surrender what the Constitution vests uniquely in him: dominant power to set America’s foreign policy. In the iconic Federalist Number 70, Alexander Hamilton wrote insightfully that “decision, activity, secrecy and dispatch” characterize unitary executive power, and most certainly not the legislative branch. President Trump risks not only forfeiting his leading national-security role, but paralysis, or worse, in the House and Senate.If Congress really wants to “fix” Corker-Cardin, the best fix is total repeal. The substantive arguments for decertifying but not withdrawing are truly Jesuitical, teasing out imagined benefits from adhering to a deal Iran already treats with contempt. Some argue we should try provoking Iran to exit first, because our withdrawal would harm America’s image. This is ludicrous. The United States must act in its own self-interest, not wait around hoping Iran does us a favor. It won’t. Why should Tehran leave (or even modify) a deal advantageous beyond its wildest imagination?

This “shame” prediction was made against Washington’s 2001 unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and proved utterly false. America’s decision to abrogate the hallowed “cornerstone of international strategic stability” produced nothing like the storm of opprobrium Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty adherents predicted. No nuclear arms race followed. Instead, withdrawal left the United States far better positioned to defend itself against exactly the threats Iran and others now pose.

Some say that trashing the deal will spur Iran to accelerate its nuclear-weapons program to rush across the finish line. Of course, before the JCPOA, Iran was already party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which barred it from seeking or possessing nuclear weapons, but which it systematically violated. JCPOA advocates are therefore arguing that although one piece of paper (a multilateral treaty, no less) failed to stop Iran’s nuclear quest, the JCPOA, a second piece of paper, will do the trick, with catastrophic consequences if we withdraw. Ironically, these same acolytes almost invariably concede the JCPOA is badly flawed and needs substantial amendment. So they actually believe a third piece of paper is required to halt Iran. Two are not enough. This argument flunks the smile test: Burying Iran in paper will not stop its nuclear program.

Iran’s ability to “rush” to have nuclear weapons existed before the deal, exists now, and would exist if America withdrew. The director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said recently it would take a mere five days for Iran to resume its pre-deal level of uranium enrichment. This rare case of regime honesty demonstrates how trivial and easily reversible Iran’s JCPOA concessions were. What alone deters an Iranian “rush” is the threat of preemptive U.S. or Israeli military strikes, not pieces of paper.

Nor will U.S. withdrawal eliminate valuable international verification procedures under the JCPOA. In fact, these measures are worse than useless for nonproliferation purposes, although they serve Iran well. By affording the appearance of effective verification, they camouflage Iran’s active, multiple violations of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231: on uranium-enrichment levels, advanced-centrifuge research, heavy-water production and missile programs. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently admitted explicitly it has no visibility whatever into weapons and ballistic-missile work underway on Iran’s military bases.

It is simple common sense that Iran would not conduct easily discoverable weapons-related work at already-known nuclear sites like Natanz and Esfahan. Warhead design and the like are far more likely at military sites like Parchin where the IAEA has never had adequate access. No wonder the IAEA is now barred from Parchin.

It is not just weapons-related work the JCPOA fails to uncover. Substantial uranium-enrichment production and research are also far more likely at undeclared sites inside Iran or elsewhere, like North Korea. This is the lesson Tehran learned after Israel destroyed the nuclear reactor under construction by North Koreans in Syria in 2007.

Nor will abrogating the deal somehow induce Iran to become more threatening in the Middle East or in supporting global terrorism than it already is with the JCPOA in force. Consider Tehran’s belligerent behavior in the Persian Gulf, its nearly successful effort to create an arc of control from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon, threatening Israel, Jordan and the Arabian Peninsula, and its continued role as the world’s central banker of international terrorism. The real issue is how much worse Iran’s behavior will be once it gets deliverable nuclear weapons.

I have previously argued that only U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA can adequately protect America from the Iranian nuclear threat. Casuistry deployed to persuade President Trump to stay in the deal may succeed this Thursday, but it does so only at grave peril to our country. This is no time to let our guard down.

John R. Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and as undersecretary for arms control and international security affairs at the U.S. Department of State under President George W. Bush.


World leaders react to Donald Trump’s speech on Iran

October 14, 2017
October 13, 2017
Al Jazeera
A man walks past an anti-US mural in Iran's capital, Tehran [Nazanin Tabatabaee Yazdi/TIMA via Reuters]
A man walks past an anti-US mural in Iran’s capital, Tehran [Nazanin Tabatabaee Yazdi/TIMA via Reuters]

World leaders were quick to react to US President Donald Trump’s decision to “decertify” an international deal on Iran’s nuclear programme.

The 2015 deal, reached between Iran and the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the European Union (EU), saw Tehran curtailing its nuclear programme in exchange for the easing of crippling economic sanctions.

In a White House address on Friday, Trump struck a blow against the accord in defiance of other world powers, and despite the UN nuclear watchdog’s repeated confirmations that Iran was complying with its obligations under 2015’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Trump’s move does not amount to a withdrawal from the deal, but instead pushes action to US Congress, which could reimpose sanctions that were lifted under the pact.

He threatened, however, that if a deal could not be reached with Congress or US allies, he would walk away from the accord.

Trump’s speech put him at odds with US allies in Europe, as well as Iran and Russia, with leaders saying they would stick by the landmark pact.

“We encourage the US Administration and Congress to consider the implications to the security of the US and its allies before taking any steps that might undermine the JCPOA, such as re-imposing sanctions on Iran lifted under the agreement,” French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May said in a joint statement.

In Brussels, Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chiefsaid the Iran deal is an international agreement and “it is not up to any single country to terminate it”.

She added: “It is not a bilateral agreement, it does not belong to any single country … The president of the United States has many powers, but not this one.”

In a statement after Trump’s speech, Russia’s foreign ministry said there was no place in international diplomacy for “threatening” and “aggressive” rhetoric, adding that such methods were doomed to fail.

“It is a hangover from the past, which does not correspond to modern norms of civilised dealings between countries,” the statement said.

“We viewed with regret the decision of the U.S. President not to confirm to Congress that Iran is fulfilling in good faith” the nuclear deal, it added.

The ministry said Trump’s decision to de-certify the deal would not have a direct impact on implementation of the agreement but that it ran counter to its spirit.

OPINION: What Trump’s decision on Iran will mean for the world

For his part, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hit back at Trump’s new strategy on Iran.

“What was heard today was nothing but the repetition of baseless accusations and swear words that they have repeated for years,” Rouhani said in a televised address from Tehran.

“The Iranian nation does not expect anything else from you,” he added.

Rouhani said that despite the US president’s aggressive rhetoric, Tehran remained committed to the nuclear agreement for the time being.

“We respect the JCPOA … so long as it remains in keeping with our national rights and interests,” he said.

‘Most robust nuclear verification regime’

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “very much hopes” the nuclear deal with Iran can be salvaged, his spokesman said.

Stephane Dujarric said Guterres considers the deal to be a “very important breakthrough to consolidate nuclear non-proliferation and advance global peace and security”.

“The secretary-general very much hopes that it will remain in place,” Dujarric added.

Also reacting to Trump’s speech, Yukiya Amano, chief of the UN atomic watchdog, reiterated that Iran was under the world’s “most robust nuclear verification regime”.

“The nuclear-related commitments undertaken by Iran under the JCPOA are being implemented,” said Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In Washington, DC, Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, called Trump’s move “a grave mistake” that threatens the country’s security and credibility.

Pelosi said Trump ignored “the overwhelming consensus of nuclear scientists, national security experts, generals and his own cabinet, including, reportedly, his secretary of defense and secretary of state”.

Defence Secretary Jim Mattis told a Senate committee last week that it is in the US’ national security interests to stay a part of the international accord.

Pelosi said Washington’s allies in Europe have no intention of leaving the seven-nation pact, adding that if Trump’s judgment leads to an unraveling of the deal, it will be the US that’s isolated, not Iran.

Israel, Saudi Arabia praise Trump

Trump, however, got support from Israel and Saudi Arabia.

“President Trump has just created an opportunity to fix this bad deal, to roll back Iran’s aggression and to confront its criminal support of terrorism,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video statement.

Saudi Arabia also welcomed what it called Trump’s “decisive strategy” towards Iran and alleged lifting sanctions had allowed Tehran to develop its ballistic missile programme, step up its support for groups including Hezbollah and Houthi rebels in Yemen, and attack global shipping lanes.

The Riyadh government said in a statement it had supported the nuclear agreement, “but Iran took advantage of the economic gain from raising sanctions and used it to continue destabilising the region”.

It said it would continue to work with allies to achieve the goals announced by Trump and end Iran’s “hostile activities”.


What you need to know about Trump and the Iran deal

October 12, 2017

By Al Jazeera

US President Donald Trump is expected to refuse to certify Iran’s compliance with the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, an agreement between world powers and Tehran aimed at limiting the latter’s nuclear programme to non-military purposes.

The move comes despite thinly-veiled criticisms from US allies in Europe who have developed burgeoning commercial and political ties with Iran.


Why do Trump’s threats on the Iran nuclear deal matter?

Trump’s withdrawal of endorsement means US lawmakers can vote to introduce new sanctions against Iran, which Iranian leaders say could lead to their country’s partial or complete withdrawal from the deal.

Al Jazeera answers some of the most important questions regarding the Iran deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and Trump’s expected decision.

What is JCPOA?

Often abbreviated to “the Iran deal” or “Iran nuclear deal”, JCPOA is an agreement between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany and the EU to ensure its nuclear programme is limited to civilian use.

The deal, which was signed in October 2015 and implemented at the start of 2016, followed years of negotiation between the US, represented by then-Secretary of State John Kerry, and Iran, represented by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.


Trump threats over nuclear deal muffle Iran reformists

The agreement requires Iran to completely eliminate stockpiles of medium-enriched uranium and drastically reduce reserves of low-enriched uranium.

The material in its high-enriched form is required to produce nuclear weapons. Iran denies that it has ever had the aim of producing a nuclear weapon.

Iran also agreed to reduce the number of centrifuges capable of enriching uranium.

In return, UN sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programme were lifted, as were some EU sanctions.

The US ended some secondary sanctions against non-US businesses and individuals who engaged in commercial activity with Iran.


Rouhani: World will condemn US if it quits nuclear deal

Frozen Iranian assets, valued at over $100bn, were also released back to Tehran.

Who ensures Iran abides by its side of the deal?

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly confirmed Iran’s compliance with the deal.

Why does Trump need to certify Iran’s compliance with JCPOA?

The Obama administration faced heavy criticism from Republicans, as well as from some members of his own Democratic Party for signing up to the deal, which they saw as excessively compromising.

Opponents of the then-US president passed legislation requiring US presidents to certify Iran’s compliance with the deal every 90 days.

The Trump administration declared that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal in May and July, but threatened more sanctions for breaching the “spirit’ of the agreement.

The deadline for certification is October 15, but it is believed that Trump will announce his decision sooner.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said this week that the president “has reached a decision on an overall Iran strategy”.

Trump has repeatedly called the agreement the “worst deal ever” and had promised to tear it up even before he was elected.

What will happen if Trump refuses to certify the Iran nuclear deal? 

Trump has called the Iran deal ‘the worst deal ever’ [Michael Conroy/AP Photo]

If Trump refuses to certify, the issue goes to Congress.

Lawmakers will have a non-binding 60 day period to debate the deal.

Congress can decide to introduce or restore sanctions.

It remains to be seen whether that will actually happen as several prominent Republicans are undecided on the issue or do not want the deal to unravel.

Would Trump be violating the nuclear deal?

Not certifying the deal would not be a violation of JCPOA in itself, however, it does pave the way for Congress to introduce new sanctions, which could be in breach of US commitments under the agreement.

The onus on breaching the deal would, therefore, be with US lawmakers.

Would it be easy to introduce new sanctions?

While opposition to the Iran deal as it stands is strong, any attempt to scrap it would face resistance from members of the minority Democratic Party, as well as some Republicans, such as Senator Lindsay Graham, who has called on Trump to renegotiate parts of the agreement instead of scrapping it entirely.

How has Iran reacted?

Foreign Minister Zarif has threatened to partially or fully withdraw from the deal in the event of new US sanctions on Tehran.

Analysts say hardliners in Iran will be empowered by any US violation of the deal and would use it as an opportunity to block any further rapprochement with Washington.

“If anything Iran has gone out of its way to show it is compliant with the nuclear deal but what it will do is put pressure on the European countries to stand up for the deal for them to keep up with their part of the bargain,” Durham University’s Professor Anoush Ehteshami told Al Jazeera.

Iran reduced its enriched Uranium stockpiles and centrifuges as part of the deal [Mehr News Agency/AP Photo]

How have US allies reacted?

European leaders have taken the unusual step of publicly calling on the US to abide by the deal and have affirmed that Iran is upholding its commitments under JCPOA.

On Friday, the British embassy in Washington, DC took the unusual step of posting an animation on Twitter showing how Iran was complying with the deal.

French President Emmanuel Macron has told the US that not honouring its side of the deal could push Iran into producing a nuclear weapon in the future.

European states have enjoyed burgeoning trade ties with Iran since the deal came into force and experts say US breaches of the deal would damage its reputation as a reliable partner.

“Europe and the rest of the world would perceive the US as an international troublemaker and unreliable partner,” Arshin Adib-Moghaddam of the School of African and Oriental Studies said.



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Explaining the Iran nuclear deal 01:21

Trump poised to walk away from Iran nuclear deal

October 11, 2017

President unlikely to certify pact this week, triggering complex battle in Congress and Europe over ultimate fate of agreement

By  in Washington and  in London
The Guardian

Wednesday 11 October 2017 

 Image result for iranian flag flying, photos

If Donald Trump decides this week to withdraw his endorsement of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, its fate and the potential for a major conflict will be determined by a complex battle in Congress.

No one is able to predict whether that struggle will lead to a reimposition of US sanctions, the collapse of the agreement and the rapid scaling-up of Iran’s nuclear programme. It could result in a compromise that leaves the deal alive but opens the way for a more combative policy towards Tehran on other fronts.

“We are on a tightrope. We don’t know what will happen,” a western diplomat said.

Read the rest:


Trump is expected to refuse to recertify the Iran nuclear deal

By Tracy Wilkinson
The Los Angeles Times

Any day now, President Trump is expected to take steps that have potential to unravel one of the most important nuclear anti-proliferation deals of the century.

Trump has indicated he will declare that the agreement the Obama administration and five other world powers reached with Iran in 2015 to suspend its nuclear program is not sufficiently strong to benefit “U.S. national security interests.” Iran should no longer be seen as in compliance with the accord, Trump is expected to say.

His judgment is shared by a number of conservative organizations and members of Congress. Many others, including several of his top Cabinet officials, most European diplomats and the United Nations, disagree with him and say the deal is working.

What impact would refusal to certify have?

Refusing to certify is not the same as withdrawing completely from the deal. It would not automatically reimpose economic sanctions on Iran. That is because the requirement to certify Iran’s compliance with the deal every 90 days is written into U.S. law and is not part of the international agreement.

With two tracks, Trump can do both: continue to attack the deal without officially voiding it.

The refusal to certify kicks the issue to Congress, opening a 60-day period for debate. The official deadline for certification is Oct. 15, although some White House sources have suggested Trump would act before that. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump had “reached a decision on an overall Iran strategy” but declined to say when the announcement would come.

What would Congress do?

When the deal was being negotiated, a majority in Congress opposed it. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an unprecedented appearance before a joint meeting of Congress to denounce the deal and what he described as the dangers posed by Iran, going around the White House to oppose one of President Obama’s top priorities.

Nonetheless, Congress allowed the deal to take effect, approving a compromise that included the certification requirement.

Today, opinion is more divided. Even among some lawmakers who have criticized the deal in the past, such as Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, there is a feeling that sticking with it, however flawed, is far better than blowing it up. The deal at least sustains control over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, they argue, at a time when tensions with nuclear-armed North Korea are at a fever pitch.

Backers of the deal worry that hard-line opponents could use the 60-day period to “snap back” into place nuclear-deal economic sanctions on Iran that were removed as part of the agreement.

Others, however, say that refusal to certify (often incorrectly described as “decertification”) would be the first step in strengthening the agreement and putting greater controls on Tehran.

Image may contain: one or more people and stripes

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

What did the Iran deal do?

In exchange for getting rid of most of its centrifuges, disabling its plutonium-producing heavy water reactor at Arak and agreeing to regular inspections, Iran received considerable sanctions relief: readmittance to the international banking system, permission to trade on the oil market and the unfreezing of billions of dollars in overseas assets.

How do we know the deal is working?

We don’t, with total certainty.

However, the U.N. watchdog charged with monitoring Iran, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has repeatedly said the country is complying with the technical aspects of the deal. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano reiterated that assessment again this week.

Most parties to the deal — Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany, as well as the European Union — accept that judgment.

Why does the Trump administration say Iran is in violation?

Regardless of its technical compliance with the terms of the agreement, few would disagree that Iran is guilty of other behavior in the region that the U.S. labels as destabilizing, including the testing of ballistic missiles and support for militant groups in several countries.

Those sorts of acts, which don’t involve nuclear development, were not covered by the agreement. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has supported sticking with the deal, has said he believes Tehran violates its “spirit” by continuing to promote destabilizing actions in the region.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., goes further than Tillerson. She has said she believes Iran has continued to secretly move ahead with efforts to develop nuclear capability. She contends that numerous Iranian military sites are hidden from U.N. inspections.

Some Obama-era officials had hoped the nuclear deal would give a boost to so-called pragmatists in Tehran over more hard-line factions. President Hassan Rouhani, who supported the agreement, won easy reelection in May.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing

Hassan Rouhani — AP photo

But the rhetoric from the Trump administration seems to have unified Iran’s factions, and there has been no discernible decrease in Iranian support for armed militants in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere.

What do U.S. allies say?

European diplomats in Washington and here at the United Nations in New York have been lobbying the administration vigorously to try to save the agreement, warning that U.S. credibility and trustworthiness are also at stake.

Going back on the deal with Iran would discourage other countries, like North Korea, from trusting any agreement the U.S. might negotiate, some allies warn.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for British Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement that she had called Trump and “reaffirmed the UK’s strong commitment to the deal alongside our European partners, saying it was vitally important for regional security.”

How would Iran react if the U.S. reimposed sanctions?

Reinstating sanctions, even if the U.S. could to do so without its European, Russian and Chinese partners, would anger Iran and perhaps cause Tehran to quit the deal.

“Over the long term, I think the Trump administration would not mind if it could goad Iran into violating terms of the deal,” Jon Wolfsthal, a senior nonproliferation official in the Obama administration, said in a recent forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank.

The U.S. would likely lose much of its leverage with Iran if it snaps the sanctions back in place.

Doing so also might be an unnecessary provocation. Washington can impose sanctions on Iran without using those associated with the nuclear program. For example, in July, Congress approved new economic sanctions on Iran and North Korea (and on Russia, which made Trump reluctant to sign the bill).

“I’m very concerned they will let it die by a thousand cuts,” Wolfsthal said.

© KHAMENEI.IR/AFP/File | Iran will not give in to US “bullying” as Washington attempts to undermine Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers, the Islamic republic’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said


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Explaining the Iran nuclear deal 01:21