Posts Tagged ‘Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’

Trump weighing aggressive Iran strategy — More than 80 experts urge Trump not to abandon Iran nuclear deal

September 14, 2017

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is weighing a strategy that could allow more aggressive U.S. responses to Iran’s forces, its Shi’ite Muslim proxies in Iraq and Syria, and its support for militant groups, according to six current and former U.S. officials.

The proposal was prepared by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and other top officials, and presented to Trump at a National Security Council meeting on Friday, the sources said.

It could be agreed and made public before the end of September, two of the sources said. All of the sources are familiar with the draft and requested anonymity because Trump has yet to act on it.

RELATED: US-Iran relations through time

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United States and Iran Relations throughout time

In contrast to detailed instructions handed down by President Barack Obama and some of his predecessors, Trump is expected to set broad strategic objectives and goals for U.S. policy but leave it to U.S. military commanders, diplomats and other U.S. officials to implement the plan, said a senior administration official.

“Whatever we end up with, we want to implement with allies to the greatest extent possible,” the official added.

The White House declined to comment.

The plan is intended to increase the pressure on Tehran to curb its ballistic missile programs and support for militants, several sources said.

“I would call it a broad strategy for the range of Iranian malign activities: financial materials, support for terror, destabilization in the region, especially Syria and Iraq and Yemen,” said another senior administration official.

The proposal also targets cyber espionage and other activity and potentially nuclear proliferation, the official said.

The administration is still debating a new stance on a 2015 agreement, sealed by Obama, to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The draft urges consideration of tougher economic sanctions if Iran violates the 2015 agreement.

The proposal includes more aggressive U.S. interceptions of Iranian arms shipments such as those to Houthi rebels in Yemen and Palestinian groups in Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai, a current official and a knowledgeable former U.S. official said.

The plan also recommends the United States react more aggressively in Bahrain, whose Sunni Muslim monarchy has been suppressing majority Shi’ites, who are demanding reforms, the sources said.

In addition, U.S. naval forces could react more forcefully when harassed by armed speed boats operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s paramilitary and espionage contingent, three of the sources said.

U.S. ships have fired flares and warning shots to drive off IRGC boats that made what were viewed as threatening approaches after refusing to heed radio warnings in the passageway for 35 percent of the world’s seaborne petroleum exports.

U.S. commanders now are permitted to open fire only when they think their vessels and the lives of their crews are endangered. The sources offered no details of the proposed changes in the rules, which are classified.


The plan does not include an escalation of U.S. military activity in Syria and Iraq. Trump’s national security aides argued that a more muscular military response to Iranian proxies in Syria and Iraq would complicate the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State, which they argued should remain the top priority, four of the sources said.

Mattis and McMaster, as well as the heads of the U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Forces Command, have opposed allowing U.S. commanders in Syria and Iraq to react more forcefully to provocations by the IRGC, Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, the four sources said.

The advisers are concerned that more permissive rules of engagement would divert U.S. forces from defeating the remnants of Islamic State, they said.

RELATED: Ballistic missile testing in Iran

Moreover, looser rules could embroil the United States in a conflict with Iran while U.S. forces remain overstretched, and Trump has authorized a small troop increase for Afghanistan, said one senior administration official.

A former U.S. official said Hezbollah and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias in Iraq have been “very helpful” in recapturing vast swaths of the caliphate that Islamic State declared in Syria and Iran in 2014.

U.S. troops supporting Kurdish and Sunni Arab fighters battling Islamic State in Syria have been wrestling with how to respond to hostile actions by Iranian-backed forces.

In some of the most notable cases, U.S. aircraft shot down two Iranian-made drones in June. Both were justified as defensive acts narrowly tailored to halt an imminent threat on the ground.


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Trump’s opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), poses a dilemma for policymakers.

Most of his national security aides favor remaining in the pact, as do U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia despite their reservations about Iran’s adherence to the agreement, said U.S. officials involved in the discussions.

“The main issue for us was to get the president not to discard the JCPOA. But he had very strong feelings, backed by (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations) Nikki Haley, that they should be more aggressive with Iran,” one of the two U.S. officials said. “Almost all the strategies presented to him were ones that tried to preserve the JCPOA but lean forward on these other (issues.)”


(Writing by Jonathan Landay.; Reporting by Arshad Mohammed,Jonathan Landay, and Steve Holland.; Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and John Walcott; Editing by Howard Goller)

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Donald Trump is pictured here. | Getty Images
President Donald Trump’s administration has been reviewing the Iran nuclear deal. | Andrew Harrer/Getty Images

More than 80 experts urge Trump not to abandon Iran nuclear deal

More than 80 experts on nuclear proliferation urged the Trump administration not to abandon the Iran nuclear deal in a statement on Wednesday.

The agreement, which was negotiated under former President Barack Obama in 2015, ended several sanctions against Iran in exchange for that country taking steps to dismantle its nuclear program. Iran is subject to regular inspections to monitor whether it adheres to those rules under terms of the agreement.

The signatories, which include many academics and some former State Department officials, wrote that they are “concerned by statements from the Trump administration that it may be seeking to create a false pretext for accusing Iran of noncooperation or noncompliance with the agreement in order to trigger the re-imposition of nuclear-related sanctions against Iran.”

Last week, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley described the deal as a “very flawed and very limited agreement” and contended that “Iran has been caught in multiple violations over the past year and a half.”

The experts who signed the letter, though, described the agreement as “an effective and verifiable arrangement that is a net plus for international nuclear nonproliferation efforts” and warned against leaving it.

“Abandoning the deal without clear evidence of an unresolved material breach by Iran that is corroborated by the other EU3+3 partners runs the risk that Tehran would resume some of its nuclear activities, such as enriching uranium to higher levels or increasing the number of operating centrifuges,” they wrote. “These steps would decrease the time it would take for Iran to obtain enough nuclear material for a warhead.”

President Donald Trump was a critic of the Iran deal as a candidate, but he has not taken steps to abandon it since taking office. His administration, however, has been reviewing the deal.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Below you will find the full text of the interview.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



More evidence Trump administration is preparing a case to decertify Iran’s compliance with the international nuclear deal

August 25, 2017
  • There are more signs the Trump administration is preparing a case to decertify Iran’s compliance with the international nuclear deal.
  • Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, this week visited the atomic watchdog agency in charge of monitoring Iran’s compliance.
  • On Thursday, Tehran said it “is abiding by its duties and responsibilities” and accused Washington of using the issue “for ill-wishing political means.”
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Fatemeh Bahrami | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
A Iranian woman walks past a wall painting in the shape of Iranian flag in Tehran, Iran on the first anniversary of nuclear deal between Iran and world powers on January 16, 2017.

The Trump administration is giving “strong indications” that it is preparing a case to decertify Iran‘s compliance with the international nuclear agreement, an expert says.

If that happens, though, some analysts believe it risks alienating U.S. allies. In addition to the United States and Iran, the 2015 nuclear agreement was signed by Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the United Nations.

The White House sent Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to Vienna on Wednesday to meet with officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is responsible for monitoring and verifying Iran’s commitments under the 2015 agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

On Thursday, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency quoted from a letter sent by Iran’s foreign minister to the U.N. agency saying the country “is abiding by its duties and responsibilities” with regard to nuclear weapons and agreements. He accused Washington of using the issue “for ill-wishing political means.”

During her visit, Haley “discussed the IAEA’s verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear-related commitments,” according to a statement by the agency. It provided no additional information, and a statement from Haley’s office discussed her visit but shed no light on imminent action.

Last week, Haley said the Tehran government should be held accountable for “its missile launchers, support for terrorism, disregard for human rights, and violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Iran cannot be allowed to use the nuclear deal to hold the world hostage.”

The Trump administration has certified Iran’s compliance twice under a law that requires it to notify Congress of Iran’s compliance every 90 days. The next review ends in October.

Analysts say recent actions by the U.S. demonstrate that President Donald Trump plans to renege on the Iran nuclear agreement. During the election campaign, he threatened to rip up the agreement, calling it “the worst deal ever.”

The actions include new U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran and a comment last week by a U.S. official that Iran is in breach of “the spirit” of the nuclear accord. New sanctions were designed to punish Iran for its human rights record, rocket launches as well as its role in terrorism and arms smuggling.

“He’s given strong indications that he’s just not going to recertify it,” said John Glaser, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank.

“If we were to leave the deal or deliberately abrogate it, we’d be isolated internationally and we wouldn’t be able to do anything like reapply sanctions that would do any kind of damage on Iran,” he added. “That’s because the rest of the international community would not sort of play along.”

Glaser said the other parties to the agreement “agree that Iran is compliance with the deal and agree that the deal should be kept in place because it’s a robust, nonproliferation agreement. It has kind of taken military conflict against Iran because of the nuclear program off the table.”

Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani threatened to quit the nuclear pact if the White House issues new sanctions. Iran charged those sanctions were a violation of the nuclear accord.

“Iran has already harvested a great many of the benefits of the deal already,” said Thomas Karako, a senior fellow with the International Security Program and director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a conservative think tank. “If they are considering a breakout for the purposes of [nuclear] capability, they will probably try to maximize their benefits and minimize the blowback.”

Karako said one way for Tehran to get the most mileage out of the nuclear accord is to “string this along enough so as to take the tension out of the so-called snap-back sanctions.”

Some analysts believe Iran has an incentive to comply with the agreement because of the lifting of years of sanctions, which had hurt its economy. Since the agreement, the Islamic country has enjoyed strong exports of crude oil and benefited from increased foreign trade and signed billion-dollar investment deals.

The White House and State Department didn’t respond to requests for comment.


© Saudi Royal Palace/AFP/File / by Ali Choukeir | A handout picture provided by the Saudi Royal Palace on July 30, 2017 shows Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) receiving prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Jeddah

Trump administration will certify Iran nuclear deal compliance, vows additional sanctions — Trump administration to highlight “Iran’s malign behavior.”

July 18, 2017
Administration will certify Iran nuclear deal compliance, vows additional sanctions
© Getty Images

The Trump administration on Monday announced its intention to certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement reached two years ago under the Obama administration, but said Iran is “in default of the spirit” of the accord.

A senior administration told reporters that the White House will certify to Congress that Iran is meeting the provisions of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but stressed that it plans to take a broader approach to combat Iran’s other “malign activities,” including additional sanction for Iran’s actions outside the scope of the nuclear deal.

“The Secretary of State is in the process as we speak of certifying to the Congress that the conditions that are laid out in the [Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act] have been met based on information available to the United States,” the official said.

“However, the secretary of State and the president intend to emphasize that Iran remains one of the most dangerous threats to U.S. interests and to regional stability and to highlight the range of malign activities by Iran that extend well beyond the nuclear realm,” the official added.The deal arranged under former President Barack Obama and maligned by Trump on the campaign trail requires the administration to certify compliance to Congress. The announcement comes on the day of a congressional deadline stipulating that the administration must verify that Iran is meeting the provisions of the nuclear accord. Iran, in exchange for adhering to the agreement negotiated in 2015 with the United States and five additional world powers, gets sanctions relief.

The “malign activities” outside the realm of the nuclear agreement include Iran’s support for terrorism, human rights abuses, backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad and hostility to Israel, the official said.

“The president and the Secretary of State judge that these Iranian activities severely undermine the intent of the JCPOA, which was to contribute to regional and international peace and security,” the official said.

“And as a result, the president, secretary of State, and the entire administration judge that Iran is unquestionably in default of the spirit of the JCPOA.”

During the call, officials emphasized that the previous administration took a “narrow approach” that overlooked Iran’s “broader behavior.”

“In our view, the previous administration allowed the nuclear agreement to be the tail that wagged the Iran policy dog,” another senior administration official on the call said.

“We are determined not to repeat that mistake and we are approaching all this as part of an integrated strategy to holding Iran accountable for its misdeeds in all respects and trying to contain the threats that Iran presents to our interest and those of our allies and friends in the region.”

Moving forward, the Trump administration intends to engage a strategy that will “address the totality of Iran’s malign behavior and not narrowly focus” solely on the nuclear accord.

The strategy includes new sanctions aimed at holding Iran responsible for its “misbehavior in the region in a bunch of fronts,” according to one of the officials.

“They are part of an ongoing campaign to hold Iran accountable for its misbehavior in ways that don’t actually touch the deal,” the official added, referring to Iran’s missile program and provocations in Middle Eastern waterways.

The Senate in June passed a bill with sanctions targeting Iran’s support for terrorism, its ballistic missile program, human rights violations and weapons transfers.

The certification announcement comes as the Trump administration seeks to take a hard-line stance against Iran following the rhetoric the president espoused during his campaign for the White House, when he vowed to tear up the nuclear agreement on day one of his presidency and repeatedly criticized the Obama administration for negotiating the accord.
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Dr. Sebastian Gorka, a White House national security advisor, said the issue was discussed with President Trump during a “spirited” Oval Office debate. President Trump elected to apply new sanctions to Iran.

The ‘Worst Deal Ever Negotiated’ Is the Best Template for Dealing With North Korea

May 7, 2017
The ‘Worst Deal Ever Negotiated’ Is the Best Template for Dealing With North Korea

The Atlantic

An agreement Trump has called “the worst deal ever negotiated” may offer a route out of the crisis.

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with Hossein Fereydoun, the brother of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif before addressing an international press corps on the nuclear deal on July 14, 2015.Reuters

Donald Trump, who campaigned for president promising to bring his unique dealmaking skills to gridlocked Washington, assumed office facing a twin choice. On the one hand, he would have to decide whether, as candidate Trump had repeatedly pledged, to undo “the worst deal ever” with Iran that the Obama administration and the world’s major powers had negotiated in 2015 to block that country’s pathways to the bomb for at least 15 years. Conversely, he would also have to decide whether to do a deal with North Korea to constrain its burgeoning nuclear and missile programs—capabilities that by 2020, if left unchecked, could allow the Kim Jong Un regime to strike the U.S. homeland with a nuclear weapon mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

A few days past the 100-day mark, the Trump administration’s signals on these urgent nuclear challenges are mixed. On Iran, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reported to Congress that the Tehran regime “is compliant” with its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran deal, but President Trump accused Iran of “not living up to the spirit” of the agreement—a reference to the Islamic Republic’s destabilizing regional behavior that is beyond the scope of the nuclear accord. On North Korea, Trump has warned of “a major, major, conflict” with the country if diplomacy fails, while Tillerson has stated that Washington’s precondition for any direct negotiations with Pyongyang is precisely the outcome the United States seeks—North Korea’s denuclearization.

Yet even as an outcome rather than a precondition of negotiations a full rollback of the North Korean nuclear program to zero warheads is simply not an attainable near-term diplomatic objective. After the United States’s regime-changing military interventions in Iraq and Libya, the Kim Jong Un regime is not going to relinquish nuclear weapons viewed as essential to its survival. The Trump administration thus faces the choice of pivoting from the unobtainable objective of denuclearization to the alternative—an imperfect nuclear deal that would freeze North Korean nuclear and missile capabilities at their current level. In short, the template for preventing a North Korean nuclear breakout that could directly threaten the United States is the Iran nuclear agreement—the “worst deal ever negotiated.” That deal constrained Iran’s uranium enrichment program to ensure that a latent capability to produce bomb-grade fissile material remained latent. Tillerson, rejecting the Iran nuclear deal as a relevant precedent, has argued that the accord “represents the same failed approach of the past that brought us to the current imminent threat we face in North Korea.”

That “approach” was a twin strategy of pressure and engagement that the Obama administration pursued to bring Iran to the negotiating table and into compliance with its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The 2013 election of a reformist Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, who had campaigned on a platform of resolving the nuclear issue to win the lifting of economic sanctions, inaugurated an intensive diplomatic effort culminating in the landmark JCPOA agreement of July 2015.

The Iran nuclear accord was a deal, not a grand bargain. As a deal, the agreement blocking Iran’s access to weapons-grade enriched uranium was transactional, not transformational. U.S. hardliners remain critical of the agreement because of this—that is, the JCPOA does not affect Iran’s destabilizing regional role and its human rights abuses. This persisting divide in the U.S. debate—whether transactional diplomacy that is not transformational should be advanced or rejected—explains how Iran can be simultaneously “compliant” with the JCPOA and not living up to the “spirit” of the accord. The same divide will shape the possibilities for nuclear diplomacy with North Korea.

The North Korean nuclear challenge is a slow-motion Cuban Missile Crisis—one that is playing out not over 13 days, as in October 1962, but over the next few years. North Korea, which tested its first nuclear weapon in 2006, is now on the verge of a strategic breakout—quantitatively (by ramping up its warhead numbers) and qualitatively (through mastery of warhead miniaturization and long-range ballistic missiles)—that directly threatens the U.S. homeland. Unclassified projections of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal by 2020 range as high as 100 warheads, which is, incredibly, approaching half the size of Britain’s.

Tillerson has declared that the Obama policy of “strategic patience” is over, but what follows remains unclear. The military option that Trump administration officials repeatedly affirm is “on the table” runs the catastrophic risk of escalating into a general war on the Korean peninsula. General Gary Luck, the former commander of U.S. forces in Korea, estimated that such a conflict would result in 1 million casualties and entail economic costs of $1 trillion. If neither using force to eliminate the threat nor acquiescing to a North Korean nuclear breakout is palatable, the remaining “option on the table” is diplomacy.

U.S. Cyber Capability Against North Korean Missiles? — Plus Tillerson says Trump Administration Reviewing Iran Nuclear Deal (JCPOA)

April 19, 2017
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Photo by: Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland speaks at the Women’s Empowerment Panel, at the White House in Washington, in this Wednesday, March 29, 2017, file photo. McFarland, top national security adviser to President Donald Trump, is in line to be U.S. ambassador to Singapore. McFarland’s impending move was confirmed Sunday, April 9, 2017, by a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement hasn’t been made public. The post requires Senate confirmation. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

– The Washington Times – Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The unsuccessful test launch of a North Korean medium-range missile on Saturday has fueled media speculation the missile blew up as a result of U.S. clandestine cyber attacks.

Asked if secret U.S. intervention caused the explosion of the North Korean test launch, White House Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland said Sunday, “We can’t talk about secret intelligence and things that might have been done, covert operations that might have happened.”

If U.S. intelligence succeeded in getting into the supply chain used by North Korea to acquire parts for missiles from abroad, the information likely would be held in an ultra-secret special-access program and its disclosure to the public unlikely.

Another reason for the missile failures could be North Korea’s shift from liquid fuel to solid fuel, a more challenging technology to master.

The U.S. sabotage speculation is based on a New York Times report in March that reported the Trump administration had inherited a secret intelligence operation to conduct cyber and electronic attacks aimed at sabotaging North Korean missile launches.

Getting inside North Korea’s homemade missile programs would be very difficult since Pyongyang manufactures several types of short-, medium- and long-range missiles. Still Pyongyang acquires parts from abroad, including China and Russia that could have been intercepted and doctored to sabotage flight tests.

The Pacific Command said the North Korean missile was launched at 5:21 p.m. EDT near Sinpo, a port city on the Sea of Japan where North Korea is developing its solid-fueled KN-11 submarine-launched ballistic missile.

“The missile blew up almost immediately,” the command said in a statement.

The Sinpo failure was at least the third missile to blow up after launch from that location. Two other failed test launches took place there last year, on April 23 and July 9. On Aug. 24, a KN-11 flew around 310 miles, however.

Other failed North Korean missile launches last year included three Nodong medium-range missiles, and six failures of the intermediate-range Musudan missile, according to a United Nations report. Both missiles use liquid fuel.

Doubts on Iran nuclear deal

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson notified Congress on Wednesday that Iran was complying with the 2015 international agreement on its nuclear program.

In the first such review by the Trump administration, Mr. Tillerson stated in a letter to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan that Tehran has met the compliance conditions outlined in the 2015 Nuclear Agreement Review Act, passed by Congress amid doubts about the accord.

“Notwithstanding, Iran remains a leading state sponsor of terror through many platforms and methods,” Mr. Tillerson stated, noting that President Trump ordered an interagency review of the accord known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The review “will evaluate whether suspension of sanctions related to Iran pursuant to the JCPOA is vital to the national security interests of the United States,” he said.

The statement suggests the Trump administration could re-impose sanctions on Iran, something Tehran has said would lead it to pull out of a deal critics say will allow the Islamic republic to develop nuclear arms in 10 years.

The Iran deal permits uranium enrichment and calls for “snap-back” sanctions if Tehran fails to abide by its terms, which are aimed at preventing development of nuclear arms.

The JCPOA restricts extensive international monitoring to declared nuclear facilities and calls upon Iran to permit inspections when any suspicious facilities are spotted.

However, Iran in the past has stymied international monitoring of suspect nuclear sites, like the Parchin facility that was not included in the Iran deal. Parchin, located some 20 miles southeast of Tehran, was the location for most of Iran’s past nuclear arms-related work.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo, a critic of the Iran deal when he was a Republican member of Congress, said recently that intelligence estimates of Iranian compliance with the nuclear accord remain uncertain.

“I don’t want to say much about their compliance with the agreement,” Mr. Pompeo said during remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies last week. “I prefer to present that to the president and let him communicate that. You should know we are actively engaged in a lot of work to assist the president in making sure he has an understanding of where the Iranians are complying and where they might not be.”

Mr. Pompeo then suggested Iran could cheat as Syria did in hiding chemical weapons that were required to be given up under an Obama administration-brokered agreement.

“We should all be mindful, given what took place in Syria, and go back and read that JCPOA and what it talks about in terms of declared facilities and undeclared facilities, and how much access the IAEA will have to each of those two very distinct groups,” Mr. Pompeo said.

“So that might suggest to you what level of certainty we can ever hope to present to the commander-in-chief,” he said.

Mr. Pompeo also said the Iran nuclear agreement has not led to a more benign Iran, as agreement supporters predicted would take place.

Among the increasing threats are Iran’s growing missile capabilities, as well as Iranian subversion in Iraq and Yemen. “The list of Iranian transgressions has increased dramatically since the date that the JCPOA was signed,” he said.

Missile parade shows Chinese launchers

North Korea’s large military parade in Pyongyang on Saturday highlighted several new missile developments.

Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, says photo analysis of the parade showed off what appear to be two new long-range solid-fuel missiles on Chinese or Chinese-design launchers.

One of the missiles is a medium-range ballistic missile similar in size to the Chinese DF-21 — the weapon Beijing has fashioned into a long-range anti-ship missile.

“While the images do not confirm overall Chinese assistance for this new North Korean missile, the truck cab towing the missile is clearly based on the Chinese-made Sinotruk A7 tractor-trailer truck cab design,” said Mr. Fisher.

The second missile shown in Pyongyang last week was contained in a much larger tube carried on a 16-wheel mobile launcher made by the Sanjiang Special Truck Corp., part of China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC).

“The size of this new large missile launch tube indicates North Korea may be developing a new solid-fuel missile larger than the liquid-fueled KN-08 and KN-14 revealed in 2012 and 2014,” Mr. Fisher said.

If the Chinese launchers were not transferred directly by Beijing, they may be built indigenously through a China-North Korea joint venture, he said.

Further evidence of China-North Korean missile cooperation means “it would be very dangerous to assume that China has indeed changed its longstanding policies of supporting the North Korean regime,” Mr. Fisher said.

“Washington should demand that China immediately reveal publicly the full extent of its direct and indirect support for a number of new North Korean weapons, to include the new solid-fuel ICBM, the KN-08/14 liquid-fueled ICBM, the KN-06 fourth-generation anti-aircraft missile and the new precision guided artillery rocket,” he said.

— Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.


Trump Administration Says Iran Complying With Nuclear Deal

April 19, 2017

Letter to Congress suggests the U.S. might not support the agreement going forward

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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

April 18, 2017 11:53 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—The Trump administration notified Congress on Tuesday that Iran is compliant with the landmark nuclear agreement reached in 2015, but also cast doubt on the U.S.’s continued support for the deal.

Congress requires U.S. administrations to report quarterly on whether Tehran is meeting the terms of the agreement, which required Iran to significantly scale back its nuclear capabilities in exchange for the lifting of most…


Trump administration to review Iran sanctions relief

April 19, 2017


© AFP/File | US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Congress Iran remained “a leading state sponsor of terror, through many platforms and methods”

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he has told Congress of plans to review whether sanctions relief given to Iran as part of the 2015 nuclear deal was in US national security interests.The notification came as the White House certified that Iran was complying with its commitments under the nuclear deal negotiated by former president Barack Obama, which is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“Iran remains a leading state sponsor of terror, through many platforms and methods,” Tillerson wrote in the letter.

“President Donald J. Trump has directed a National Security Council-led interagency review of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that will evaluate whether suspension of sanctions related to Iran pursuant to the JCPOA is vital to the national security interests of the United States.”

The certification of Iran’s compliance with the terms of the deal must be issued to Congress every 90 days. Tuesday’s certification was the first issued by the Trump administration.

The deal placed curbs on Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

Donald Trump intends to take on Iran

February 24, 2017

The Economist

Right, but risky

How far is the new administration prepared to go?

CHAOTIC, fractious and bafflingly inconsistent though the Trump administration may be, on one issue it appears united: Iran. There is ample evidence that since the signing in mid-2015 of the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear programme, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran has taken advantage of the easing of sanctions and the unfreezing of about $100bn worth of overseas assets to project its power across the region with greater boldness. Barack Obama, the new team believe, let it off the hook.

Since the deal, Iran has stepped up its support for Bashar al-Assad in Syria to the point where, with Russian air support, his regime’s survival appears assured for the foreseeable future. Iran has also worked with Russia to supply Hizbullah, a Lebanese Shia militia fighting in Syria, with heavy weapons. It has poured other Shia militias into Syria from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Iraq, meanwhile, Iranian-backed militias are fighting alongside American-supported Iraqi security forces against Islamic State (IS). But once IS is ejected from Mosul, they will be a potent weapon in Iran’s attempt to turn Iraq into a dependent satrapy. In Yemen the civil war is a proxy struggle between Sunni Gulf Arabs, who back the recognised government, against Shia Houthi rebels whom Iran supplies with training and weapons, including anti-ship missiles that have been fired at American warships in the Red Sea.

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Meanwhile, Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps has conducted a series of tests of ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead in defiance, though not clear violation, of UN Security Resolution 2231, which underpins the nuclear deal. The latest, on January 29th, resulted in the US Treasury slapping new sanctions on several Iranian individuals and companies connected to the missile programme. The response was measured (and probably dusted off from something prepared by the Obama administration). But it was backed up by a statement from the short-lived national security adviser, Mike Flynn, that Iran was “officially being put on notice” about its behaviour.

What did he mean by that?

Mr Flynn, however, was vague about what that involved. It is one thing to decide that Iran must be confronted and pushed back, quite another to know how to do it without running the risk of plunging America into another Middle Eastern war and increasing turmoil in a region that already has plenty of it.

The future of the nuclear deal is also in doubt. During the presidential campaign Mr Trump described it as the “worst deal in history”, and congressional Republicans have little affection for it. But given the increased influence of James Mattis, the defence secretary, and Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, there is little appetite in the administration for unilaterally abrogating an international agreement that has largely taken the nuclear issue off the table for the next decade or so and which has strong international support.

Instead, the emphasis will be on rigorous enforcement. Minor Iranian transgressions, such as the recent breach of the amount of heavy water Iran is allowed to hold for its reactors, will not be tolerated. Should Iran be caught deliberately cheating, America could try to persuade other signatories to the deal (France, Germany, Britain and the European Union, but probably not Russia or China) that some sanctions should “snap back”.

The nuclear deal only lifted nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. Others remain in place, relating to ballistic-missile activity, support for terrorism and human-rights abuses. More could be imposed for further missile tests or violations of UN embargoes on arming Hizbullah in Syria and the Houthis in Yemen. America also maintains strict rules about illicit financial activity—Iran is believed by many to be a serial offender—and doing business with any commercial entities linked to the Revolutionary Guards, who have fingers in most of the Iranian economy. Nor does the Trump administration have to strain, as John Kerry (Mr Tillerson’s predecessor) did, to reassure international banks that they would not be penalised for financing deals in Iran. Even with Mr Kerry’s encouragement, the banks remained cautious.

Alongside sanctions, confronting Iran is likely to require a military component, though it, too, will have to be calibrated. Iran’s aim is to establish an arc of control that runs through Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut. Mr Mattis has been told to come up with a plan to prevent this. More direct help for the Saudis and Emiratis in Yemen is likely, as is aggressive patrolling of international waters to stop supplies of weapons from Iran getting to the Houthis. American warships, dangerously buzzed by Iranian patrol boats, may not be as restrained in their response as before. In Syria, it looks as if there will be an attempt to prise apart the alliance between Russia and Iran. There will be an offer to Moscow of military co-operation against IS and recognition of Russia’s role in deciding the terms of a future settlement. If that fails, as is probable, Mr Mattis may decide that America will need more than the handful of special forces it currently has on the ground in Syria. He was unimpressed by Mr Obama’s policy to speak loudly and carry a small stick.

The biggest challenge will be Iraq. Mr Mattis, on a visit to the country this week, said that the 6,000 American forces assisting in the fight against IS would be staying on for some time after the fall of Mosul. He knows that without their presence, and the political influence it buys, there will be little to stop Iran from installing a new government of its choosing.

Iran may well be, as Senator Lindsey Graham said on February 19th, “a bad actor in the greatest sense of the word”. But it is a resourceful one. Any attempt to confront it risks escalation. Mr Trump’s trusted adviser, Stephen Bannon, believes that America is engaged in a civilisational struggle likely to lead to “a major shooting war in the Middle East again”. It is for Mr Mattis and Mr Tillerson to plot a course that restrains Iran without fulfilling that prophesy.

This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the headline “A new confrontation”

U.S. senators consider sanctions against Iran for missile development

February 19, 2017

U.S. Republican senators plan to introduce legislation to impose further sanction on Iran, accusing it of violating U.N. Security Council resolutions by testing ballistic missiles and acting to “destabilize” the Middle East, a U.S. senator said Sunday.

“I think it is now time for the Congress to take Iran on directly in terms of what they’ve done outside the nuclear program,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the Munich Security Conference.

Graham said he and other Republicans would introduce measures to hold Iran accountable for its actions.

Tensions between Tehran and Washington have risen since a Iranian ballistic missile test which prompted U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to impose sanctions on individuals and entities linked to the country’s Revolutionary Guards.

“Iran is a bad actor in the greatest sense of the word when it comes to the region. To Iran, I say, if you want us to treat you differently then stop building missiles, test-firing them in defiance of U.N. resolution and writing ‘Death to Israel’ on the missile. That’s a mixed message,” Graham said.

Senator Christopher Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the same panel there was nothing preventing Congress from imposing sanctions beyond those that were lifted as a result of the 2016 nuclear agreement with Iran.

Murphy, a Democrat, told the panel that he had backed the nuclear deal in the explicit understanding that it would not prevent Congress from taking actions against Iran outside the nuclear issue.

“There’s going to be a conversation about what the proportional response is,” Murphy said, referring to Iran’s missile test. “But I don’t necessarily think there’s going to be partisan division over whether or not we have the ability as a Congress to speak on issues outside of the nuclear agreement.”

Murphy said the United States needed to decide whether it wanted to take a broader role in the regional conflict.

“We have to make a decision whether we are going to get involved in the emerging proxy war in a bigger way than we are today, between Iran and Saudi,” he said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Java Zarf told the conference earlier on Sunday that Iran did not respond well to sanctions or threats.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and John Irish. Editing by Jane Merriman)