Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

EU sources deny report of proposed new nuclear deal with financial aid for Iran

May 20, 2018

Three European Union sources have denied that diplomats meeting in Vienna on Friday to salvage the imperiled Iranian nuclear deal after Washington withdrew will discuss offering Iran financial aid in exchange for concessions.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (2nd R), France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (2nd L), Germany Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (R), EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini and Britain's Foreign Secretary arrive for a meeting of EU/E3 with Iran at the EU headquarters in Brussels on May 15, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Olivier Matthys)

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (2nd R), France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (2nd L), Germany Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (R), EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini and Britain’s Foreign Secretary arrive for a meeting of EU/E3 with Iran at the EU headquarters in Brussels on May 15, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Olivier Matthys)

A German newspaper reported on Sunday that diplomats from Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia will meet in Vienna on Friday to discuss next steps after the May 8 decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to pull out of a 2015 nuclear accord with Iran.

The Welt am Sonntag newspaper cited an unnamed senior EU official as saying that the diplomats would discuss a proposal for a new agreement between Iran and world powers that would be the same as the 2015 deal but with some additions to appease the United States.

These could include provisions to address U.S. concerns over Iran’s ballistic missile program and Tehran’s support of armed groups in the Middle East, the source said.

“We have to get away from the name ‘Vienna nuclear agreement’ and add in a few additional elements. Only that will convince President Trump to agree and lift sanctions again,” the senior EU official told the paper.

Such an agreement could in the future include financial aid for Iran, the report said.

But three EU sources who were part of negotiations to keep U.S. President Donald Trump from quitting the nuclear deal told Reuters later on Sunday that this was incorrect.

“The Vienna meeting next Friday will address the implementation issues and details of the JCPOA,” one EU source said. “The meeting will not cover any other issues.”

No immediate comment was available from the German foreign ministry.

Iran said on Sunday it would take part on Friday in a meeting of a joint commission set up by the six world powers, Iran and the European Union to handle any complaints about the deal’s implementation.

“On Friday, the joint commission … will be held at Iran’s request, and without the United States, to discuss the consequences of America’s withdrawal, and how the remaining countries can continue their commitment to the deal,” Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on state television.

On Monday U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will outline a “diplomatic road map” and call for broad support from European and other allies to apply pressure on Iran to force it back to the negotiating table, as well as their support to address “the totality of Iran’s threats”.

Iran and European powers have made a good start in talks over how to salvage the deal but much depends on what happens in the next few weeks, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said last week.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Ankara; Editing by Andrew Bolton, Peter Graff and Raissa Kasolowsky




Trump Should Get Details on Informant Before Mueller Interview, Giuliani Says

May 20, 2018

President’s lawyer seeks information about person said to have been used by U.S. investigators

Rudy Giuliani in November 2016.

President Donald Trump shouldn’t agree to talk with special counsel Robert Mueller without knowing more about a man said to have approached Trump campaign aides in 2016 as part of the U.S. investigation into Russian election interference, his lawyer said Saturday.

Rudy Giuliani said Mr. Trump could be “walking into a trap” unless federal prosecutors make clear the role played by the suspected informant and whether the person compiled any “incriminating information” about Mr. Trump’s associates.

Mr. Giuliani’s comments suggest the Trump legal team is seeking leverage in the latest rounds of monthslong negotiations with Mr. Mueller about the terms under which the president would testify.

“What we intend to do is premise it on, ‘If you want an interview, we need an answer to this,’ ” Mr. Giuliani said in an interview.

In recent days, Mr. Trump and his allies have been moving more aggressively to try to discredit the Russia investigation, edging closer to a collision with the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation. They have seized on reports about the informant as evidence in their view that the Russia probe is motivated by political animus toward the president and not Russia’s efforts to influence the election outcome.

In a tweet on Saturday, Mr. Trump suggested that federal agents had been “infiltrating” his campaign “for the benefit of” his opponent, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. For his part, Mr. Giuliani in the interview said before agreeing to talk, the Trump team would seek to learn more about what he described as a breach of the campaign’s “private communications.”

But former law-enforcement officials have said informants in a probe involving a presidential campaign could be used for law-enforcement or foreign-intelligence purposes, but not for political ends.

The suspected informant met with Trump campaign aides Carter Page and Sam Clovis. Mr. Page had been on the radar of U.S. counterintelligence officials for years over his dealings with Russia, and Mr. Clovis has met with Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors over his involvement with a onetime campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians. Neither Mr. Page nor Mr. Clovis have been accused of wrongdoing.

Congressional Republicans are demanding records from the Justice Department about both the informant and other aspects of the investigation into Mr. Trump’s campaign. Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a close ally of Mr. Trump, has gone so far to threaten to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt of Congress if he doesn’t supply information about the person—an extraordinary threat from a committee chairman to an attorney general of his own party.

Last week, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, to turn over the requested information, a person familiar with the matter said. The Justice Department disputed that account of the meeting but declined to elaborate.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.), who co-signed a letter to the president on Tuesday asking him to direct the Justice Department to release the records, said in an interview Saturday: “Any instruction that the Justice Department may have gotten from Gen. Kelly is consistent with where I’ve come to understand the president’s position to be.”

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Rosenstein has at times shown a willingness to meet congressional requests for information. But the department has resisted Mr. Nunes’s latest demand, even during a classified briefing with the congressman last week with intelligence officials. Mr. Nunes didn’t respond to an invitation from the Justice Department to meet with intelligence officials again this week.

Officials have told Mr. Nunes that providing him with the requested information would put lives in danger, hurt investigations and damage international partnerships.

A former senior Justice Department official familiar with the department’s thinking said the requests for information about confidential human sources are a red line for Mr. Rosenstein and others who believe providing such details would set a dangerous precedent.

FBI Director Christopher Wray and Mr. Rosenstein have been making increasingly pointed public statements about the dangers of giving too much access. Mr. Rosenstein has said the Justice Department wouldn’t be “extorted” or succumb to threats, and Mr. Wray this past week added that “the day we can’t protect human sources is the day the American people start becoming less safe.”

People close to the White House are dismissive of that argument, saying broadly that Justice Department is merely trying to suppress potentially embarrassing information.

Reports of a government informant have migrated in recent days from conservative news outlets to the mainstream press, with the Washington Post and New York Times publishing articles on Friday.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers have spent the past several months discussing with Mr. Mueller’s team the parameters of a possible interview, which Mr. Trump had said he is eager to do. The special counsel is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, as well as whether the president sought to obstruct justice. Mr. Trump has denied collusion and obstruction, and Moscow has denied election meddling.

Mr. Page, who was a Trump foreign-policy adviser, said he met with a person who is now believed to be the informant in July 2016. The event, a symposium on the 2016 election, was held at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. on July 11 and 12.

The suspected informant asked to meet Mr. Clovis, a Trump campaign co-chairman who had initially helped assemble the foreign-policy team, in late August 2016, presenting himself as a professor and foreign-policy expert who wanted to help the campaign, according to Victoria Toensing, a lawyer for Mr. Clovis.

The two met just outside Washington, D.C., and discussed China, Ms. Toensing said. “Russia never came up,” she said. “The conversation was only about China.”

Write to Peter Nicholas at and Sadie Gurman at

Russia Seeks Strong Foothold in Lebanon

May 20, 2018

Through a myriad of political and religious connections, Russia is seeking to establish its presence in Lebanon. In the first of a three-part exclusive for DW, Benas Gerdizunas traces Russia’s influence.

Downtown Beirut (DW/B. Gerdziunas)

Standing in front of a military parade to mark the day of Russia’s military saint, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow proclaimed: “The war against terrorism is a Holy War.”

That speech on May 4, 2016 by the head of Orthodoxy in Russia, left the fragmented Arab Christian Orthodoxy desperately trying to shed the enforced “Crusader Church” image.

Read more: Russian Orthodox Church tries to make hay

Even before those statements, 46 Lebanese Orthodox Christians signed a petition condemning the use of “Christian protection as a pretext to serve nationalistic or political goals.”

Moscow’s “Christian Protection” umbrella and the Orthodox posture — already tried and tested among Europe’s far-right movements — has now turned its attention to Lebanon.

Wikileaks, Sursock, and Gazprom

As far back as 2008, WikiLeaks exposed a cable by US Political Counselor Robert Petterson, warning of Moscow’s planned diplomatic return to the Levant.

“By establishing a physical presence for the Russian state and Church,” he wrote, Moscow will use “returned property as ‘soft power’ in the region.”

Petterson also pointed to a bizarre, Tsar-era NGO, that was revived in 1992 — The Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society (IOPS).

“Although the IOPS was founded in 1872 as one of the oldest Russian NGOs, the head of Russia’s Audit Chamber, Sergey Stepashin, is chairman of the IOPS and MFA Middle East Department Deputy Director Oleg Ozerov heads its international section,” wrote Petterson.

Ultimately, the NGO rose to become a centerpiece of the in Kremlin’s activity. By the end of 2017, it managed to secure property returns in Israel and Palestine.

Belying its NGO status, the leadership of IOPS appears to have close links to the Kremlin. Mikhail Bogdanov, IOPS deputy, is currently serving as Russia’s deputy foreign minister, while Stepashin served a short stint as prime minister in 1999.

On April 23, 2017, Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, received a Russian delegation headed by IOPS chairman Stepashin. Stepashin informed the president of the “agreement to establish an IOPS office in Lebanon,” claiming “broad support for this idea from representatives of the Lebanese parliament, Orthodox organizations, and the Lebanese public.” The public involvement in question, which Stepashin did not disclose, leads to the wealthy and influential Sursock family.

Robert Sursock, a member of the Association of Orthodox Families of Beirut — essentially an alumni network for Tsar-era Russian schools under IOPS — served as the CEO of Gazprombank Invest MENA until 2015.

Russia’s state-owned Gazprombank has been under US sanctions since July 2014, in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The only public records of Gazprombank Invest MENA involve a leak in 2015, when $500 million (€423 million) were transferred from Venezuela to Lebanon.

In December 2017, a consortium including Russia’s gas producer Novatek, was given the right for gas and oil exploration in Lebanon’s coastal areas. Just under 10 percent of Novatek is owned by Gazprom, which in turn, controls Gazprombank.

Read moreGazprom’s monopoly soon a thing of the past?

Infographic showing Russian interests in Lebanon

Physical foothold for Moscow in Lebanon

On March 10, 2017, Hegumen Arseny Sokolov, Moscow Patriarchate representative in the region, reportedly thanked Metropolitan George, the Archbishop of Mount Lebanon, “for his blessing to allocate without charge a plot of land for a Russian cemetery near the Our Lady of Nourieh monastery.”

Suheil Farah, the honorary president of the Lebanese-Russian House, reportedly also attended the meeting.

In June, Russian Patriarch Kirill issued a statement, saying “I am confident that the IOPS needs to continue its work in returning Russia’s lost historical property” in the Middle East, “including Lebanon.”

However, Bishop Georges Safidi of Nourieh Monastery told DW he remains mystified by the deal. “There was a chapel and a cemetery in the contract,” he said, and claimed the deal was made “10 years ago” and that the planning permission had recently expired.

Safidi said that “the Patriarch [of Antioch] and Russia’s ambassador [to Lebanon]” knew about the initial contract.The reason the deal fell apart, according to the Bishop, was due to funding issues on the Russian side.

Lebanese-Russian house

The town of Batroun, with its Phoenician heritage stretching below the Nourieh monastery, is one of the two locations of the Lebanese-Russian House.

So far, the organization has appeared only sporadically in the documented meetings between Lebanese and Russian clergy and politicians.

In March, 2017, however, Russian Ambassador Zasypkin, Moscow Patriarchate representative Arseny Sokolov, Christian Orthodox community members and other high-profile Lebanese and Russian figures attended the 20th anniversary dinner at the Lebanese-Russian Cultural House.

“The Russians are interested in meeting the president, exploring investment options, but not trying to do politics, and the Lebanese-Russian house only does things like film screenings,” Ghassan Saoud, an independent journalist, told DW. A Christian, born in an Orthodox village in Lebanon, Ghassan has covered the appearance of political Orthodox forces and their Russian counterparts.

“My village was in urgent need of a medical ambulance, so the chief went to Russian embassy more than 10 times to ask for help, but they never did.” The reason they approached the Russians, according to Ghassan, is that they had heard of Russia’s pledge to help the Orthodox Christians in Lebanon.”If you go to the US embassy, they have USAID, and if you go to the French embassy, they also do social work,” said Ghassan.

Nourieh monastery (DW/B. Gerdziunas)A deal involving land for a Russian cemetery near the Nourieh monastery was part of Russian attempts to gain a foothold

Highlighting the possible monetary difficulties already seen with the Nourieh monastery project, he said “the Russians don’t pay for any [social projects].”

Russian-Lebanese defense deals

Meanwhile, a recent drop in the number of recorded meetings between Russian and Lebanese representatives has coincided with the last-minute delay in signing a bilateral defense deal last month.

The Kremlin has been working to secure military cooperation with Lebanon since February 2017, allegedly to enable Russian forces to use Lebanese facilities in return for an arms deal worth more than $1 billion.

The US, which provided Lebanon with $120 million in defense aid last year, has traditionally been averse to selling heavy armor and air combat weapons. According to Mohanad Hage Ali of the Carnegie Middle East Center, “a number of Lebanese media reports have even suggested that the defense agreement with Russia was at least partly motivated by the fact that Defense Minister Ya‘qoub Sarraf is from the Greek Orthodox community, of which Russia has traditionally been a protector.”

Mike Pompeo will lay out ‘comprehensive strategy’ on Iran

May 20, 2018

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to spell out a new “comprehensive strategy” toward Iran on Monday.

The speech in Washington, DC, comes after President Trump pulled out of the 2015 deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program.

Pompeo will cover how the US, Europe and other nations can rein in Iran’s nuclear and conventional weapons capabilities, Politico reported.

By Eileen AJ Connelly

Trump sees abandoning the nuclear deal as an “opportunity,” not the self-inflicted wound other world leaders have labeled it, said Brian Hook, senior adviser to Pompeo. The goal is a “new framework that’s going to address the totality of Iran’s threats,” Hook added.

Trump insists the nuclear deal negotiated by former President Barack Obama’s administration is too narrow, since it focuses only on nuclear issues while ignoring ballistic missiles and Iran’s machinations throughout the Middle East.

European countries hope to salvage the pact despite the US withdrawal. Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said Saturday if deal remains, his country’s oil exports would continue.

Following Trump’s May 8 move to leave the Iran deal, the US Treasury said Washington would reimpose a broad number of sanctions aimed at Iran’s oil sector and central bank. Foreign companies that continue to work with Iran could also be targeted.

In response, Poland’s largest gas company, PGNiG, on Saturday said it plans to suspend a gas project in Iran.

Pompeo will speak before the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

With wires


Germany to meet with France, Britain, Russia and China to save Iran nuclear deal

May 20, 2018

In a bid to save the Iran nuclear accord, Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China will meet in Vienna this week. But one major player in the deal will not be attending.

Iran's Ghadr-F rocket and a huge portrait of Khomeini in 2016 (picture-alliance/AP Photo/V. Salemi)

Germany and four other nations will soon meet to discuss how to proceed with the Iran nuclear deal, German newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported on Sunday.

The international community is scrambling to save a deal that keeps Iran from developing nuclear weapons after US President Donald Trump withdrew from the pact.

Read more: European allies struggle to curb impact of US sanctions

What the paper reported

  • Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China will meet in Vienna in the next week, led by senior European Union diplomat Helga Schmid.
  • The United States will not attend. It was unclear if Iran would take part in the meeting.
  • They will discuss a new agreement similar to the 2015 deal, but also limiting Tehran’s ballistic missile program and its regional role.
  • The new agreement may provide financial aid to Iran.
  • Diplomats are also expected to discuss EU measures to defend against US sanctions, which would have “at best only very limited positive effects on Iran’s economy.”

Read more: EU to reactivate ‘blocking statute’ against US sanctions on Iran for European firms

German chancellor expresses EU support for Iran nuclear deal at meeting with Putin.

Bringing Trump on board

“We have to get away from the name “Vienna Nuclear Agreement” and add a few additional elements — only then will President Trump agree and lift the sanctions,” a top EU diplomat told the paper.

No immediate comment was available from the German Foreign Ministry.

Read more: Iran, EU aiming to keep the nuclear deal alive

EU unites against Trump over US sanctions on Iran

Commitment: The planned meeting shows Europe is committed to ensuring the longevity of the Iran deal, even if it means moving away from the US and working with Moscow, Beijing and Tehran. The EU has said it would be disastrous if the deal falls through.

What is the nuclear deal? Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of most Western sanctions, but the deal did not include Iran’s missile program or its support for armed groups in the Middle East. After sanctions were lifted, the Islamic Republic more than doubled its oil exports, which helped lift the country out of a deep recession.

Strengthening trade: The European Commission on Friday began work on a series of measures to shield European companies investing in Iran and support Tehran’s economy, in the hope of salvaging the Iran deal. The EU hopes to save the nuclear accord by pumping money into Tehran as long as long as it complies with the 2015 deal to prevent it from developing an atomic weapon. The EU’s energy chief sought to reassure Iran on Saturday that the 28-member bloc remained committed to salvaging the nuclear deal, and strengthening trade with Tehran.

Read more: Iran deal: The European Union’s ugly options


France, Britain, Germany Russia and China Working Deals With Iran — financial aid to curb its ballistic missile development

May 20, 2018

Diplomats from Europe, China and Russia are discussing a new accord to offer Iran financial aid to curb its ballistic missile development and meddling in the region, in the hope of salvaging its 2015 nuclear deal, a German newspaper reported on Sunday.

The officials will meet in Vienna in the coming week under the leadership of senior European Union diplomat Helga Schmid to discuss next steps after the May 8 decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to pull out of a 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper said, citing senior EU sources.

   Image result for merkel and putin, photos 

Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China would participate in the meeting, but the United States would not, it said. It was not immediately clear if Iran – which has resisted calls to curb its ballistic missile program in the past – would take part.

Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of most Western sanctions. One of the main complaints of the Trump administration was that the accord did not cover Iran’s missile program or its support for armed groups in the Middle East which the West considers terrorists.

Concluding a new agreement that would maintain the nuclear provisions and curb ballistic missile development efforts and Tehran’s activities in the region could help convince Trump to lift sanctions against Iran, the paper said.

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“We have to get away from the name ‘Vienna nuclear agreement’ and add in a few additional elements. Only that will convince President Trump to agree and lift sanctions again,” the paper quoted a senior EU diplomat as saying.

No immediate comment was available from the German foreign ministry.

The EU’s energy chief sought to reassure Iran on Saturday that the 28-member bloc remained committed to salvaging the nuclear deal, and strengthening trade with Tehran.

Officials from the EU, Germany and other countries that remain committed to the deal have said it would disastrous if EU efforts fail to preserve it.

© AFP/File / by Dana Rysmukhamedova with Cedric Simon in Sofia and Julien Girault in Beijing | Iran once again faces US sanctions after Donald Trump’s shock decision to quit the nuclear deal

Iran has struggled to achieve financial benefits from the deal, partly because remaining unilateral U.S. sanctions over its missile program deterred major Western investors from doing business with Tehran.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (2nd R), France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (2nd L), Germany Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (R), EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini and Britain's Foreign Secretary arrive for a meeting of EU/E3 with Iran at the EU headquarters in Brussels on May 15, 2018. 
(AFP PHOTO / POOL / Olivier Matthys)

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (2nd R), France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (2nd L), Germany Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (R), EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini and Britain’s Foreign Secretary arrive for a meeting of EU/E3 with Iran at the EU headquarters in Brussels on May 15, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Olivier Matthys)

The officials are looking for a new approach given an understanding that it would be difficult for European firms to work around new U.S. sanctions, the newspaper reported.

It said the new deal could include billions of dollars of financial aid for Iran, in line with an EU deal that provided billions in aid to Turkey for taking in millions of migrants and closing its borders, which helped end a 2015 migrant crisis.

Iran and European powers have made a good start in talks over how to salvage the 2015 deal but much depends on what happens in the next few weeks, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said last week.


Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Andrew Bolton and Peter Graff

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Next on Iran: War, Diplomacy or Some of Both?

May 19, 2018

A Q&A with Iran expert Kenneth M. Pollack on the next steps for the U.S., Europe and the mullahs.

Remember when the only alternative to the Iran nuclear deal was war? In the summer of 2015, with Congress debating whether to vote on nixing the recently negotiated Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Barack Obama gave a speech at American University invoking that dire dilemma. Just “stating a fact,” he said: The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy or some form of war. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon.”

Who needs nukes?

Source: AFP/Getty Images

Well, I suppose it all depends on your definition of “soon” – and also maybe “fact” – but it’s been nearly two weeks since President Donald Trump walked away from the pact, and the battle hasn’t broken out yet. In fact, the immediate Iranian response was not to hurriedly restart its nuclear weapons research, but to call on the European signatories to the deal to negotiate a plan to keep it in place. Here’s the thing: The U.S. and its allies face a serious threat from Iran, which continues to test ballistic missiles in violation of United Nations resolutions and to foment instability and terrorism in its struggle for regional supremacy against Saudi Arabia and the other Arab states.

Of course, as former Secretary of State John Kerry and other Obama aides repeatedly pointed out, all that behavior fell far outside the scope of the deal. For many of the deal’s skeptics, the obvious yet damning retort was: Why not? In their minds, omission of Iran’s regional transgressions, more than the disagreements over centrifuge numbers and sunset provisions and anytime-anywhere inspections, was the crux of the problem. So, to discuss the immediate fallout from Trump’s announcement, I decided to talk to one of the leading critics: Kenneth M. Pollack.

He is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Before that, he snaked an interesting career path through the capital: As a CIA analyst in the 1990s, he put together the agency’s classified after-action study of the Gulf War; while a professor at the National Defense University, he also advised the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Middle Eastern politics; and he twice served in the National Security Council during the Bill Clinton administration.

The big reason I wanted to talk to him at this moment is his 2004 book, “The Persian Puzzle: Deciphering the 25-Year Conflict Between the United States and Iran,” which the New York Times Book Review said “reminds us again and again how often American assumptions about Iranian concerns were wrong.” So as we look to post-deal Iran, what assumptions most need rethinking? Here is a lightly edited transcript of our chat:

Tobin Harshaw:  First, let’s hash out how the pro- and anti-deal sides in the U.S. have established their narratives over the last two weeks. The Trump backers insist that the deal was so flawed it had to be nuked, and that Obama can only blame himself for using an executive order rather than getting a better deal through Congress. Is that fair?

Kenneth M. Pollack: Like everything in Washington these days, there’s no easy answer. From my perspective, the JCPOA was not a great deal: I felt it gave up more than it should and got less than it could. But it was still a very useful deal because it put the Iranian nuclear program on ice for 10-15 years, which would give us the time to address Iran’s aggressive expansion in the region and create the leverage to come back and convince the Russians, Chinese and Iranians to agree to a better, more permanent deal.

Unfortunately, neither Obama nor Trump evinced any interest in dealing with Iranian actions in the Middle East, and Trump has now walked away from the deal for no good strategic reason and without any plan (let alone ability) to get a better one.

As for the decision not to treat the JCPOA as a treaty, I think there is fault on both sides. I would have much preferred Obama to treat it as a treaty and get Senate approval. The fact that he didn’t made it all too easy for Trump to scuttle it despite the fact that the Congress staunchly opposed his doing so. Of course, in Obama’s defense, back in 2015, the Congress seemed so dead set against the deal (wrongly, in my view) that you could certainly understand why he was not going to trust his signature foreign policy achievement in the Middle East to a Congress determined to hurt him any way it could.

That said, I felt that the way that the Obama administration tried to sell the deal — “you are either for it or you are a warmonger” — was equally wrong-headed and made it that much less likely that the Republicans in Congress would be willing to vote for it. As always, there is plenty of blame to go around.

TH: Those disappointed by Trump, particularly former Obama administration figures like John Kerry and Ben Rhodes, insist that not only does this increase the chances of war with Iran but it shows America cannot be trusted to keep its word, which among other things will doom any negotiations with North Korea. What’s your response?

KMP: Again, I don’t particularly like how former Obama administration officials have been conducting their half of the debate, but on the substance I fear that they are right. It is one of the reasons that I see Trump’s decision as thoughtless, reckless and potentially harmful to the U.S.

TH: The Iranian regime reacted in some expected ways, from burning American flags in parliament to launching some missiles into Israel from Syria, but the leadership also insisted that they were eager to work with the Europeans on saving the deal somehow. Was that a surprise? Is the deal salvageable without U.S. involvement?

KMP: I don’t think it was at all surprising. It was the smart response – and while the Iranians certainly can be foolish, ignorant and obtuse, they have largely played the nuclear issue well all along. Iran benefits from the JCPOA, albeit not nearly as much as they hoped.

Right now, their people are very unhappy at the state of their economy and I think the regime would love to see if they can use Trump’s decision to get additional economic benefits from the other signatories to the JCPOA. The Iranians will be able to rightly claim that Trump is now denying them the benefits they were promised under the JCPOA, and if the others want Tehran to continue to abide by it, they are going to have to make it worth Iran’s while to do so.

TH: Many supporters of the deal argue that Trump’s killing it will only empower “hard-liners” and hurt “moderates.” Do you really think that dichotomy exists? Whether or not, how do you think Trump’s action may affect Iranian politics?

KMP:  Iran has a hideously fragmented polity, and it is an overstatement to simply divide them up into two camps. Yet many Iranian politicians line up more or less consistently with what we call the “hardline” and “moderate” positions, and it isn’t wrong to use those labels either.

So with that caveat in mind, I will say that I am pretty confident that it will affect Iranian internal politics, and I suspect mostly in an unhelpful way. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is the critical “moderate,” and he hitched his star to the wagon of the JCPOA. His whole theory was that Iran needed to end the U.S. sanctions to enable the economic transformation that the Iranian people desperately want.

For two years, Rouhani has had to defend that position in the face of evidence that Iran’s economy has not suddenly prospered after the deal. To some extent that was because some American sanctions remained, but to an even greater extent it was a result of the endemic corruption and mismanagement of the Iranian economy, which had nothing to do with the nuclear deal.

Nevertheless, the hardliners tried to undermine Rouhani’s position by pointing out that the nuclear deal had not prompted a transformation of the Iranian economy, because in their telling, the U.S. had deceived Iran and never lived up to its commitments. Trump scuttling the deal and re-imposing sanctions is likely to reinforce that narrative and so further weaken Rouhani and other moderates.

All that said, we need to be careful about ascribing too much of what happens in Iranian internal politics to American policy. Americans consistently overestimate the extent that our actions can and will affect Iranian politics.

TH: The White House insists that the bite of its unilateral sanctions will bring Iran back to the table for an entirely new deal – an argument I expect to hear on Monday when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lays out the administration’s new “comprehensive plan.” Do you think that’s plausible?

KMP: It’s possible, but as an analyst, I would not rate it as likely. And as a former policymaker, I would have assessed the probability as too low and the potential costs of being wrong as too high to justify the risk.

The big unknowns that I think people are missing are China, Russia, India and other countries who either oppose the U.S. or that used to be called “non-aligned.” All of the press pieces about the JCPOA have focused on what the Europeans are going to do. I think European-American trade ties are probably going to prove too strong, and so the Europeans will complain but won’t do very much. Moreover, European trade with Iran just isn’t very significant, so losing it probably won’t hurt Iran that much.

But Russia is Iran’s most important strategic ally, and China and India are two of its most important oil buyers. All of them (and others) could choose to defy American sanctions and dare the White House to try to penalize them. If they follow that course of action, it will be very helpful to Tehran financially, diplomatically and psychologically, and make it much harder to convince Iran to come back to the bargaining table.

Beyond that, the Iranian regime has repeatedly been willing to defy sanctions and accept hardship.  Coercing Iran a second time around, after reneging on our own offer, is likely to be a lot harder, and it could be impossible.

TH: You and I both think the Iranian nuclear program is just one spoke on a bigger wheel – a desire to control vast swathes of the Middle East and surpass the Arab states as regional superpower. What are the current priorities for the U.S. and its regional allies in thwarting Tehran’s master plan?

KMP: For me the first priorities need to be Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Each deserves a much bigger conversation, but I know we don’t have hours to unpack each so let me just give you the broadest outlines.

Syria is critical both because the Syrian civil war is destabilizing the entire Middle East and Europe beyond it, but also because it could either be a huge Iranian gain or a giant Iranian liability. The Iranians’ role in Syria has grown enormously. If they are allowed to consolidate their control, Syria becomes an overland link to Lebanon and a launch pad to operate against Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, etc.

But Iran is now stuck propping up a corrupt, incompetent and unpopular regime. It’s the same mistake the U.S. made in Vietnam and Russia made in Afghanistan. What we all learned is that it is far, far more expensive and difficult to back the regime than it is to back the insurgents fighting them. Iran has set itself up for Syria to be its Vietnam. We should make sure it becomes just that by expanding our support to the Syrian rebels.

TH: And Iraq?

KMP: Iraq is harder, but just as important. It is one of the most important Arab states and the vast majority of Iraqis hate Iran, but we have allowed Iran to become the most influential external power there out of sheer neglect. If we are willing to maintain a sizable American military presence there (as we should have in 2011) and are willing to make a long-term commitment to help Iraq economically (say $1 billion to $2 billion per year for five years) we will be in a position to help nationalistic Iraqi leaders who have tried to stand up to Tehran but failed largely because they did not have our help. That remains true even after Iraq’s recent elections.

Yemen is harder still. There the most important things are to get our Saudi allies unstuck and convince the Houthis to evict their Iranian advisers. In a nutshell, the best prospect we have to do both is to help the Saudi-led military coalition to take the port of Hudaydah, the last and most important under Houthi control. Then, with that military victory in hand, convince them to offer a generous political deal to the Houthis, one largely along the lines of what the Houthis demanded at the start of the civil war. In return, we/they would demand an end to the war and an end to the Iranian presence.

While those are only three steps in a journey of many miles, they are also three big steps, both in terms of the impact they would have on Iran’s regional position and the demands on U.S. leadership. They are also entirely doable at a very reasonable price. The only question is really whether anyone can convince Donald Trump that they are worth doing.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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Tobin Harshaw at

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Iran says EU promising to salvage nuclear deal despite Trump move

May 19, 2018

Iran’s nuclear chief said on Saturday that the European Union had promised to save the nuclear deal with major powers despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to exit the accord and reimpose sanctions on Tehran.

Image may contain: 1 person, suit

Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi attends the lecture “Iran after the agreement: Hopes & Concerns” in Vienna, Austria, September 28, 2016. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo


“We hope their efforts materialize … America’s actions … show that it is not a trustworthy country in international dealings,” Ali Akbar Salehi told a joint news conference in Tehran with the European Commissioner for Energy and Climate, Miguel Arias Canete.

Under the 2015 deal with major powers, Iran curbed its nuclear program in return for the lifting of most Western sanctions on the country. The sanctions were lifted in 2016.

Canete, who arrived in Tehran late on Friday for a two-day visit, aims to reassure Iran that the 28-nation EU wants to keep trade open despite the U.S. withdrawal from the pact, announced by Trump on May 8.

“We have sent a message to our Iranian friends that as long as they are sticking to the agreement the Europeans will… fulfill their commitment. And they said the same thing on the other side,” Canete said.

“We will try to intensify our flows of trade that have been very positive for the Iranian economy.”

The EU was once the biggest importer of Iranian oil.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Gareth Jones

Why Germans Are Getting Fed Up with America

May 18, 2018

It’s getting harder for Angela Merkel and the German elite to hold back growing anti-Americanism.

Strained partnership.

Photographer: Ulrich Baumgarten/Getty Images

Germans have never liked U.S. President Donald Trump, and the backlash against his actions is stronger than ever after he pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal last week. But there’s a growing gap between the German establishment and German voters: The former may be anti-Trump, but the latter are increasingly anti-American.

German Chancellor Angel Merkel vented her frustration with Trump in a speech in the North Rhine-Westphalia city of Muenster on Friday, saying his Iran decision “undermines trust in the international order.” “If everybody does just what they want, that’s bad news for the world,” Merkel said.

This outburst coincided with one of the most provocative covers Germany’s highly respected weekly Der Spiegel ever published — an outstretched middle finger bearing Trump’s likeness, with the English caption, “Goodbye, Europe!” Spiegel’s editorial to go with this image called on Europe to join the anti-Trump resistance:

The West as we once knew it no longer exists. Our relationship to the United States cannot currently be called a friendship and can hardly be referred to as a partnership. President Trump has adopted a tone that ignores 70 years of trust. He wants punitive tariffs and demands obedience. It is no longer a question as to whether Germany and Europe will take part in foreign military interventions in Afghanistan or Iraq. It is now about whether trans-Atlantic cooperation on economic, foreign and security policy even exists anymore. The answer: No.

These are strong words. But of course, there was nothing in Merkel’s speech about dissolving Germany’s alliance with the U.S., and the Spiegel editorial only calls on Europe to “begin preparing for a post-Trump America and seek to avoid provoking Washington until then.” The German establishment appears to believe that Trump is the problem and that the time-honored European approach — waiting for the problem to go away, as Europe is already doing with its conciliatory plan to stave off Trump’s threatened steel and aluminum tariffs — is the best bet.

Europe’s defense dependency on America also serves as a reality check. No matter how many times Merkel may tell Trump that Germany plans to raise its defense spending to the 2  percent of gross domestic product demanded by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, her government’s current budget proposal only increases it to 1.29 percent of GDP in 2019 from 1.24 percent this year — and envisions a drop to 1.23 percent in 2022. “One must say, quite simply, that Europe alone isn’t strong enough to be the global peacekeeper,” Merkel said in Muenster.

German voters, however, don’t care so much about that. The Pew Research Center and Germany’s Koerber Stiftung recently compared Americans’ and Germans’ views of bilateral relations and found that while Americans say security and defense ties are the most important aspect of the relationship, to Germans economic ties and shared democratic values hold more significance.

In general, according to Pew Research and Koerber Stiftung, a majority of Germans — as opposed to only a small minority of Americans — appears to believe the U.S.-German relationship is “bad.” That share has increased since Trump’s election, but Germans were more negative about the U.S. than most Europeans even when Barack Obama — who was popular in Germany — was president.

Germany avoided being dragged into the Iraq war but couldn’t resist U.S. pressure to get involved in Afghanistan against most Germans’ will (now, a majority still wants the troops out of that country). Germans, who had done their best to shed their violent past, watched aghast as the U.S. used torture, extralegal detention and blanket surveillance — practices that were instituted under George W. Bush and partly survived in the Obama era.

Even before Trump settled in the White House, Germans began learning that the U.S. doesn’t handle economic and trade ties in the same ways as they do. The U.S. punitive attack on Volkswagen following its cheating on exhaust tests began under Obama, and it far exceeded anything the company had to face at home or anywhere in Europe; Trump’s complaints about the German auto industry merely continued the same line.

Now, another incomprehensible economic spectacle is unfolding parallel to Trump’s pressure on European steel and aluminum exporters. National Security Adviser John Bolton is threatening sanctions against European companies for dealing with Iran — and, at the same time, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is promising U.S. investment in North Korea if it denuclearizes. Wasn’t that what the Iran deal was about?

“So, American firms will soon be able to do business in North Korea, but not European ones in Iran,” commentator Mark Schieritz wrote on Twitter. Schieritz published a column in Zeit Online arguing that the U.S. was no longer a partner but a rival for Europe. He argued that time had come for Europe to confront the U.S. and respond to its “blackmail” in a tit-for-tat format — something the more sober Spiegel editorial didn’t advocate.

The cautious German elite,  led by Merkel with her preference for compromise in any situation, has been holding back the anti-American sentiment so far. But that position may become untenable as Germans realize their country isn’t getting much out of being a U.S. ally. A majority can’t imagine a situation in which U.S. soldiers would need to defend Germany against aggression, and as the values gap with the U.S. grows and the economic benefits of partnership shrink, anti-Americanism can become an increasingly attractive political card to play.

Germany has done the U.S. a favor by not seeking a leadership role in the decades since its reunification. There’s no guarantee, however, that post-Merkel it won’t take a more assertive stance, using the European Union as a vehicle for its ambition. Even if a post-Trump U.S. government walks back some of his unilateralism, the mistrust that’s been building up for years won’t go away overnight.

(Corrects 11th paragraph reference to where Schieritz column was originally published. )

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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Merkel-Putin talks: Russia keen to find common ground

May 18, 2018

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to discuss the Iran nuclear accord, as well as the wars in Syria and Ukraine with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Merkel is one of the few leaders Putin “takes seriously” analysts told DW.

   Image result for merkel and putin, photos 

Merkel, Putin meet amid tensions – what are the issues?

Germany’s Angela Merkel is scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday in Sochi where the two long-ruling leaders are expected the tackle an array of disputes between the two countries.

Ahead of Merkel’s visit, both sides said Putin and Merkel will discuss the fate of the nuclear accord with Iran in the wake of Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the deal. The other areas of discussion would be the war in Syria and the crisis in eastern Ukraine, which saw the EU and Germany impose sanctions on Russia in 2014.

The sanctions themselves, however, are “not on the agenda,” said Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

“Russia wasn’t the one who imposed sanctions, Russia did not initiate the exchange of sanctions,” he told reporters. “Therefore, Russia is not supposed to initiate this discussion (on the lifting of sanctions).”

Peskov restated Moscow’s position that the economic sanctions were illegal, but added that Russia was keen to talk with Angela Merkel and the French leader Emmanuel Macron, whose visit is scheduled for next week.

“There is no question, however, that we are looking forward to talks, both with Germany and France, those talks are very important in Western Europe,” Peskov said, according to comments carried by Russia’s NTV.

Read more: Is it time for Germany to revisit its Russia relationship?

Merkel calls Russia a ‘factor’ in Syria peace

Putin’s most important partner

With the two nations at odds internationally since 2014, Putin and Merkel now have at least one big area where they are in agreement — both countries want to salvage the Iran nuclear deal.

“Iran will be an important topic, because it is, at long last, a topic where the two sides share common ground and they plan to emphasize it,” Stefan Meister, the head of Germany’s Robert Bosch Center for Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia, told DW.

He added that there was “no possibility of progress” in other areas, as Moscow and Berlin are “stuck in a dead end” when it comes to Ukraine.

Meister also said that Putin sees Merkel and Germany as central partners on the international stage.

“She is at least a person that Putin still takes seriously most of the time,” he said.

Russia’s unpredictability ‘irritates’ Germans

In an analysis of German-Russian ties, Russia’s independent outlet says Moscow was surprised by Germany’s tough stance on the Crimea crisis. Russia, according to the author Xenia Melnikova, failed to take into account that Germany is part of the EU and willing to impose sanctions even to the detriment of its interests in Eastern Europe.

“The situation is burdened by the fact that Russia, from the German perspective, is acting more and more unpredictably, which irritates orderly Germans.”

“Germany is ready to hear Russia out, ready to stay in contact, even to turn a blind eye to transatlantic solidarity if necessary,” Melnikova writes. “However, Russia also needs to be ready for concessions and compromises, for example – not to view the concerns of human rights and democracy as empty talk, merely a distraction from important economic problems.”

Tit-for-tat in tariffs dispute?

The two sides have also been jointly pushing a gas pipeline connecting Russia and Germany via the Baltic Sea. The project, however, repeatedly triggered harsh criticism as it may leave Kyiv without substantial gas transit fees. According to media reports, US President Donald Trump offered Angela Merkel to renounce the promised tariffs on steel and aluminum if Merkel gave up on the Nordstream 2 pipeline.

Nils Schmid, a foreign policy spokesman for the Social Democrats, the junior coalition partners to Merkel’s conservatives, told DW that Germany had always been too dependent on Russian gas.

“However, even during the Cold War we imported gas from the Soviet Union,” said. “We have a good record of keeping gas rates out of political turmoil and Russia is more dependent on exporting gas to Europe than the other way round.”

Read more: Nordstream II gas pipeline in deep water

Observers believe that Berlin and Moscow have no intention of giving up on the project, although the Friday talks in Sochi might see them hammer out a compromise that would safeguard Ukraine’s interests.