Posts Tagged ‘JCPOA’

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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Nikki Haley Urges UN to Challenge Iranian Actions — “Iran must be judged in totality of its destructive and unlawful behavior. To do otherwise is foolish.”

October 19, 2017

Bloomberg

By Kambiz Foroohar

 
  • Other Security Council envoys focus on Israel-Palestine issues
  • Trump last week declined to certify nuclear accord with Iran
Nikki Haley Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Nikki Haley urged the UN Security Council to consider a wide range of Iran’s “destabilizing” actions in the Middle East in an early test of whether President Donald Trump’s toughening position on the Islamic Republic is alienating allies and leaving the U.S. isolated internationally.

Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, used a Security Council meeting Wednesday on “the situation in the Middle East” to once again take on Tehran’s ballistic-missile program and its support for Hezbollah and Syrian ruler Bashar Al-Assad. But most of the other participants sought to focus on Israeli-Palestinian issues, especially Israel’s settlements in the West Bank.

The meeting was the first public effort to gauge support for the U.S. position on Iran after Trump declined to certify the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, on Oct. 13. Trump, making a determination required under U.S. law every 90 days, said the agreement with Iran and five other nations wasn’t serving U.S. national security interests, though he stopped short of quitting the accord entirely.

“Judging Iran by the narrow confines of the nuclear deal misses the true nature of the threat,” Haley told the Security Council. “Iran must be judged in totality of its destructive and unlawful behavior. To do otherwise is foolish.”

Despite Trump’s criticisms, U.S. allies have said they continue to back the agreement, pointing to International Atomic Energy Agency assessments that Iran has met its requirements under the accord. The agreement, negotiated during the Obama administration, was intended to ease economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.

Read a QuickTake Q&A on how Trump wants to build a new nuclear deal

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Europe’s position hasn’t changed since Trump’s speech, said Olof Skoog, Sweden’s ambassador to the UN. Skoog said the Middle East debate should focus on the peace process and not the nuclear deal.

“The nuclear agreement is underpinned by UN Security Council resolutions. It’s clear where we stand,” Skoog said. “The EU is determined to preserve the JCPOA as a key pillar of the international nonproliferation architecture.”

Representatives of Japan and the U.K. said Wednesday that they continued to support the Iran accord and that all of the participating nations should continue to abide by its provisions.

‘Confused’ Delegates

In a swipe at Haley, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said he wondered if “some delegates” were confused about the agenda item. “The fact that some delegations did not mention the word ‘Palestine’ saddens us,” he said.

The Security Council has maintained a critical stance toward Israel for years, and Arab nations, including U.S. allies, have resisted shifting that emphasis. Israel’s settlement policies are routinely criticized at the Security Council.

During her confirmation hearings in January, Haley said one of her main goals was to change the “anti-Israel bias” at the UN.

“Nowhere has the UN’s failure been more consistent and more outrageous than in its bias against our close ally Israel,” she said at the hearing. The U.S. envoy frequently criticizes Iran’s regional role, its testing of ballistic missiles and human rights violations. In July, she helped persuade France, Germany and the U.K. to sign a letter of protest to the Security Council about Iran’s “threatening and provocative” launch of a rocket that can carry a satellite into space.

But this time, France and the U.K. have signaled they will focus less on Iran and more on the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

“For some countries this is an opportunity to go beyond the peace process itself to describe the situation in region — some countries might do that,” François Delattre, France’s ambassador to the UN, said before Wednesday’s hearing. “For others it’s also a great opportunity to focus precisely on the peace process, what needs to be done, and settlement activity. As for France, we will focus on the Middle East peace process, but I cannot say I will not mention other issues as well.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-18/haley-to-press-un-security-council-on-iran-after-trump-decision

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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.

Image result for Qassem Soleimani, photos

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

May Hopes Brussels Dinner Will Woo EU Officials on Brexit

October 16, 2017

Move comes after EU’s chief Brexit negotiator said progress was insufficient for talks to move to the next phase

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves to 10 Downing Street with the Secretary of State for departing the EU David Davis on Monday.
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May leaves to 10 Downing Street with the Secretary of State for departing the EU David Davis on Monday. PHOTO: MARY TURNER/REUTERS

BRUSSELS—British Prime Minister Theresa May is traveling to Brussels on Monday as she tries to revive Brexit talks ahead of a summit of European Union leaders later this week.

In an unusual move, Mrs. May travelled with Brexit Secretary David Davis to have dinner with the head of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker and the bloc’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier. This is the first time Mrs. May is holding such meeting since Brexit talks began in June.

A fifth round of talks ended last week with Mr. Barnier saying that progress is still insufficient for talks to move to the next phase. The EU has said it first wants to settle the divorce—meaning Britain’s exit bill, the rights of EU citizens living in the U.K. and the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland—before it will agree to talk about its future relationship with the U.K.

Mrs. May believes that her speech in Florence last month should have given enough guarantees to allow talks to move on to the issue of the U.K.’s future relationship with the bloc. In the speech, Mrs. May promised that the U.K. would honor the financial obligations it has undertaken as an EU member.

“We think in the UK that its time to get on with these negotiations…and start some serious conversation about the deep and special partnership we hope to construct,” said British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who was meeting his EU counterparts in Luxembourg on Monday.

But the EU, with the support of France and Germany, is adamant that more details are required on what London is willing to pay as part of the divorce settlement before there can be any talk about the future relationship.

A spokesmen for Mrs. May said Iran’s nuclear deal would also be on the agenda following U.S. President Donald Trump’s refusal to certify the agreement.

“They’ll be talking about a range of issues of importance to the EU ahead of the council,” said James Slack, Mrs. May’s spokesman. He said she will speak with French President Emmanuel Macron and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar later Monday, after having spoken to German Chancellor Angela Merkel  on Sunday.

On Brexit, the spokesman said talks are advancing and that Mrs. May wants to keep negotiations moving in a constructive manner.

“We are heading in the right direction and we want to make progress in a number of areas,” Mr. Slack said.

Mr. Juncker said on Monday that he would meet Mrs. May, talk with her and “give a postmortem report” after the dinner.

Write to Valentina Pop at valentina.pop@wsj.com

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

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1178221