Posts Tagged ‘IAEA’

Trump Digs In for a Long, Cold War With Iran

November 4, 2018

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Sanctions aim to ‘force’ a regime determined to resist

Iran has vowed to resist punishing economic sanctions planned by the U.S. to compel Tehran to pull back from its Mideast posture. Above, the grand bazaar in Tehran.
Iran has vowed to resist punishing economic sanctions planned by the U.S. to compel Tehran to pull back from its Mideast posture. Above, the grand bazaar in Tehran. Photo: atta kenare/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

President Trump has put Iran on notice that the punishing sanctions he plans to impose on Monday are just the opening salvo of an ambitious strategy to compel Tehran to pull back from its assertive posture in the Middle East or risk collapse.

“Our objective is to force the regime into a clear choice: either abandon its destructive behavior or continue down the path toward economic disaster,” Mr. Trump said in a statement Friday night.

The guiding assumption behind the administration’s policy is that Iran is economically weak, has little interest in a military confrontation with the U.S.—and that Washington can force changes in decadeslong Iranian behavior that will reconfigure the Middle East, officials and experts say.

But senior Iranian officials insist Tehran will neither retrench nor negotiate. Former U.S. officials with long experience say Tehran has cards to play, including trying to ride out the sanctions in the hope that Mr. Trump is a one-term president and taking advantage of the continued turmoil in the region to stir up fresh challenges for the U.S. and its allies.

“Iran is gaining ground in the region, and I don’t see these sanctions as reversing that,” said Jeffrey Feltman, who was the top State Department official on Middle East issues from 2009 to 2012 and later served as a United Nations undersecretary general for political affairs.

An early test of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign will come in Syria. The White House has sought Russian President Vladimir Putin’s help in prodding Iranian forces and the Shiite militias Tehran backs to leave the country—so far, without success.

Administration officials are now calculating that draconian economic measures can prompt Iran to declare its military mission accomplished in Syria and bring its forces home. To drive home the point, U.S. officials have released figures asserting that Iran’s annual tab for sustaining its Lebanese ally Hezbollah is about $700 million, while Tehran has spent at least $16 billion in recent years supporting its allies in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

Some former U.S. officials say, however, that Iran’s support for the Assad regime and Hezbollah are top priorities Tehran will attempt to sustain at all cost.

“They are heavily invested in Syria, and the IRGC is not going anywhere soon,” said Ryan Crocker, the veteran U.S. diplomat, referring to Iran’s paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

In a meeting last month with Wall Street Journal reporters and editors, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif portrayed Iran’s military presence in Syria as defensive and disputed the notion that its forces should withdraw.

“We believe that if we do not fight ISIS in Syria and Iraq, we will have to fight it in Iran,” Mr. Zarif said. “Our people recognize that.”

Oppressive regimes cannot endure forever and the day will come when the people will face a choice. Will they continue down the path of poverty, bloodshed and terror, or will the Iranian people return to the nation’s proud roots as a center of civilization, culture and wealth, where their people can be happy and prosperous?

—President Trump at the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 19, 2017

Iran’s nuclear activities are another area where the Trump administration’s strategy will be tested.

Iran has rebuffed U.S. demands that it accept constraints on its nuclear program that are far more stringent than those imposed by the 2015 accord negotiated by the Obama administration and disowned by Mr. Trump. At the same time, Iran has acceded to European appeals that it stick with the 2015 agreement, which Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China are trying to preserve.

But Mr. Zarif signaled that Tehran might relax its adherence to that accord if economic benefits it still expects to achieve from the agreement aren’t forthcoming.

“We have the possibility of a partial reduction of our commitment,” Mr. Zarif said. “We will have to make that decision when the time comes.”

Such a move could add to the strains between Europe and Washington over how to deal with Iran’s nuclear capability.

“Their strategy as of now is the expectation that Trump will be weakened by the midterm elections and won’t be re-elected in 2020, essentially a wait-and-see approach,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a nonpartisan think tank.

“But their economy is in bad shape, and the trend lines are only going to worsen,” he added. “They may soon conclude they have more leverage by reconstituting their nuclear activities—not by going from 0 to 100 but from 0 to 20.”

In an effort to persuade Iran to stick with the 2015 accord, the European Union is moving toward establishing a special payment channel to maintain economic ties with Iran. But Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Friday he didn’t expect the channel to be effective in the face of U.S. pressure.

Iran also is expected to reactivate its long-developed capacity for evading sanctions, seeking to dodge the economic bullets coming from Washington. But the Trump administration has vowed to crack down.

In an August tweet, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asserted that Iran wouldn’t challenge the U.S. militarily. “THERE WILL BE NO WAR, NOR WILL WE NEGOTIATE WITH THE U.S.” he wrote.

Despite the ayatollah’s declaration, some experts believe there is a risk the regime might lash out—perhaps though regional proxies or covert operations that Tehran would publicly deny—in response to the intensifying economic pressure and calls by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for Iranians to “restore democracy.”

“Anybody remember Beirut 1983?” said Mr. Crocker, referring to the bombing of a U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. “They can find a way to make life rough for us.”

Iran trained and equipped Shiite militias that attacked U.S. forces during the Iraq war. So far, those militias have refrained from attacking the U.S. military advisers who returned to Iraq for the campaign against Islamic State. But the State Department said in September it was closing the U.S. consulate in Basra, citing security risks from Iranian-backed forces.

Even staunch supporters of the administration’s Iran policy acknowledge the risks.

“The administration has invested enormous energy into tightening the sanctions noose as tight as possible,” said John Hannah, who served as an adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney and is now a senior counselor at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which has urged the administration to impose tough sanctions on Iran.

“I hope they’ve spent as much time planning for all the ways Iran could use terrorism, proxies and cyberweapons to disrupt oil markets, destabilize our allies, and attack U.S. interests,” he added.

The 12 demands issued to Iran by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 21

  • 1. Iran must provide a full accounting of its previous nuclear weapons research and abandon such work forever.
  • 2. Iran must stop enriching uranium, never pursue plutonium reprocessing and close its heavy-water reactor.
  • 3. Iran must give unqualified access to the International Atomic Energy Agency to all sites in the country.
  • 4. Iran must end its proliferation of ballistic missiles and stop developing missiles that can carry nuclear weapons.
  • 5. Iran must release all U.S. citizens and those of U.S. allies and partners.
  • 6. Iran must end support to Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other Middle East “terrorist” groups.
  • 7. Iran must respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi government and permit the demobilization and reintegration of Shia militias.
  • 8. Iran must end its military support for the Houthi insurgency and work toward a political settlement in Yemen.
  • 9. Iran must withdraw all forces in Syria under Iranian command.
  • 10. Iran must end support for the Taliban and cease harboring al Qaeda leaders.
  • 11. Iran must end the support for terrorists and militant partners by its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
  • 12. Iran must end its threats against Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other neighbors.
  • (Source: U.S. State Department)

Write to Michael R. Gordon at


Iran is jailing environmentalists, fearful that they’ve found pollution from possible nuclear and missile sites

October 16, 2018

On Oct. 8, Iran’s Revolutionary Court issued preliminary indictments against five environmentalists who had been arrested earlier this year. All five have been accused of using environmental projects as a cover to collect classified strategic information, a charge that can carry a death sentence.

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Within Iran’s academic circles, there exists a widespread opinion that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has been locking up environmentalists because they have potential knowledge of the location of installations where radioactive isotopes and toxic chemicals may be contaminating the land.

To measure background radiation and chemical contamination of a certain area, one must walk through it with a radiation detector or take soil samples. This may explain paranoia of Iranian intelligence agents that have been detaining dozens of environmentalists and confiscating their electronic devices in various parts of the country. The map of the detentions gives a good idea of the locations of sensitive sites.

By Eugene M. Chudnovsky
Washington Examiner

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Among the environmentalists facing execution or long prison terms is an American citizen Morad Tahbaz, graduate of Columbia University, co-founder of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation. Members of the Foundation have openly opposed installation of underground nuclear and missile launch facilities on protected lands. Its managing director, Canadian citizen Kavous Seyed-Emami, detained last January together with Morad Tahbaz and seven others, died in Evin prison after intense interrogations soon after his arrest.

Prior to his detention Seyed-Emami taught sociology at Imam Sadeq University in Tehran. According to his family, he was the happiest man on Earth. Authorities claimed that he committed suicide in his prison cell but denied the family’s request for independent autopsy. His widow was interrogated and banned from returning to Canada, her passport confiscated.

At about the same time, security forces briefly detained the deputy head of Iran’s Department of Environment, Kaveh Madani. A U.S.-educated scientist, recipient of international awards, Madani had been praised last year by the Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani as an example of the reversal of the brain drain from the country. Following his release after a three-day detention, Madani accepted a professor position at the Centre for Environmental Policy of the Imperial College in London and left Iran.

Numerous human rights and media organizations have come to the defense of the imprisoned environmentalists. Amnesty International has accused revolutionary guards of torturing prisoners and has demanded an independent investigation of professor Seyed-Emami’s death. Last April, 800 Iranian environmental scientists signed a letter to president Hassan Rouhani protesting the unlawful detention of their colleagues.

In response, Rouhani appointed an investigative panel of high-level government officials. Last May, the panel concluded that the accused environmentalists had not committed any crime. This, however, has not led to their release, indicating a struggle between the elected officials and the IRGC that report directly to the leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei.

The IRGC are de facto in charge of all cases believed to be related to the national security. Last August the Department of Environment was ordered to stop its efforts to prove that the environmentalists have not done anything wrong. A warning against “ meddling in judicial matters” has been issued to the DoE head Isa Kalantani.

The secrecy surrounding detention of the environmentalists leaves little doubt about its relation to military programs. The prisoners have been held incommunicado since January, no visits allowed. They have been asked to select attorneys from a pre-approved list of 20 names that did not include any human rights lawyers. With this requirement in place, no access of the accused to their attorneys has been permitted so far.

Once set in motion, the 21st century inquisition machine will not stop until the victims are crushed. The first indictments issued to the environmentalists this month open the way for trials by the Revolutionary Court — an arm of the IRGC — presided over by one of its “hanging judges.” This will be another shameful page in the history of the country known as the Cradle of Civilization.

Eugene M. Chudnovsky is a distinguished professor at the City University of New York and co-chair of the Committee of Concerned Scientists.

Netanyahu, in U.N. speech, claims secret Iranian nuclear site

September 28, 2018

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday described what he said was a secret atomic warehouse in Tehran and accused Europe of appeasing Iran as he sought to rally support for U.S. sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Netanyahu showed an aerial photograph of the Iranian capital marked with a red arrow and pointed to what he said was a previously secret warehouse holding nuclear-related material. He argued this showed Iran still sought to obtain nuclear weapons, despite its 2015 agreement with world powers to curb its program in exchange for loosening of sanctions.

Netanyahu spoke 4-1/2 months after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord, arguing it did too little to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and triggering the resumption of U.S. economic sanctions on Iran.

Netanyahu said the site contained some 15 kg (33 pounds) of radioactive material that has since been moved, and called on the U.N. atomic agency to inspect the location immediately with Geiger counters.

“I am disclosing for the first time that Iran has another secret facility in Tehran, a secret atomic warehouse for storing massive amounts of equipment and materiel from Iran’s secret nuclear program,” Netanyahu said.

The world will laugh at Netanyahu’s claims, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said, according to Fars News.

“The world will only laugh loudly at this type of false, meaningless and unnecessary speech and false shows,” Qassemi said.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that there should be more scrutiny on Israel’s nuclear program.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif addresses a meeting to promote the elimination of nuclear weapons, during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday September 26, 2018 at UN headquarters (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif addresses a meeting to promote the elimination of nuclear weapons, during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday September 26, 2018 at UN headquarters (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

“No arts & craft show will ever obfuscate that Israel is only regime in our region with a *secret* and *undeclared* nuclear weapons program – including an *actual atomic arsenal*. Time for Israel to fess up and open its illegal nuclear weapons program to international inspectors,” Zarif tweeted.

Israel has pushed the United States toward isolation, Zarif said, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

“In recent days we’ve seen how much the policies that Netanyahu has imposed on America has isolated them in the General Assembly and Security Council,” Zarif said, according to IRNA. “Now see when they can pull America to this level of isolation how isolated they are themselves.”

Netanyahu did not identify the material nor specifically suggest that Iran had actively violated the nuclear deal.

An outspoken opponent of the deal, Netanyahu has previously made allegations about Iran’s nuclear activities that are difficult or impossible to verify, including presenting a cartoon bomb to the General Assembly in 2012 warning of how close Tehran was to producing a nuclear device.

In April, Netanyahu presented what he said was evidence of a large secret archive of documents related to Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program at a different site in Tehran.

He said Israeli agents removed vast amounts of documents from that site. At the time, Iran said the documents were fake.

In a speech in which he said relatively little about efforts to achieve peace with the Palestinians, Netanyahu said Iran had since begun moving items out of the second site.

“Since we raided the atomic archive, they’ve been busy cleaning out the atomic warehouse. Just last month they removed 15 kilograms of radioactive material. You know what they did with it?” he said. “They took it out and they spread it around Tehran in an effort to hide the evidence.”

He said Iranian officials still had a lot of work to do because there were some 15 shipping containers full of nuclear-related equipment and materials stored at the second site.

“This site contained as much as 300 tonnes – 300 tonnes – of nuclear-related equipment and materiel,” he said.

Under the nuclear deal struck by Iran and six major powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for relief from U.S. and other economic sanctions.

The International Atomic Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly said Tehran was abiding by its commitments to the deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), including in a document reviewed by Reuters on Aug. 30.

France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia have stayed in the pact, vowing to save it despite the restoration of U.S. sanctions and this week discussing a barter mechanism they hope may allow Iran to circumvent the U.S. measures.

Netanyahu criticized Europe for doing so in unusually harsh language that evoked European nations’ initial failure to confront Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

“While the United States is confronting Iran with new sanctions, Europe and others are appeasing Iran by trying to help it bypass those new sanctions,” Netanyahu said.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States is aware of the facility Netanyahu announced and described it as a “warehouse” used to store “records and archives” from Iran’s nuclear program.

A second U.S. intelligence official called Netanyahu’s comments “somewhat misleading. First, we have known about this facility for some time, and it’s full of file cabinets and paper, not aluminum tubes for centrifuges, and second, so far as anyone knows, there is nothing in it that would allow Iran to break out of the JCPOA any faster than it otherwise could.”

The Israeli leader also lambasted Iran’s ballistic missile activity, identifying three locations near Beirut airport where he said Lebanon’s Hezbollah was converting missiles.

“In Lebanon, Iran is directing Hezbollah to build secret sites to convert inaccurate projectiles into precision-guided missiles, missiles that can target deep inside Israel within an accuracy of 10 meters (yards),” he said.

The IAEA and Hezbollah were not immediately available for comment.

The Israeli military released a video clip and photos of what it said were Hezbollah Shi’ite militia rocket building sites in Lebanon, shortly after Netanyahu’s address.

Reporting by John Irish, Arshad Mohammed, Yara Bayoumy and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Jonathan Landay and John Walcott in Washington, Laila Bassam in Beirut, Francois Murphy in Vienna; Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Editing by James Dalgleish, Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis


Iran’s Terms to Reopen Nuclear Talks? Trump Has to Back Down Image

September 25, 2018

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, visiting the United States for the first time since President Trump exited the 2015 Iran nuclear accord, said Monday that the only way his country would consider new talks with Washington is for Mr. Trump to reverse himself and honor the agreement.

Speaking to a group of two dozen academics, former government officials and journalists, Mr. Rouhani argued that going back “six months ago is much easier than going back six years,” when the first efforts to negotiate an agreement were first broached.

While he declared that Mr. Trump’s strategy of trying to crush the Iranian economy with sanctions would fail, he expressed no anger and portrayed his government as the one that was abiding by international agreements that the United States had tossed aside.

But when pressed on how long Iran planned to play a military role in Syria, Mr. Rouhani was unrelenting. “We will be in Syria until terrorism is completely eradicated,” he said, and as long as Iran remained invited there by the Syrian government.

By David E. Sanger
The New York Times

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran after speaking Monday at a peace summit honoring Nelson Mandela during the United Nations General Assembly in New York.  Credit Carlo Allegri/Reuters

“The U.S. sees a right for itself to have a presence in the region,” he said, referring to the Middle East. But it “does not recognize the right for Iran.”

Despite his relentless optimism in his appearances on Monday, Mr. Rouhani arrives at a perilous moment for his government. As sanctions have begun to bite, the Iranian economy is once again under tremendous pressure, its currency plummeting, its oil sales jeopardized. His enemies in the Revolutionary Guard Corps, the elite military unit that also oversaw the nuclear program, have been in the ascent, arguing that the United States was an untrustworthy negotiating partner, and that Mr. Rouhani was naïve to have entered the agreement.

On Monday evening, Mr. Rouhani got a boost from the remaining signatories of the Iran nuclear accord. They issued a defiant statement, reaffirming their commitment to the deal and vowing to find ways to circumvent Trump administration sanctions to continue to do business with Iran.

“The participants recognized that Iran has continued to fully and effectively implement its nuclear related commitments as confirmed by 12 consecutive reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency,” said the statement, which was signed by the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Britain, China, Russia and Iran.

The statement was read first in English by Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, and then in Farsi by Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly gathering of world leaders in New York.

As part of their effort to save the Iran deal, the ministers agreed to create a special vehicle that would facilitate legal financial transactions with Iran and protect companies doing business with the country from American reprisals. Exactly how the vehicle will function will be worked out in future meetings, the statement said.

In his session Monday evening, Mr. Rouhani deflected questions about Iran’s repression of dissent, its imprisonment of Americans and other Westerners on thin charges of plotting against his government and its support of terrorism. Instead, he noted divisions inside the Trump administration, saying he did not know whether to believe Mr. Trump, who has said he would meet with Mr. Rouhani at any time, or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has laid out a list of conditions from ceasing missile tests to stopping support of terrorism.

But Mr. Rouhani, sitting beside Mr. Zarif, his foreign minister and chief negotiator on the nuclear deal, insisted he had “no regrets” about striking the deal with the Obama administration three years ago. He described it as an accord that briefly “built trust,” and described Mr. Trump’s efforts to dismantle it as self-destructive. Picking a single example, he said that cutting off sales of airplane parts “didn’t help Boeing,” endangered Iranian air passengers and ultimately harmed the United States.

He argued that Iran did not exit the Iran deal after the United States did, saying that he did not want to play into Mr. Trump’s designs.

“We have a great deal of patience,” he said, seeming to suggest that he would wait out the Trump administration. But he said Iran could exit the deal “at will” if it determined it was in its interests.

Though Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Trump will be moving through some of the same rooms at the United Nation this week, there appears to be little chance they will meet or talk.

But Mr. Rouhani, on his first day in New York for the annual opening of the General Assembly, went on a public relations blitz, speaking for hours to editors and reporters, appearing on NBC’s evening news, and talking optimistically about future dealings with Europe, China and Russia. He dismissed the effects of new American sanctions scheduled for November, when the United States plans to tell companies around the world that if they want to deal with Iran, they cannot do business with the United States.

“The United States is not capable of bringing our oil exports to zero,” Mr. Rouhani told Lester Holt of NBC. “It’s a threat that is empty of credibility. Perhaps on this path, we will sustain certain pressures but certainly the United States will not reach its objective.”

Iran asks UN to condemn Israeli threats

September 20, 2018

Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations has asked in letters to its secretary-general and Security Council for condemnation of Israeli threats against Tehran and to bring Israel’s nuclear program under its supervision.


Iranian state television said Gholamali Khoshrou has asked the United Nation to force Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and bring its nuclear program under supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a UN atomic watchdog.

Arab News

Trump Says Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Won’t Go to North Korea

August 25, 2018

President signals frustration with deadlocked nuclear talks

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, and Kim Yong Chol, a North Korean senior ruling party official and former intelligence chief, in Pyongyang in July.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, and Kim Yong Chol, a North Korean senior ruling party official and former intelligence chief, in Pyongyang in July. PHOTO: ANDREW HARNIK/ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON—President Trump canceled Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s scheduled weekend trip to North Korea in a series of tweets Friday after a briefing, signaling for the first time frustration with deadlocked nuclear talks.

“I have asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to go to North Korea, at this time, because I feel we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula…” Mr. Trump said on Twitter.

Mr. Trump’s decision appeared to take State Department officials by surprise. Mr. Pompeo named a new special representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, to lead the talks only a day earlier, and staffers were preparing for the trip to go ahead on Sunday as planned.

Mr. Pompeo was in a meeting with Mr. Trump in the White House when the president wrote the tweets calling off the meeting, a person familiar with the matter said. The president made the decision after talking to Mr. Pompeo and getting an update on the state of negotiations, which have been gridlocked since Mr. Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June.

“I’m not satisfied with the progress,” Mr. Trump said at the meeting with his top diplomat, the person familiar with the matter said.

Mr. Trump appeared to blame China for the lack of progress on the negotiations, even though Beijing doesn’t have a direct role in the process. Officials say progress has stalled because the U.S. wants North Korea to take concrete steps before making any concessions, while Pyongyang wants Washington to reciprocate as it moves toward denuclearization.

Mr. Trump suggested in one tweet that China was no longer cooperating on denuclearization as a way to punish the U.S. over tariffs that have triggered a tit-for-tat trade dispute between the two countries. He said Mr. Pompeo would travel to North Korea after the trade dispute is resolved.

“Because of our much tougher Trading stance with China, I do not believe they are helping with the process of denuclearization as they once were,” Mr. Trump wrote.

The U.S. has been calling on China to strictly enforce wide-ranging United Nations sanctions targeting North Korea’s economy. The sanctions were designed to exert painful economic pressure on Pyongyang and drive North Korea’s Mr. Kim to enter into talks over the country’s nuclear program.

Beijing initially appeared to work closely with the U.S. to enforce the U.N. sanctions, but in recent weeks U.S. officials have protested, citing a reported increase in trade between China and North Korea, and they warned that it could ease pressure on Pyongyang to negotiate.

Trade talks between the U.S. and China ended on Thursday without any sign of progress toward a solutionThe U.S. put in place tariffs on $16 billion in Chinese goods on Thursday, raising the total to $50 billion. The Chinese have matched them dollar for dollar. The U.S. is eyeing tariffs on an additional $200 billion in Chinese imports, about half the total from China, that could start taking effect as early as September.

Mr. Pompeo and his newly appointed special representative to North Korea, Mr. Biegun, were due to leave for Pyongyang on Sunday and then travel to Beijing.

It wasn’t immediately clear why Mr. Trump linked China’s lack of help on sanctions to the decision to cancel the talks with North Korea. Administration officials have often said that economic issues related to China and North Korea are kept on separate tracks, even though Mr. Trump sometimes treats them as related.

The purpose of the trip was to introduce Mr. Beigun, who will be taking over responsibility for the talks, and to push Pyongyang to do more to show commitment to its promise to move toward giving up its nuclear weapons.

Mr. Trump has long insisted the talks with North Korea were progressing well, and Friday’s tweets were the first indication that progress was going slower than expected.

As recently as last month, Mr. Trump tweeted that the U.S. was having “many good conversations with North Korea-it is going well!”

Mr. Pompeo has made several trips to Pyongyang, but talks have been gridlocked over opposing demands. The U.S. wants North Korea to front-load its promises to denuclearize and take concrete steps to dismantle its assets before offering any concessions. North Korea wants the U.S. to make reciprocal, step-by-step concessions as a show of good faith.

Mr. Biegun was appointed to take over the nuclear talks on Thursday, after Mr. Pompeo’s relationship with the North Koreans appeared to sour. North Korea’s foreign ministry described Mr. Pompeo’s approach as “gangster-like” after a visit in July, and avoided a bilateral meeting with the secretary during a regional meeting earlier this month.

Despite the lack of progress at the lower level, Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim have continued to send each other friendly signals. On Friday, Mr. Trump repeated a previous promise to see Mr. Kim again. The two leaders met at a summit in Singapore in June.

“In the meantime I would like to send my warmest regards and respect to Chairman Kim. I look forward to seeing him soon!,” Mr. Trump said in another Tweet Friday.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington didn’t respond to a request to comment. The State Department didn’t immediately comment either.

Write to Jessica Donati at and Peter Nicholas at


Trump: Pompeo Trip To North Korea Next Week Cancelled — China Not Doing Enough To Enforce Sanctions

August 24, 2018

CNN and Fox News are reporting that a Tweet from President Donald Trump this afternoon says that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will not be going to North Korea next week…

We are told that President Trump wants to see obvious progress, verifiable by national intelligence, that North Korea is making measurable headway toward denuclearization — and that China is rigorously enforcing sanction on North Korea….

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Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping in Dalian, May 8, 2018


Mike Pompeo faces a moment of truth on North Korea

August 24, 2018

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is making a bold and risky push to reinvigorate a diplomatic effort with North Korea that is struggling to make progress amid increasingly belligerent rhetoric from Pyongyang. Inside the Trump administration, frustration mounts as officials debate how bad the situation really is and what to do about it.

When Pompeo arrives in Pyongyang next week, alongside his freshly appointed special envoy Stephen Biegun, he will be under severe pressure to show tangible evidence that his diplomacy is producing real results. If Pompeo’s trip is a failure, skeptics inside the administration and around Washington will push for a change in tactics to acknowledge the reality that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is not living up to his promises. It will be the most significant trip of Pompeo’s diplomatic career.

By Josh Rogin
The Washington Post

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Despite his public optimism, President Trump privately has been expressing frustration with the negative publicity surrounding his North Korea diplomacy, according to administration officials. This week, the International Atomic Energy Agency expressed “grave concern” in a new report that claims Pyongyang is continuing to develop its nuclear capabilities, despite Kim’s pledge to denuclearize.

Last week, North Korea’s foreign ministry issued a statement blaming unnamed “high-level officials” in the Trump administration for “going against the intention of president Trump” by criticizing the Kim regime’s lack of progress. The main goal of Pompeo’s trip, officials said, is to reverse the downward trend, set the diplomacy on a positive footing and quiet the critics in Washington and Pyongyang.

But Pompeo has few tools to induce more concessions from Kim. And if he takes a harder line, he risks blowing up the negotiations altogether.

“Pompeo is stuck,” said one senior administration official who was not authorized to speak. “He’s a prisoner of championing a policy that’s based on what the president would love to see happen, but not based on reality and the facts on the ground.”

In anticipation of Pompeo’s trip, Trump sent a letter to Kim. Officials briefed on the letter said it implored Kim to take steps to advance diplomacy while also urging him not to take any more negative steps that might jeopardize this opportunity — what officials called a carrot-and-stick message.

Even the decision to send the letter was a matter of dispute within the Trump team. National security adviser John Bolton, who has taken a hard line internally, argued against sending the letter. Bolton and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have also argued against giving Kim a new concession in the form of a declaration officially ending the Korean War. The Pentagon declined to comment, and a National Security Council spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

The Trump administration has already announced limited sanctions against Chinese and Russian firms helping the Kim regime bust sanctions, but some officials want to see Trump pivot toward a tougher public stance to respond to Kim’s misbehavior. The Trump team cannot even agree on how grave the situation is.

“It’s now a process designed to measure not how much progress we’re making, but how much damage is being done,” the senior administration official said.

That confusion leaves Pompeo with the difficult task of reversing the downward trend in the diplomacy without having anything new to offer. His last trip to Pyongyang ended in failure, when Kim refused to meet him and the North Koreans blasted him as soon as he left. He must show something publicly this time to prove to the public, internal administration critics and the president that the diplomacy is not going as badly as it looks.

If the trip is another failure, internal critics and some in Congress will push for more pressure on North Korea, more sanctions, a resumption of U.S.-South Korea military exercises, and other measures to show Kim he can’t jerk around the United States. The argument against these measures is that they could create a rift in the U.S.-South Korea alliance and risk sinking the whole process — with the blame falling on the U.S. government.

There are some positive signs. Biegun, though not a North Korea expert per se, is a highly experienced professional who will hopefully add some regularity to U.S. negotiations with Pyongyang. Having the secretary of state fly halfway around the world every time there’s a problem isn’t sustainable. Pompeo may also be working other angles we just don’t know about.

But the fundamental problem with the Trump-Kim scheme remains: Until there is tangible evidence Kim is actually willing to denuclearize, each concession only plays into his strategy to stall for time, relieve financial pressure and normalize his regime’s status as a de facto nuclear state.

Unlike Trump, Pompeo has never said he believes Kim is sincere, only that the United States must test that sincerity. Time is almost up for North Korea to pass or fail that test. Pompeo must not return from his fourth trip to Pyongyang empty-handed.

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Iran says EU economic proposal to save nuclear deal not enough

July 6, 2018

With US sanctions looming, European powers are looking to persuade Iran to remain in the 2015 agreement. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said a compromise before November appeared unlikely.

Federica Mogherini and Javad Zarif (picture-alliance/dpa/TASS/A. Shcherbak)

Foreign ministers from Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia are meeting in Vienna on Friday with their Iranian counterpart, to discuss an economic plan that could save the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was designed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and took 12 years to negotiate.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who chairs the meeting, hopes to persuade Iran to remain in the JCPOA with a package of incentives that includes European Investment Bank lending, a special measure to protect EU companies from US sanctions and encouraging EU governments make direct money transfers to Iran’s central bank.

“We are here to listen to practical solutions, rather than slogans,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in the Austrian capital, signaling a willingness to study the options presented.

In May, President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the signature accord that his predecessor Barack Obama had signed, calling it “horrible” and “defective at its core.”

The White House’s retreat from the deal dismayed the remaining five countries, who swiftly signaled their continued support for the accord. But Washington reintroduced sanctions on Iran and threatened the remaining signatories with punitive measures if they engaged in trade and investment with Iran.

The Iranian government has strongly denied planning to build a nuclear bomb and has threatened to resume uranium enrichment for civilian purposes if the deal completely collapses.

Read more: Can Europe rescue Iran as Trump’s sanctions loom?

Rouhani: Current deal not good enough

In the wake of the US withdrawal, Iran’s rial currency has fallen, prices have risen and the country has been hit by street protests and strikes.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, who signed the nuclear deal in 2015, has been under pressure at home from ultra-conservatives, who denounced his willingness to talk to the West and blamed him for the country’s ailing economy.

The Iranian president spoke to European leaders this week in support of saving the deal. But Rouhani told French President Emmanuel Macron that the current economic measures offered by Europe did not meet all of Tehran’s demands to salvage the nuclear deal, Iran’s IRNA state news agency reported.

Read more: Opinion: Khamenei’s empty threats over the Iran nuclear deal

Deal before November unlikely

Prior to heading to Vienna, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told RTL radio that he thinks it unlikely that European powers would be able to put together a successful economic package to save the deal before November and asked Tehran to be more cooperative.

“They must stop permanently threatening to break their commitments to the nuclear deal,” Le Drian said.

“They must stop the threats so that we can find the solutions so that Iran can have the necessary economic compensations,” the foreign minister added.

Le Drian noted that Russia and China were working closely with the European signatories to find a suitable financial solution to US sanctions.

“We are trying to do it before sanctions are imposed at the start of August and then another set of sanctions in November. For the start August it seems a bit short, but we are trying to do it by November,” Le Drian said.

Read more: Opinion: Trump’s Iran nuclear deal exit dangerous for the world

Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas lowered Iranian expectations prior to the Vienna meeting, saying that the five signatories would not be able to mitigate all the problems created by sanctions, but said that abandoning the deal would cause Tehran more harm to its economy.

“We will not be able completely counterbalance the effect of companies that are withdrawing from Iran because their US business is threatened by sanctions,” Maas said.

“We want to make it clear to Iran today that it will continue to  benefit economically from this agreement,” Maas told reporters

jcg/ng (AP, dpa, Reuters, AFP)


Struggling to Save Nuclear Deal, Iran and World Powers Meet

July 6, 2018

Iran wants world powers to present measures guaranteeing oil revenue and investment into the country despite U.S. sanctions when ministers meet on Friday to save the 2015 nuclear deal, but European states will fall short of its demands, diplomats said.

Image may contain: one or more people

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani arrives at the Austrian Chancellery in Vienna, Austria July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the multinational deal in May under which sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for curbs on its nuclear program, verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Washington has since told countries they must stop buying the OPEC producer’s oil from Nov. 4 or face financial consequences.

Foreign ministers from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia meet with their Iranian counterpart in Vienna for the first time since Trump left the pact, but diplomats see limited scope for salvaging it.

“The objective is to save the deal. We’ve made some progress, including on safeguarding some crude sales, but it’s unlikely to meet Iranian expectations. It’s also not just about what the Europeans can do, but also how the Chinese, Russians, Indians, others can contribute,” said a senior European diplomat.

The pillars of the European Union’s strategy are: European Investment Bank lending, a special measure to shield EU companies from U.S. secondary sanctions and a Commission proposal that EU governments make direct money transfers to Iran’s central bank to avoid U.S. penalties.

“The Iranians expect the others to say what we are going to do to keep the deal alive. We will have to see if it is going to be good enough for them,” an EU source added.

Describing the Friday meeting as important, Iranian officials have said that key for them is to ensure measures that guarantee oil exports do not halt, and that Tehran still has access to the SWIFT international bank payments messaging system.

During a visit to Europe this week President Hassan Rouhani warned that Iran could reduce its co-operation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog having already threatened Trump of the “consequences” of fresh sanctions against Iranian oil sales.

Rouhani was quoted by state media and on his website after calls with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as having told them he was disappointed with their package which did not go far enough.

“SWIFT is the key but Iran has to stay in at least until the end of the year to maintain divisions between the EU and U.S., keep some credibility and try and survive amidst forthcoming sanctions,” said Sanam Vakil, Associate Fellow at Chatham House, a London-based international think tank.

While talks are expected to focus purely on the nuclear deal, they come amid increasing rhetoric from the Trump administration, which argues that Iran poses a serious security threat.

An Austria-based Iranian diplomat was among four people arrested on suspicion of plotting an attack on an Iranian opposition group in France last week.

The issue could be a distraction in the Vienna talks. Iran has said it had nothing to do with the plot and has demanded the official be released without delay.

Any confirmation that Iranian authorities were behind the plot could make it politically difficult for European leaders to continue to back the nuclear deal.

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Vienna and Alissa de Carbonnel in Brussels; Editing by James Dalgleish)