Posts Tagged ‘Iran Nuclear Deal’

CIA: Iran Nuclear Deal Failed To Permanently Block Iran’s Path To Nuclear Weapons

October 20, 2017
BY YONAH JEREMY BOB
 OCTOBER 19, 2017 21:14
CIA Director: Iran deal 'failed' to permanently block Tehran's path to nukes

Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo arrives for a closed briefing before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S. May 16, 2017. . (photo credit:REUTERS/AARON P. BERNSTEIN)

The Iran nuclear deal failed to permanently cut off Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon, as well as thwart its Middle East terror activities, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said at a conference Thursday.

US President Donald Trump had concluded the deal had only delayed Iran’s nuclear program, and that “the notion that entry” into the deal “would curtail Iranian adventurism, the terror threat, proved to be fundamentally false.”

Pompeo was being interviewed on stage by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance chairman Juan Zarate, just days after Trump decertified Iran’s compliance with the deal in a major speech.

Though he evaded a question about whether Iran had violated the nuclear deal on a technical level, Pompeo focused on the Islamic Republic’s continued testing of ballistic missiles, prompting of Hezbollah to threaten Israel and being “at the center of so much turmoil in the Middle East.”

He admitted the deal’s inspection provisions had put things “in a marginally better place” in following Iran’s nuclear activities, but said he hoped Trump’s new pressure on Iran would lead to “more intrusive inspections.”

The CIA director expressed concern that the exchange of nuclear technology between Iran and North Korea was a major danger, and specifically mentioned them assisting each other in the area of nuclear weapons testing.

Zoning in on North Korea, he appeared to concede that Pyongyang can — or within months will have — the ability to fire a nuclear weapon against the US.

The American focus must now be on having an ability to stop or shoot down such a weapon, as well as preventing the North from developing a robust nuclear capability — meaning the ability to fire multiple nuclear missiles with accuracy.

“It is one thing to be able to deliver” one missile on “certain trajectories. It is another thing to deliver all of the pieces to develop a truly robust capability.”

Strikingly, Pompeo acknowledged that North Korea could blindside the US in terms of how quickly its capabilities were moving in the nuclear arena, even as he complimented the CIA’s current and past efforts on the issue.

Discussing Syria, he said Trump will push back against “both Iran…and the Syrian regime,” though he did not give details.

Top Israeli political and defense officials have expressed concern that Trump’s understandings with Russia regarding Syria did not address Israeli concerns about Iran and Hezbollah building a new front against Israel from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

Regarding ISIS, he said that, “the fall of the Caliphate is great news, a historic achievement to be sure, but a partial success at best.”

“The list is long about where they operate, what they can do. They still have the capacity to control and influence citizens all around the world,” he said.

Pompeo said he does not like the term “lone wolf terrorist,” explaining he believed that it obscured the investment and influence of ISIS and others in inspiring individuals to commit terror even if their specific actions were not ordered by ISIS.

Speaking more broadly about his actions at the CIA, he said that it would “become a much more vicious agency” in fighting adversaries.

He said he had “asked officers to reengage out in the field” and told the agency that he was “ready to accept more risk” to obtain important intelligence through “traditional espionage” or human spying.

Pompeo said US allies “are thrilled at the CIA’s return to the traditional understanding that it is out on freedom’s frontier.”

Addressing his and the CIA’s relationship with Trump, Pompeo said sometimes “the president asks really very difficult questions. He challenges us where he thought we were in the wrong place. We went back to validate our work, or correct it if we had it wrong.”

Crucially, he said, “the president has promised he will have our backs” and beyond just the question “of funding.”

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Is There a Way To Get Tough on Iran Without Leaving The Nuclear Deal?

October 19, 2017
BY EMILY B. LANDAU
 OCTOBER 19, 2017 15:30
There are important elements in the administration’s new policy that may reverse some of the negative aspects of the JCPOA, and set the stage for pushing back on Iran’s regional provocations.

Getting tough on Iran without leaving the nuclear deal

US PRESIDENT Donald Trump speaks about Iran and the nuclear accord at the White House on Friday. (photo credit:REUTERS)

On October 13, US President Donald Trump announced his decision not to certify the JCPOA, in contrast to his previous two decisions to certify the deal. Instead, he declared, the administration would work with Congress and US global and Middle East allies to address the flaws surrounding the deal, as well as other aspects of Iran’s behavior, widely perceived to be threatening and destabilizing. This position was reached following the administration’s policy review on Iran, underway over the past nine months, and outlines a new approach that began to emerge already with the statement in April 2017 by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – delivered the day after Trump certified the JCPOA for the first time – which sketched in broad strokes the direction of US policy on Iran.

Perhaps the most notable feature of the new policy is that it covers the entirety of Iran’s behavior that is viewed negatively by the US, beyond the nuclear program: Iran’s missile program, support for terror, and regional aspirations that threaten the national security interests of the US and its allies in the Middle East. In so doing, the administration has ended the approach of the Obama administration that sought to create a divide between the nuclear and regional manifestations of Iran’s conduct, claiming that the nuclear deal “was working,” and that it was never meant to address other issues. In contrast, the Trump administration has emphasized that the JCPOA did not achieve its objective of a non-nuclear Iran, and that the deal is only one component of overall US policy toward Iran. The message is that there is a connection between the different manifestations of Tehran’s nuclear and foreign policies, and that all must be dealt with in tandem in order to confront effectively the threats and regional challenges posed by Iran.

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Also of significance is that Trump signaled that the US administration will no longer refrain from pushing back against Iran’s aggressions and provocations for fear of Iran exiting the nuclear deal. In fact – in a somewhat surprising move – Trump included his own threat of leaving the deal. He stated that if in cooperation with Congress and US allies the administration cannot reach a satisfactory solution to the problems he delineated, he would cancel US participation in the deal. The specific context seems to direct the threat primarily to Congress and US allies in an effort to urge them to work with the administration to amend the deal. However, it is also clearly a message to Iran that the administration is no longer deterred by Iran’s threats of leaving the deal.

What are the main problems that Trump raised, and how will the administration attempt to fix them? The leading problems raised by the president have to do with the regime’s sponsorship of terrorism, continued regional aggression, and use of proxies, and the radical nature of the regime and its Supreme Leader. He mentioned Iran’s ballistic missile program, hostility to the US and Israel, and its threat to navigation in the Gulf. While the opening of Trump’s speech reviewed Iran’s deadly actions since 1979 and was unnecessarily detailed, this might have been aimed to underscore that Iran has targeted the US repeatedly, rendering dealing with Iran a clear US national security interest.

As for the nuclear deal, Trump warned that in a few years Iran will be able to “sprint” to nuclear weapons. What, he asked, is the purpose of a deal that at best only delays Iran’s nuclear plans? He noted multiple violations of the deal, although most points on his list were not violations per se, but rather problems with the deal. In addition to twice exceeding the limit on the stockpile of heavy water, he pointed out that Iran failed to meet US expectations with regard to research and development of advanced centrifuges. To be sure, the precise nature of Iran’s work on advanced centrifuges is an issue that independent analysts can only study from such official statements due to the problematic lack of transparency in IAEA reports since implementation of the deal, and the confidentiality that was granted to deliberations of the Joint Commission (that oversees the JCPOA). Trump also accused Iran of intimidating IAEA inspectors, and highlighted Iran’s repeated statements that it would refuse entry of IAEA inspectors into its military sites. Of particular note was Trump’s mention of suspicions regarding cooperation between Iran and North Korea; he said that he will instruct intelligence agencies to conduct a thorough analysis of these connections.

In dealing with these problems, Trump’s major constraint is lack of leverage to compel Iran to agree to a strengthened nuclear deal. The administration’s hands are tied given that it has partners to the JCPOA that are not on the same page, and that the biting sanctions that had pressured Iran to negotiate in the first place were lifted when implementation of the deal began. Clearly it will be difficult for the US to change matters directly related to the deal without the help of Congress and European allies, and Trump stated repeatedly that he will seek their cooperation.

In Europe there is fierce opposition to Trump’s decision not to certify the deal, and it is questionable whether and to what degree Europe will be willing to cooperate with the US. It is noteworthy, however, that before the speech was delivered, some European leaders – including France’s Macron – signaled a new willingness to address issues outside the JCPOA, in particular Iran’s missile program and regional aggression. Trump hopes they will go along with new sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). There is currently no basis for expecting cooperation from Russia and China.

The administration is also pinning hopes on Congress. With decertification, decision making on the JCPOA moves to Congress, and this is where the Trump administration hopes to introduce changes. Tillerson has explained that the administration will not be asking Congress to move to sanctions at this stage, a step that could lead to the collapse of the deal. Rather, the hope is to pass new legislation that will amend the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA). The White House would like to establish a series of benchmarks that would automatically restore sanctions if Iran crosses one of the red lines – or “trigger points”; these would likely relate to Iran’s missile program and the sunset clauses in the JCPOA.

The area where the administration can most easily move forward on its own relates to its approach to the Iranian regime, particularly the regime’s support for terror and other destabilizing regional activities. This explains the strong emphasis in Trump’s speech – and in the document released in parallel entitled “President Donald J. Trump’s New Strategy on Iran” – on the IRGC, and on the need to confront it squarely for its support of terror, fanning of sectarianism, and perpetuation of regional conflict. Trump announced that he was authorizing the Treasury Department to sanction the IRGC as an entity, and to apply sanctions to its officials, agents, and affiliates.

Overall, there are important elements in the administration’s new policy that have the potential to reverse some of the negative aspects of the JCPOA, and set the stage for pushing back on Iran’s regional provocations and aggression. Much will depend on the ability to cooperate with allies and with Congress in advancing these goals. Tillerson’s clarifications were important in explaining that contrary to much media analysis, Trump is not seeking to do away with the deal, at least in the short term, or to go to war. The stated aim is to strengthen the deal, and restore US deterrence vis-à-vis the Iranian regime and the IRGC. The outcome, however, is far from guaranteed. This is due to inherent constraints, and the fact that while the policy makes sense, it is nevertheless a huge undertaking for a very controversial administration, and this in turn can further weaken Trump’s hand.

The author is a senior research fellow at INSS and head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program. This article first appeared in INSS Insight.

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Iranian General Helped Iraqis Seize Kirkuk From U.S. Allies

October 19, 2017

NBC News

OCT 18 2017, 6:20 PM ET

By Carol E. Lee,  and 

A few days after the Trump administration announced a new, get-tough approach to Iran, one of that country’s top military commanders and the armed Shiite militias he supports played a key role in the seizure of an important Iraqi city from the U.S.-backed Kurds, according to Iraqi, Kurdish and American officials.

Former U.S. national security officials told NBC News the Iranian-brokered seizure of oil-rich Kirkuk by the Iraqi government and its militia partners, which heightens the risk of civil war, amounts to an embarrassing strategic blow to the U.S. at the hands of Iran.

“It is a catastrophic defeat for the United States and a fantastic victory for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, proving that Qassem Soleimani gets his way once again,” said Ali Khedery, a former senior adviser on Iraq policy in the Bush and Obama administrations.

Soleimani is head of the Iranian military’s special forces and extraterritorial operations. The major general commands an elite unit known as the Quds Force and has been dubbed the most powerful intelligence operative in the Middle East. According to Kurdish and Iraqi officials, he traveled to Kirkuk last week to weigh in on the dispute between Baghdad and the Kurds over the strategically important city of Kirkuk.

Image: Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani
Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani (C) attends Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s (not seen) meeting with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) on September 18, 2016 in Tehran, Iran. Anadolu Agency / Getty Images file

Kurdish officials and former U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News Soleimani helped negotiate a deal under which one Kurdish faction would abandon its checkpoints and allow Iraqi government forces, backed by Iranian-supported Shiite militias, to take the city uncontested. That explains, they say, why there was so little fighting as Iraqi forces, armed with heavy weapons provided by the U.S., seized Kirkuk from the Kurds, who also carry American weapons and have been the most stalwart U.S. ally in the fight against ISIS.

“We’re confident that Qassem Soleimani engineered, guided, directed, manipulated this deal,” Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdish representative in Washington, told NBC News.

She said Soleimani used a carrot-and-stick approach, threatening force and offering financial inducements to certain elements of a Kurdish faction whose soldiers abandoned their positions.

A spokesman for Iraq’s Shiite-dominated paramilitary forces, Mouin al-Khadhimy, acknowledged to NBC News that Soleimani was in Iraq in recent days — to ease tensions between Iraqi and Kurdish forces, al Khadhimy said.

Ali Akbar Velayati, a foreign policy adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in an Oct. 17 statment reported by Al-Monitor that “Iran plays no role in the Kirkuk operation.”

President Donald Trump said the U.S. wasn’t taking sides, and his government neither condemned the move by Baghdad nor mentioned the Iranian component.

“We remain very concerned about the situation in northern Iraq,” said Michael Anton, spokesman for the National Security Council. “We urge both parties to stand down and resolve any dispute peacefully and politically, remain united in the fight against ISIS and remain united against a common threat in Iran.”

Image: Kurdish gunmen in Kirkuk
Kurdish gunmen take up position on a street in central Kirkuk city, northern Iraq, on Oct. 16, 2017. Afan Abdulkhaleq / EPA

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) warned Monday there would be “severe consequences” if Baghdad used U.S. arms against the Kurds.

“The United States provided equipment and training to the government of Iraq to fight [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)] and secure itself from external threats — not to attack elements of one of its own regional governments, which is a longstanding and valuable partner of the United States,” McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.

Critics accused Trump of wilting in the face of Iran’s tough tactics.

“This is the first real tangible challenge to the Trump Iran doctrine, and we have our answer: it seems like there is nothing behind it,” Michael Barbero, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general who served in Iraq and has close ties to the Kurds, told NBC News.

By allowing Iran to facilitate an Iraqi takeover of Kirkuk, Khedery added, “We have undermined our secular moderate, Western-leaning Kurdish allies in the Middle East. Our foes will be emboldened, our allies shaken.”

U.S. officials, not authorized to be named speaking publicly, disputed the idea that Iran got the better of the Trump administration. They argue that Kirkuk was always going to be a flashpoint between Baghdad and the Kurds, whether or not Iran was involved. Iran’s heavy involvement in Iraq has long been a fact of life, they say — something the U.S. has no choice but to live with.

U.S. officials have long sought to convince the Kurds to postpone a referendum declaring independence from Iraq. After U.S. forces left Iraq in 2011, Vice President Joseph Biden and other American officials conducted hours of diplomacy in an effort to mediate the situation.

Image: Iraqi police monitor as people gather in the street in the city of Kirkuk
Iraqi police monitor as people gather in the street in the city of Kirkuk to celebrate on Oct. 18, 2017, after Iraqi government forces retook almost all the territory disputed between Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdish region, crippling its hopes of independence after a controversial referendum. Ahmad Al-Rubaye / AFP – Getty Images

Brett McGurk, the U.S. diplomat most closely focused on Iraq and ISIS policy, was unable to convince the Kurds to continue postponing the vote, which finally occurred in September. Once the Kurds voted overwhelmingly in favor of separating, American officials declared the referendum illegitimate, in keeping with their policy of trying to maintain Iraq as a single country.

“We were never going to support the Kurds in a fight with the Iraqi government,” one U.S. intelligence official told NBC News.

The referendum put the focus on Kirkuk, a multi-ethnic city rich with oil fields that historically has been part of the Kurdish region. Saddam Hussein orchestrated a mass movement of Arabs to the city, displacing Kurds from their homes. In the years after his fall, Kurds began returning, but the occupying American forces carefully mediated the status of the city between Baghdad and the Kurds.

In public, U.S. officials tried to downplay the role of Iranian-backed Shiite militias in seizing Kirkuk.

Asked about it Tuesday, a Pentagon spokesman, Army Col. Ryan Dillon, said, “We do not have reports of…the types of units that you had mentioned.”

Image: Iraqi people celebrate after Kirkuk was seized by Iraqi forces as they gather on the street of Baghdad
Iraqi people celebrate after Kirkuk was seized by Iraqi forces as they gather on the street of Baghdad, Iraq on Oct. 18, 2017. Khalid al-Mousily / Reuters

However, Kurdish officials point to a Facebook video of a ceremony in which the Iraqi flag was raised at a government building. It shows two controversial figures on hand: Hadi al-Amiri, the head of the Badr Organization, an Iranian-backed political party; and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who has been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury for acts of violence against Americans, and is considered a close adviser to Soleimani.

Three days before that flag raising, on Oct. 13, Trump announced his new Iran strategy.

“Our policy is based on a clear-eyed assessment of the Iranian dictatorship, its sponsorship of terrorism, and its continuing aggression in the Middle East and all around the world,” Trump said.

Trump also announced new sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

The timing of the Kirkuk incursion was not a coincidence, Khedery said.

“Iran is intentionally seeking to challenge and humiliate President Trump only days after the U.S. designated the IRGC,” he said. “Tehran is testing our resolve, and our allies and foes are all closely watching how this will unfold.”

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/mideast/iranian-general-helped-iraqis-seize-kirkuk-u-s-allies-n811026

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© AFP/File | Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) during a welcoming ceremony on January 23, 2016 in the capital Tehran

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Iran’s Guards say missile program will accelerate despite pressure

October 19, 2017

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ANKARA (Reuters) – Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards said on Thursday that the country’s ballistic missile program would accelerate despite pressure from the United States and European Union to suspend it, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.

In a major U.S. policy shift, President Donald Trump last Friday refused to certify Tehran’s compliance with a landmark 2015 nuclear deal, signaling he would take a more aggressive approach to Iran over its ballistic missile program.

“Iran’s ballistic missile program will expand and it will continue with more speed in reaction to Trump’s hostile approach towards this revolutionary organization (the Guards),” the Guards said in a statement published by Tasnim.

The Trump administration has imposed new unilateral sanctions targeting Iran’s missile activity. It has called on Tehran not to develop missiles capable of delivering nuclear bombs. Iran says it has no such plans.

Tehran has repeatedly pledged to continue what it calls a defensive missile capability in defiance of Western criticism.

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Qassem Soleimani talking to Iran’s President Rouhani

Iran supreme leader dismisses Trump’s ‘rants and whoppers’

October 18, 2017

AFP

Iranian Supreme Leader’s Website/AFP | Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who on Wednesday dismissed US President Donald Trump’s “wants and whoppers”

TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dismissed US President Donald Trump’s aggressive criticism as the “rants and whoppers” of a “brute”, in a speech on Wednesday.”I don’t want to waste my time on answering the rants and whoppers of the brute US president,” Khamenei said in a speech to students in Tehran, published on his Telegram channel.

It was his first response to Trump’s bellicose speech last Friday in which he called for tougher sanctions to curb Iran’s “destabilising activities” in the Middle East.

“They are angry as today the Islamic republic of Iran has disrupted their plans in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq,” Khamenei said.

“Everyone be assured that this time, too, America will be slapped and defeated by the nation of Iran.”

Saudi Cabinet hails Trump’s Iran stance, reiterates support for fight against terrorism

October 18, 2017

RIYADH: King Salman headed Saudi Arabia’s latest Cabinet session on Tuesday afternoon at Al-Yamamah Palace in Riyadh.

RIYADH: The king briefed the Cabinet on his phone call with US President Donald Trump, saying he had expressed the Kingdom’s support for Trump’s firm stance on Iran and his condemnation of Iran’s support for terrorism in the region.

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King Salman also briefed the Cabinet on his recent talks with Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, during which they discussed the bilateral relations and reviewed the region’s events.

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the king revealed, had briefed him on the recent reconciliation agreement between Abbas’ Fatah-backed Palestinian National Authority and Hamas. King Salman observed that unity will enable the Palestinian government to better serve its citizens.

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The king also briefed the Cabinet on his phone call with Iraq’s Prime Minister, Haider Al-Abadi, in which he stated that the Kingdom fully supports the unity, security and stability of Iraq, as well as the adherence of all parties to the Iraqi Constitution.

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Minister of Culture and Information, Awwad bin Saleh Al-Awwad, said in his statement to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) that the Cabinet had reviewed the Justice Ministry’s submissions on the transferal of commercial disputes from the jurisdiction of the Board of Grievances to specialized commercial courts, which he described as “a great leap forward” in the Kingdom’s legal system.

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The Cabinet condemned the attacks that targeted security points in the city of Al-Arish in Egypt, the two bombings in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, and the attack on the Djimbi mosque in the Central African Republic. It also reiterated its continuous support of countries fighting terrorism.

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The Cabinet approved several mandates from ministers to draft memoranda of understanding with other countries, including the Republic of Korea, Morocco and the UAE, as well as a new system to regulate the trading of petroleum products.

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http://www.arabnews.com/node/1179346/saudi-arabia

Netanyahu presses Russian defence minister on Iran

October 17, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman (2nd R), his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu (C) and Israeli Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot (R), listen to their national anthems during a welcome ceremony at the defence ministry on October 16, 2017

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday, saying his country will not allow Iran to “establish itself militarily in Syria”.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands in Sochi, Russia. Photo credit AP

Both Russia and Iran, Israel’s main enemy, are backing President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the civil war in neighbouring Syria.

“The meeting mostly dealt with Iran’s attempt to establish itself militarily in Syria,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement of the talks in Jerusalem.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu told Russian Defence Minister Shoigu, ‘Iran needs to understand that Israel will not allow this.'”

The statement said Netanyahu also told Shoigu that “Iran will have an arsenal of nuclear weapons within 8-10 years” if the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers including Russia is not changed.

Their talks came after Israel’s military carried out an air strike on an anti-aircraft battery in Syria on Monday after it fired at its planes.

Israel has sought to avoid becoming more directly involved in the six-year civil war in Syria, though it acknowledges carrying out dozens of air strikes to stop what it calls advanced arms deliveries to Hezbollah.

The Lebanese Shiite group, against which Israel fought a devastating 2006 war, is also militarily backing Assad’s regime in the conflict.

Russia and Israel have established a hotline to avoid accidental clashes in Syria. Israel’s military says Russia was informed “in real time” of Monday’s strike.

Shoigu met Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Monday evening.

Lieberman said in a statement “we are not always in agreement, but we are communicating in a sincere and open manner”.

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Israel Says Europeans Putting Their Heads in The Sand, Like Before World war II

October 16, 2017
BY GIL HOFFMAN
 OCTOBER 15, 2017 06:27

“The Europeans continue to put their heads in the sand, exactly like they did before World War II.”

Def. minister: 'Europeans putting heads in the sand' on Iran deal

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks at a party event, September 13, 2017. (photo credit:MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman slammed Great Britain, France and Germany Saturday night for their opposition to the steps US President Donald Trump announced against the Iranian nuclear deal.

The leaders of the three European countries, whose companies have made massive business deals with Iran, issued a joint statement saying they “stand committed” to the deal and are concerned about the implications of Trump’s refusal to back it.

“The Europeans continue to put their heads in the sand, exactly like they did before World War II,” Liberman told Channel 2. “The leaders of Europe prefer to run away from reality.” Liberman praised Trump for sending the Iran deal back to Congress for reevaluation, calling it a “courageous and correct decision.” The defense minister added that “Israel must be ready to handle Iran by itself without the US.”

Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon said at a cultural event in Kiryat Ono on Saturday that Trump had made a mistake.

“The Iran deal is clearly bad because it enables the Islamic Republic to achieve a military nuclear capability,” he said. “But instead of arguing with the partners to the agreement, who oppose reopening it, it would have been better for the US to focus its efforts on pressuring the Iranian regime with sanctions due to its violations of UN Security Council decisions on terrorism, undermining regimes in the area, human rights violations and distributing weapons and missiles.”

Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis praised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for “waking up the world to the dangers of the Iranian threat,” and ridiculed the opposition for saying that Netanyahu’s party, Likud, was fear-mongering and using the issue for political gain.

Netanyahu posted a video on his Facebook page crediting himself for Trump’s move and mocking criticism of his efforts against the Iran deal by opposition heads Isaac Herzog and Yair Lapid, as well as by Channel 2 commentator Amnon Abramovich.

Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay said Netanyahu’s behavior on the Iranian issue had harmed Israel diplomatically.

“Those who burn bridges in the diplomatic game stop having influence,” Gabbay said in a speech at a cultural event in Beersheba on Saturday. “This is what happened to Netanyahu with the Iran deal. He is good at speeches but has failed at negotiating and, therefore, we had no impact on the agreement. I hope that this time Netanyahu will behave differently.”

Gabbay welcomed Trump’s decision to harm the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ terrorist operation financially and said the next step must be amending the agreement and lengthening it so Iran will not be able to return to enriching uranium.

Zionist Union MK Omer Bar-Lev said he was glad Trump had not decided to cancel the agreement, because that could have enabled Iran to race forward to nuclear capability.

He said it was right of Trump to push for new sanctions against Iran due to its development of missiles and continued support of terrorism.

“Sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard could be a beneficial step to restraining Iranian support for terrorism, including Hezbollah and Hamas,” Bar-Lev said.

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How Trump may have set a trap for Iran

October 16, 2017

By Oubai Shahbandar
Arab News

To understand why the Iranian government is worried about President Donald Trump taking a harder line with sanctions against the Revolutionary Guards, we first must take a look back at how the 2015 nuclear deal intersected with the IRGC and its regional activities and interests.

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In what perhaps turned out to be a signal of where the Iran nuclear deal would lead us today, as it immediately released billions of dollars into the hands of Tehran and gradually ended crippling economic sanctions, President Barack Obama pledged in 2015: “There’s no scenario where sanctions relief turns Iran into the region’s dominant power.”

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He went on: “This is not to say that sanctions relief will provide no benefit to Iran’s military…. We have no illusions about the Iranian government, or the significance of the Revolutionary Guard and the Quds Force.”

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The message that Obama was attempting to send, both to a domestic audience and internationally, was that his administration would still take seriously the destabilizing activity of the IRGC and that the nuclear deal would not in any way deter US resolve to confront IRGC terror activity that threatened US and its allies’ interests.

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When Obama said: “If we’re serious about confronting Iran’s destabilizing activities, it is hard to imagine a worse approach than blocking this deal,” he was attempting to outmaneuver opponents of the deal by arguing that not only would the deal prevent — at least in the short term — Iran from achieving nuclear break-out capability, but that effectively confronting Iran’s covert activities in the Middle East necessitated such a deal.

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Critics, of course, have pointed to what seem to be contradictory facts on the ground. For instance, IRGC activity has significantly increased since 2015. The commander of the IRGC, Qassem Soleimani, took a direct and much more visible role in expanding IRGC bases of operation throughout Syria and lines of supply to its proxies throughout the Arabian Gulf.

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By making the entire IRGC — not just the Quds Force — subject to a total freeze of its assets abroad, Trump will have more than just sent a warning show across the bow. It means that IRGC front companies, or even companies suspected of being IRGC fronts, from Asia to the Gulf states to Europe, will be shut down. The US National Security Council has said Trump’s Iran strategy has four strands: Neutralizing IRGC and destabilizing operations; targeting IRGC financial lifeblood; countering Iran’s ballistic missile threat, in which the IRGC and its front companies play an important role; and ending all pathways to nuclear weaponization.

Rather than breach the nuclear deal himself, Donald Trump could provoke Tehran into doing so by targeting its crown jewel — the Revolutionary Guards.

Oubai Shahbandar

The last objective is particularly important as it means not only ensuring Iranian compliance, but also preventing Iran from biding its time and preparing the requisite procurement, production and research facilities that would allow it to move quickly toward a nuclear weapon after the nuclear deal expires.

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So it was no wonder that Ali Akbar Velayati, the adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said if the US labeled the IRGC a terrorist organization, then “all options are on the table.” Trump may have outmaneuvered Tehran in this regard. Instead of handing Iran a diplomatic victory by initiating a wholesale pull out from the nuclear deal, the White House has now shifted the pressure and spotlight on the IRGC.

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The thinking among Trump’s senior officials seems to be that a much stronger case can be made to European allies that Iran is in violation of the nuclear deal if Tehran decides to initiate massive breaches of the agreement as a retaliatory measure to sanctions against the IRGC. Obama’s senior foreign policy adviser Ben Rhodes has argued that Iran is much stronger today than it was then, and that direct confrontation would only play into its hands and de-incentivize it from holding its end of the nuclear bargain. But Trump is playing from a wholly different playbook — one that Tehran may not be prepared to deal with.

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• Oubai Shahbandar is a Fellow in New America’s International Security Program. He is a former Department of Defense senior adviser, and currently a strategic consultant specializing in technology, energy and Arabian Gulf security. Twitter: @OS26

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Iran move won’t weaken US hand with NKorea: Tillerson — “Diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops.”

October 15, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson denied President Trump’s un-diplomatic style is undermining his efforts to rein in North Korea

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Sunday denied that Donald Trump’s threat to tear up the Iran nuclear deal had weakened America’s chance of reining in North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile drive through diplomacy.

By calling into question the landmark deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program, worried allies fear the US president has sent a message to Pyongyang that America’s word cannot be trusted.

In a virulent speech Friday, Trump refused to certify Iran’s compliance with the deal, kicking its fate to Congress, which he told to address its “many serious flaws.”

“I think what North Korea should take away from this decision is that the United States will expect a very demanding agreement with North Korea,” Tillerson said on CNN’s State of the Union.

“One that is very binding and achieves the objectives not just of the United States but the policy objectives of China and other neighbors in the region, a denuclearized Korean peninsula.”

“If we achieve that, there will be nothing to walk away from because the objective will be achieved.”

The US top diplomat’s efforts to rein in North Korea have been overshadowed by Trump’s un-diplomatic style and his streams of taunting tweets stirring international tensions.

Earlier this month, as Tillerson flew home from meeting with top Chinese officials, Trump tweeted that his envoy was “wasting his time” in trying to probe North Korea’s willingness to talk.

But Tillerson pushed back at claims that Trump has undermined his efforts, after outspoken Republican senator and Trump critic Bob Corker said the president was seeking to “castrate” his top diplomat.

“No, sir. He has made it clear to me to continue my diplomatic efforts,” Tillerson said. “Those diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops.”

“The president has also made clear to me that he wants this solved diplomatically,” he added. “He’s not seeking to go to war.”

The Secretary of State was forced this month to deny claims of a serious rift with Trump, after it was reported he had called the president a “moron.”

Tillerson has refused to outright deny the report, which he once more dismissed on CNN as “petty stuff.”

But he had a quick comeback at the ready when asked about Corker’s claim that Trump was trying to “castrate” him on the world stage: “I checked. I’m fully intact.”