Iran’s threats are an attempt to negotiate

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS BRIEF) 

 

ORDER FROM CHAOS

Iran’s threats are an attempt to negotiate

Suzanne Maloney

Editor’s Note:By ratcheting up tensions, Iran is hoping to expand the crisis with the United States, force a dialogue, and hopefully find their way out of an increasingly dire set of circumstances, Suzanne Maloney writes. This piece originally appeared in Politico Magazine.

In July 2012, several senior U.S. government officials made a clandestine visit to Muscat, where they met with Iranian diplomats in the first of what would be a series of back-channel negotiations. Officially, nothing like this meeting in Oman was ever supposed to happen: The two countries had severed their formal diplomatic relations decades earlier, and intensifying U.S. economic pressure on Iran had made direct diplomacy more toxic than ever.

But this secret dialogue ended up providing the genesis for the historic 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran, Washington, and five other world powers—the first time that the international community managed to slow the clerical regime’s steady progress toward nuclear weapons capability.

Seven years later, that agreement is on life support. The Trump administration pulled out in May 2018, and Iran has recently begun breaching the deal’s restrictions on its nuclear activities. Tensions are high in the Persian Gulf, with Iran seizing a British ship and announcing plans to execute a ring of supposed CIA spies. Fears are mounting that the two countries are on a collision course, headed toward a wider and far more destabilizing military conflict.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the breakdown: Iranian officials now appear to be negotiating—and rather than using back-channels, they’re doing it in plain sight.

Iranian officials now appear to be negotiating—and rather than using back-channels, they’re doing it in plain sight.

Iranian officials, most notably the foreign minister, have been angling for diplomacy with Washington. And Tehran’s provocations in the Gulf, if you look past the breathless headlines, can be seen as a crucial part of their good cop-bad cop negotiating strategy—one that reinforces persuasion with intimidation. Taken together, the signals suggest that Iranians are setting the table for talks, and if President Donald Trump is serious about wanting to “make Iran great again,” he should make the most of this opportunity before tensions spiral out of control.

Engagement between the Islamic Republic and the government still castigated in its official rhetoric as the “Great Satan” has come a long way lately. In 1979, after the revolution, media coverage of official contacts between Iran’s new leaders and senior U.S. officials sparked furious protests in Tehran that culminated with the seizure of the U.S. Embassy and the 444-day hostage crisis. After the Iran-Contra scandal—in which the U.S. and Iran were again revealed to be doing backdoor deals—even quiet diplomacy with American officials was seen as the kiss of death by the Iranian establishment. For decades, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, spurned any suggestion of official talks with Washington, and his grudging consent to Obama-era nuclear negotiations was vehemently rescinded after Trump’s breach of the deal.

However, even with its bitter outcome, the nuclear deal and the intense bilateral contacts throughout the final years of the Obama administration have left an imprint on Iran’s political landscape. Contact with Washington is now effectively normalized in the Islamic Republic—so much so that a meeting between Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and a Republican senator who sought Trump’s endorsement for the encounter barely generates a second glance. Twenty years ago, an Iranian leader’s interview with an American cable news channel was seen as a shocking breakthrough; today, it’s just another Sunday morning, with Zarif deploying his silver tongue to send signals to an audience of one in White House.

Zarif, a polished chief diplomat with an outsized Washington Rolodex, has made two high-profile visits to New York in recent months, meeting with representatives from the media, academia, and Capitol Hill—a kind of public relations tour underscoring that the Islamic Republic is testing the waters with the Trump administration.

Related Books

In typical Iranian fashion, this campaign is happening at the same time Iran’s leaders are sending strong signals against doing any such thing. The U.S. maximum pressure campaign has had catastrophic effects on the Iranian economy, and Iran’s official position, as articulated by Khamenei, is that Iran will not negotiate with a knife to its throat. He has categorically rejected the prospect of bargaining over what Tehran views as the country’s essential defensive capabilities, such as its missile program. When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Tehran last month, apparently at Trump’s behest, he was sent back empty-handed, with a curt rebuff that coincided with a new round of proxy attacks on shipping in the Gulf. Just in case the message wasn’t clear, one of the tankers attacked was owned by a Japanese company.

The one-two punch from Tehran reflects the harsh reality of the regime’s current predicament. Iranian officials insist that they can cope under American pressure, but the concerted campaign to ramp up the threat level even as they flirt with diplomatic overtures betrays an awareness within the theocracy’s highest levels that the country cannot afford an indefinite American economic siege.

Zarif’s media appearances and private meetings here, accordingly, have conveyed a flexible, even cordial message. He offered careful compliments toward Trump with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, praising the president’s “very prudent decision” to call off a military strike initially ordered after Tehran shot down a U.S. drone last month. He dangled some minor overturesaround the nuclear deal in a conversation with print reporters, and in a virtuoso Fox News performance, he played to Trump’s narcissism and his mistrust of his hawkish advisers.

Shortly after Zarif touted to U.S. reporters the possibility of prisoner swaps, Iranian authorities unexpectedly released Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese man with permanent resident status in the United States, after more than three years’ detention on bogus espionage charges. None of this offers the makings of the comprehensive agreement that the Trump administration has advocated, but Iranian maneuvers are beginning to shape a preliminary framework for bilateral negotiations.

Zarif’s artful outreach is consistent with the broader contours of the debate within Iran’s political establishment, where there has been quiet speculation for months about the possibilities for devising a diplomatic pathway out of the country’s current predicament. Well-known dissidents and moderate politicians recently released an appeal for unconditional talks, and even former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, known for his hard-line vitriol but also an idiosyncratic tendency to reach out to Washington, has publicly embraced new diplomacy.

Longtime observers of Iran find it no surprise that Zarif was dispatched to New York even as tensions are rising in the Persian Gulf, with a string of attacks on oil tankers, an oil pipeline, and various U.S.-linked facilities in Iraq, the drone downing, and the latest provocation—Iran’s seizure of a British tanker as it transited the Gulf. The Islamic Republic has made an art form of pairing diplomacy with force, exploiting Zarif’s unctuous charm alongside a punch in the face from the Revolutionary Guard.

While some analysts, echoing Iranian officials, blame factional infighting, Zarif’s smiling warning on CNN that “in such a small body of water, if you have so many foreign vessels … accidents will happen” underscores that Iran’s dual-track approach is deliberate, a coordinated deployment of pressure and persuasion to advance its interests. With a feint and a jab, Tehran is deploying diplomacy and force in tandem in hopes of extricating the regime from an increasingly perilous quagmire.

This game plan offers greater efficacy than any other alternative available to Tehran today. The rest of the world has proven unwilling or unable to circumvent U.S. sanctions or cushion their economic fallout on Iran. At the very least, flexing its muscles in the world’s most important energy corridor can inflate oil prices, improving Tehran’s beleaguered bottom line and complicating Trump’s appeal to his domestic base as he begins his reelection campaign. Mounting tensions may galvanize diplomatic energy from Europe and the other stakeholders to the nuclear deal, and the images of burning tankers offer a powerful warning to Iran’s neighbors of the potential consequences of further escalation. The increasing frictions amplify the gravity of the crisis for the rest of the world, while Iran’s incremental breaches of the nuclear deal provide Tehran with something to trade should an opportunity for bargaining avail itself.

Although Tehran is currently dictating the tempo and intensity of escalation, what happens next depends largely on the Trump administration.

The president has long expressed disdain for costly, protracted U.S. military intervention in the Middle East and he has repeatedly appealed for direct dialogue with Iranian leaders. To achieve that, Washington will have to be ready to compromise on its “maximum pressure” strategy. Tehran is ready to talk, but will require some sanctions relief as the price of admission.

For his part, Trump proclaims to be detached, emphasizing that he is in “no hurry” and insisting that he is “just going to sit back and watch.” Tehran is unlikely to afford him that luxury. Iran is determined to change the status quo, since it is now so unfavorable to their interests. By ratcheting up tensions, the Iranians are hoping to expand the crisis, force a dialogue, and hopefully find their way out of an increasingly dire set of circumstances.

A how-to guide for managing the end of the post-Cold War era. Read all the Order from Chaos content »

Make no excuses for Iran. This is pure piracy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TELEGRAPH.UK)

 

Make no excuses for Iran. This is pure piracy

This handout photo made available on July 20, 2019, by Jan Verhoog shows the Stena Impero, a British-flagged tanker, off the coast of Europoort in Rotterdam on April 3, 2018.
The Stena Impero, a British-flagged tanker, off the coast of Europoort in Rotterdam on April 3, 2018.CREDIT: JAN VERHOOG 

Nothing justifies Iran’s piracy in the Gulf. Jeremy Corbyn – as night follows day – suggested the United States is partly to blame for Iran seizing a British-flagged tanker because the Americans walked away from the Iran nuclear deal. But Britain has not. Whatever one thinks of the deal – and this newspaper believes it to be a terrible mistake – the UK government remains in favour and has been trying to rescue it, so the Iranians have turned on one of the Western powers most sympathetic to their cause. Tehran rages mightily about the British seizure of an Iranian vessel at Gibraltar, but the situations are not comparable. That vessel is accused of trying to break sanctions by providing oil to Syria. The Iranians have targeted ships going about perfectly legal business.

Mr Corbyn’s attempt to blame this on tensions raised by the US doesn’t hold water – and given the paid work he’s previously done for an Iranian broadcaster, his objectivity is in question. No: Iran is a bloodthirsty dictatorship that oppresses women and religious and sexual minorities. It has exported terrorism. It is threatening already to break the nuclear agreement and, say some analysts, has been developing rocket technology that means when the deal finally comes to an end, it might be in an even stronger position. The issue isn’t Iran’s absolute responsibility for this crisis but why Britain wasn’t able to respond more swiftly and decisively.

Questions need to be asked. Why wasn’t the UK prepared for this eventuality, especially given that Iran has menaced vessels previously and hardliners explicitly threatened to take control of a British tanker in retribution for the Gibraltar raid? Why has Britain downgraded its fleet from having 35 frigates in 1982 to just 13 today? Could it prove necessary to run a convoy system in and out of the Gulf, to protect shipping? This will all cost more money, which is why it’s essential that the next prime minister spends more on defence. He also needs to review British foreign policy, as it’s clear that trying to play nice on the nuclear deal isn’t working. The United States has given up on Iran and, considering what’s just happened in the Gulf, understandably so. This is a rogue state. It should be treated as such.

Iran Says It Will Exceed Nuclear Deal’s Limit On Uranium ‘In 10 Days’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR)

 

Iran Says It Will Exceed Nuclear Deal’s Limit On Uranium ‘In 10 Days’

Atomic Energy Organization of Iran spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi, pictured at a July 2018 news conference in Tehran, said Monday: “We have quadrupled the rate of enrichment and even increased it more recently.”

Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

Updated at 11:50 a.m. ET

Within days Iran will exceed the limit on its stockpile of uranium under a 2015 nuclear deal, according to a spokesman for the country’s atomic energy agency, who also said Tehran would increase uranium enrichment levels in violation of the agreement, “based on the country’s needs.”

The remarks come amid increased tension between the U.S. and Iran, particularly after last week’s attack on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman that Washington has blamed on Tehran. Iran has denied any involvement.

Under the multilateral Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that the U.S. withdrew from a year ago, Iran can keep no more than 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of uranium enriched no higher than 3.67% — far below the 90% level considered suitable for building nuclear weapons.

At a news conference at the Arak Nuclear Complex that was carried live Monday on Iranian television, Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said that stockpile limit could be exceeded within 10 days.

“We have quadrupled the rate of enrichment and even increased it more recently, so that in 10 days it will bypass the 300 kg limit,” Kamalvandi said.

He added that his country needs uranium enriched to 5% for its Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, built in the 1990s with Russian help, and uranium of 20% purity to be used as fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, which the U.S. supplied to Iran in 1967.

Although not weapons-grade, 20% purity is generally considered “highly enriched” uranium, and as The Associated Press notes, “going from 20% to 90% is a relatively quicker process, something that worries nuclear nonproliferation experts.”

Even so, Kamalvandi held out the possibility that “there is still time … if European countries act.”

“Iran’s reserves are every day increasing at a more rapid rate. And if it is important for them (Europe) to safeguard the accord, they should make their best efforts. … As soon as they carry out their commitments, things will naturally go back to their original state,” he said, according to AP.

That sentiment was echoed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Monday. “It’s a crucial moment, and France can still work with other signatories of the deal and play an historic role to save the deal in this very short time,” he was quoted by the Fars News Agency as saying during a meeting with France’s new ambassador in Iran.

Reuters reports that Rouhani said the collapse of the nuclear deal would not be in the interests of the region and the world.

In response to Iran’s announcement on uranium enrichment levels, National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said in a statement: “Iran’s enrichment plans are only possible because the horrible nuclear deal left the their capabilities intact. President Trump has made it clear that he will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. The regime’s nuclear blackmail must be met with increased international pressure.”

Following last week’s reported attack on the tankers Front Altair and Kokuka Courageous near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “there’s no doubt” that Iran was responsible for disabling the vessels.

“The intelligence community has lots of data, lots of evidence,” Pompeo said on Fox News Sunday. “The world will come to see much of it, but the American people should rest assured we have high confidence with respect to who conducted these attacks as well as half a dozen other attacks throughout the world.”

On CBS’ Face the Nation, Pompeo said the U.S. was “considering a full range of options.”

“We are confident that we can take a set of actions that can restore deterrence, which is our mission set,” he said.

On Monday, Iran’s armed forces chief of staff again denied the country’s involvement in the attacks.

“Regarding the new incidents in the Persian Gulf … if the Islamic Republic of Iran decides to block exports of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, it is militarily strong enough to do that fully and publicly,” Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri said, according to Fars News Agency.

Iranian Butcher Khamenei sets terms for Tehran to remain in nuclear deal

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Khamenei sets terms for Tehran to remain in nuclear deal

Iranian leader says Europe must vow not to seek limits on missile program and regional actions, and must protect Islamic Republic’s economy from American sanctions

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech during Labor Day at a workers' meeting, April 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Iranian Supreme Leader's Website /HO)

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech during Labor Day at a workers’ meeting, April 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Iranian Supreme Leader’s Website /HO)

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday set conditions for Europe for Tehran to remain in the 2015 nuclear accord, following the US withdrawal from the deal earlier this month.

Khamenei, addressing government officials on the occasion of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, said European powers must vow not to seek new limitations on Iran’s ballistic missile program or its activities in the Middle East, as demanded by the Trump administration.

They must also “fully guarantee Iran’s oil sales,” he said, adding that if the US “damages” oil sales through renewed economic sanctions, “Europeans should make up for that and buy Iranian oil.”

European banks, he added, “must safeguard trade with the Islamic Republic” in the face of new sanctions.

He also said the EU “must submit a resolution against the US at the UN Security Council” to protest the American withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

He warned that should conditions not be met, “Iran reserves the right to restart its suspended nuclear activities.”

He added: “We do not want to start a fight with [Europe] but…we don’t trust them either.”

The Iranian leader said Tehran has learned it cannot “interact” with the United States as it is a country whose word cannot be trusted.

“The first experience is that the government of the Islamic Republic cannot interact with America… Why? Because America is not committed to its promises,” Press TV quoted him as saying.

Khamenei said the US has been aiming to topple the Islamic republic for 40 years. “From the first day of the Islamic Revolution the US has applied all kinds of enmity to hit the Islamic republic,” he said.

The speech comes just days after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a steep list of demands to be included in a nuclear treaty to replace the deal scuttled by Trump. Among them, Pompeo demanded that Iran make wholesale changes in its military and regional policies or face “the strongest sanctions in history.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the Heritage Foundation, on May 21, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

Pompeo has called for the negotiation of a new deal that would go far beyond the single focus of the nuclear agreement and would have the status of a formal treaty. The 2015 deal concluded under the Obama administration dealt only with the nuclear program.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani compared Pompeo’s comments to those made by the administration of George W. Bush ahead of the 2003 Iraq invasion.

“The era of such statements has evolved and the Iranian people have heard these statements hundreds of times, and no longer pay attention,” Rouhani said.

Other senior Iranian officials rejected the demands, saying the US was afraid to face Iran in battle and vowing to push ahead with their country’s military programs.

On Monday a senior IRGC officer said Pompeo deserves a “strong punch to the mouth.”

Commenting on US threats to ramp up sanctions on Iran, Ismail Kowsari said, “The people of Iran should stand united in the face of this and they will deliver a strong punch to the mouth of the American Secretary of State and anyone who backs them.”

Pompeo argued that Iran had advanced its march across the Middle East precisely because of the nuclear deal, which saw the West lifting sanctions on Tehran in return for Iran limiting its nuclear program.

US President Donald Trump is seen during a meeting in the Cabinet Room at the White House on May 17, 2018. (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)

US President Donald Trump’s newly installed top diplomat also hinted at the possibility of military action should Iranian leaders reconstitute their nuclear program.

“If they restart their nuclear program, they will have big problems, bigger problems than they’ve ever had before,” he said, also threatening to “crush” Iran’s terrorist proxies around the world.”

The New York Times reported Wednesday that weapons researchers have identified activity at a remote secret facility in the Iranian desert that points to the covert development of long-range missiles that could potentially be used to attack the United States.

Satellite images appear to show, among other things, activity around a tunnel leading underground and evidence of powerful rocket engine tests that scorched telltale marks in the desert sand near the city of Shahrud, the report said.

Western officials have maintained that the only reason Tehran could have for manufacturing long-range missiles would be to fit them with non-conventional, including atomic, warheads.

Tehran insists that it sees the missile program as crucial to its defensive posture, and says its existence is non-negotiable.

READ MORE:

Evidence points to Iranian work on long-range missiles at secret base — report

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES ISRAEL)

 

Evidence points to Iranian work on long-range missiles at secret base — report

NY Times says researchers pieced together clues from satellite images that appear to show activity and powerful rocket engine tests at facility near Shahrud

Iran showed footage on Saturday, September 23, 2017, of a missile test (Screenshot/PressTV)

Iran showed footage on Saturday, September 23, 2017, of a missile test (Screenshot/PressTV)

Weapons researchers have identified activity at a remote secret facility in the Iranian desert that points to the covert development of long-range missiles that could potentially be used to attack the United States, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

Satellite images appear to show, among other things, activity around a tunnel leading underground and evidence of powerful rocket engine tests that scorched telltale marks in the desert sand near the city of Shahrud, the report said.

Although there are no restrictions in place on the range of Iranian missiles, US President Donald Trump had insisted that limitations be placed on Tehran’s missile program as a prerequisite for Washington remaining in the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. He ultimately pulled out of it on May 12.

According to the report, researchers from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey watched a recent Iranian documentary about rocket scientist Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, a leading figure in the country’s missile development program, who was killed in a devastating 2011 explosion at Iran’s main research facility near the town of Bidganeh. Based on details in the film, the researchers came to the conclusion that before his death Moghaddam had helped set up another facility, which is still operational.

Screen capture from video of Gen. Hasan Tehrani Moghaddam, a ballistic missile engineer for Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps, who was killed in an explosion in 2011. (YouTube)

Another key clue came when one researcher, reviewing material from an Iranian journalist association, saw an undated photo of Moghaddam, who was a commander in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, that included in the background a box marked “Shahrud.”

The Shahrud site, located about 350 kilometers (220 miles) east of Tehran, was used for a missile test firing in 2013 and was thought to have remained largely unused since. However, satellite images of the site showed a steady increase in the number of buildings there over the past few years, the report said. Curiously, the buildings were painted an aquamarine color, the same shade that Moghaddam had ordered be used at the destroyed Bidganeh site, researchers noticed.

Large marks on the desert floor appeared to be the result of rocket engine test-firings, and the marks had appeared in 2016 and 2017, the report said. Rocket engines can leave a big scorching shaped like a candle flame on the ground.

Analysis of the concrete stands that would have held the engines during the firings suggested the motors had somewhere between 62 and 93 tons of thrust — consistent with the kind of power needed for a long-range missile. Other test structures, apparently also used for engine tests, were reportedly even larger.

Additional imaging from sophisticated sensors also showed traffic at the opening of an underground tunnel, indicating a large structure buried in the sand, the report said.

Researchers came to the conclusion that the site was working on advanced rocket motors and rocket fuel.

US President Donald Trump signs a document reinstating sanctions against Iran after announcing the US withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear deal, in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 8, 2018. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

The report said that five experts who reviewed the research material agreed it strongly indicated work on long-range missiles. However, the report also noted that “it is possible that the facility is developing only medium-range missiles, which Iran already possesses, or perhaps an unusually sophisticated space program.”

The US and its allies have been demanding that Iran curb its production of ballistic missiles, which can reach parts of Europe and could soon reach the US as well. Western officials have maintained that the only reason Tehran could have for manufacturing such missiles would be to fit them with non-conventional, including atomic, warheads.

Tehran insists that it sees the missile program as crucial to its defensive posture, and says its existence is non-negotiable.

Iranian leaders have also said they are not working on missiles with a range beyond the Middle East. It has so far produced a missile with a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles), putting all of Israel in range as well as much of Eastern Europe.

The 2015 nuclear deal saw heavy sanctions lifted on Iran in return for Tehran freezing much of its nuclear program. Having pulled out of the deal in May, the US has vowed to apply the “strongest sanctions in history” on Iran.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, which affirmed the Iran nuclear deal, called on Iran to refrain from developing missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. Iran has maintained that it never intended to develop nuclear weapons and therefore its missile development doesn’t violate the agreement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech on files obtained by Israel he says proves Iran lied about its nuclear program, at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, on April 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month presented a vast archive of Iranian documents, obtained by the Mossad spy agency, which he said detailed Iranian efforts and research programs specifically aimed at producing an atomic weapon.

Netanyahu said at the time the evidence proved Iran had “lied” about its nuclear ambitions. In announcing his withdrawal from the nuclear agreement, Trump cited the Israeli intelligence haul as among the reasons for his decision.

Agencies contributed to this report.

READ MORE:

Iran And America’s ‘Dumb-Ass’ In Chief: No Plan, Just Stupidity And Lies

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE)

 

he suspense is over. Two weeks after President Trump ruptured the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran to a chorus of questions about the administration’s “Plan B,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday outlined a new U.S. strategy for contending with the persistent challenges posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

There’s only one problem with the strategy: It’s not a strategy at all, but rather a grab bag of wishful thinking wrapped in a thinly veiled exhortation for regime change in Iran.

Actually, there are about a dozen other problems with the strategy that Pompeo articulated—that being the number of benchmarks that the speech laid out as the prerequisites for any “new deal” that he insisted the administration is “ready, willing, and able to negotiate” with Iran. Despite this nod to the possibility of new negotiations, the substance of Pompeo’s remarks forecloses any realistic avenue for diplomacy with or around Iran’s current leadership. And it will exacerbate existing frictions around a variety of diplomatic and trade issues with all of America’s traditional partners

Instead, the speech heralds an unabashed embrace of go-it-alone maximalism that is not only likely to come up short on Iran, but will also backfire across an array of U.S. interests and allies in an unpredictable fashion. Trump’s alternative to the Iran nuclear deal is a dead end, one that will alienate our allies, disregard vital partners such as Russia and China, and divorce U.S. policy on Iran from even the slightest pretense at multilateral support or realistic objectives. What a terrible waste of U.S. leverage and leadership.

Trump’s alternative to the Iran nuclear deal is a dead end.

MORE IS NOT ALWAYS BETTER

For a president with brash ambition and only the crudest understanding of international politics, maximalism has understandable appeal, not the least of which is that it seems to present a compelling alternative to the approach pursued by Trump’s predecessors. President Obama sought an explicitly limited bargain with Tehran under a framework for issue-specific diplomatic engagement that was first advanced during the latter days of the Bush administration. This was a purely pragmatic calculation that reflected the urgency of Iran’s burgeoning nuclear infrastructure and the absence of any meaningful consensus with U.S. allies and other key stakeholders around the full suite of challenges posed by Tehran.

But in practice, the narrow transactionalism of the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), contributed to its eventual unravelling by Trump. An unavoidably imperfect solution to only one aspect of the Iran problem ensured that the continuation—and in many cases, the exacerbation—of Tehran’s regional malfeasance loomed all that much larger. In the aftermath of the deal, the real and present dangers of Iran’s support for violent proxies, its military entrenchment in Syria, and its relentless domestic repression seemed even more resistant to external pressure or inducements. And with the clock ticking on the expiration of some of the JCPOA’s restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities, skepticism around the nuclear deal’s value eroded the durability of the deal in Washington. It’s worth noting that Iranians felt a corresponding buyer’s remorse, having overestimated the ripple effects of reopening their economy, their compliance assured by the lack of obviously better alternatives.

Trump felt no such constraint. Having made his name as a wheeler-dealer, he disdains half-measures and is convinced he can find holistic fixes to protracted problems. Which is why his new secretary of state articulated an ambitious laundry list of demands for a new deal in his speech today—including a full accounting of Tehran’s past nuclear work, an end to Iran’s support for terrorist organizations, the release of unjustly detained dual-nationals.

Who can rightly argue against these as the aspiration objectives of U.S. policy? The difficulty, of course, is that the speech offered no realistic pathway to achieving them. Insisting on an unequivocal end to the full inventory of Iranian misdeeds is not a starting point for a serious negotiation. It’s magical thinking to suggest that after 40 years and at the apex of its regional reach, the Islamic Republic will proffer a blanket capitulation in exchange for the promise of a future treaty with a government that has just jettisoned an existing agreement.

DIPLOMACY OUT THE DOOR

In this sense, Pompeo’s speech made clear that the administration has no interest in negotiating with Tehran. For that matter, the framework outlined in his speech underscores the administration’s contempt toward key U.S. allies and diplomatic partners, whose cooperation proved critical to securing the nuclear deal in the first place and whose diplomats have been working for months in good faith with the State Department to devise some path to salvage and strengthen the nuclear accord.

Pompeo hailed multilateral support for the goals of U.S. policy toward Tehran. However, he acknowledged that Europe may choose to preserve the 2015 accord, which built on more than a dozen years of British, French, and German diplomacy. “That is their decision to make,” Pompeo said airily, adding: “They know where we stand.” Presumably the same applies for other vital stakeholders, including Russia and China whose extensive political and economic ties to Tehran proved crucial in prior diplomatic wrangling.

Pompeo’s implication was clear: To achieve its voluminous (and in places, redundant) objectives on Iran, the Trump administration is prepared to break with its core allies. And more pointedly, thanks to American dominance of the international financial system, Washington sees little cost to either the threat or its implementation. Financial sanctions leverage the indispensable role of the U.S. dollar and the U.S. market, and their dissuasive influence is not lessened by the formalities of national sovereignty. The implied risks have already sent firms around the world rushing to wind down business in Iran, and in the short term there may be little that European indignation can do to blunt or reverse this.

Related Books

The costs to American prestige and influence will surely be higher. Four decades of U.S. policy toward Tehran underscore how difficult it is to make real progress against the perennial threats posed by this regime. The nuclear deal itself is testament to the vital role of a broad coalition that was constructed through dogged diplomacy, led by both Republican and Democratic administrations, around a shared consensus around achievable goals. Resentment of American imperiousness will seep far beyond the usual suspects. After all, if the Trump administration is prepared and capable of bending Iran, a major player in regional politics and energy markets, to its will in order to enforce its mandates, where else might Washington choose to apply this awesome power?

THE REGIME-CHANGE DRUMBEAT

Pompeo did offer one alternative to diplomacy—regime change in Iran. The speech was littered with flamboyant expressions of official American appeals to the Iranian people and the declaration that “unlike the previous [Obama] administration, we are looking for outcomes that that benefit the Iranian people, not just the regime.” Asked how quickly the new “strategy” might be implemented, Pompeo showed his regime-change hand, emphasizing:

“At the end of the day, the Iranian people will decide the timeline. At the end of the day, the Iranian people will get to make a choice about their leadership. If they make the decision quickly, that would be wonderful. If they choose not to do so, we will stay hard at this until we achieve the outcomes that I set forward today.”

This advocacy comes at a genuinely precarious moment for Iran’s internal politics: fissures within the establishment, generational change and the diffusion of information technology, the deep alienation among at least some proportion of the population, and anticipation around succession that had begun to prompt consideration of what comes next, not simply who comes next. A simple, peaceful transition was always a long shot as a short-term hope. But the Islamic Republic’s slow-motion metastasis, combined with the opportunities for political entrepreneurship around succession, offered the first real sprigs of optimism that the end was somehow in sight.

But Iranians are wildly nationalistic and have been steeped in an especially conspiratorial interpretation of the role of the United States and other great powers in their own history. The 1953 coup, in which America and Britain expedited the downfall of a populist prime minister, has been assimilated as an article of faith about U.S. meddling and its counterproductive consequences.

Given this context, Pompeo’s copious sympathy for the plight of the Iranian people will fall flat on a population whose economic prospects are directly targeted by this administration and who the president has banned from even stepping foot in the United States. And his subtle appeal for regime change will elicit a nationalist backlash that will almost certainly subsume the embryonic openings for anti-regime activism.

Iran won’t bend, and it probably won’t break either.

THE PROBLEM WITH ANTI-SOLUTIONISM

The realistic outcome is that Trump will not get his bigger, better deal or his advisors’ hoped-for regime change; Iran won’t bend, and it probably won’t break either. That appears to be an acceptable alternative outcome for the Trump White House. Iran will remain in the penalty box, an international pariah state subject to severe economic pressure and, at least in theory, robust regional deterrence. As former senior Obama administration official Jake Sullivan noted last week: “The punishment isthe strategy.”

This is an approach that vaguely parallels what my colleague Natan Sachs has described as “anti-solutionism” as applied by the Israelis to their own enduring security dilemma—the conviction that “there are currently no solutions to the challenges the country faces and that seeking quick fixes to intractable problems is dangerously naïve.” Instead of reaching for a grand bargain, the game plan is open-ended confrontation, with the goal of limiting the immediate risks and damages.

There’s only one problem with this approach as a long-term mechanism for managing Iran: In terms of advancing American interests in peace and stability in the Middle East, it’s manifestly inferior to the arrangement Trump just discarded, the nuclear deal.

A how-to guide for managing the end of the post-Cold War era. Read all the Order from Chaos content »

Following the Money in Trumpland Leads Ugly Places

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ‘NEW YORKER’ MAGAZINE)

 

 / THE NATIONAL CIRCUS

Following the Money in Trumpland Leads Ugly Places

By 

Michael Avenatti is doing what Woodward and Bernstein did: exposing the money trail. Photo: MSNBC

Most weeks, New York Magazine writer-at-large Frank Rich speaks with contributor Alex Carp about the biggest stories in politics and culture. Today, the meaning of Michael Avenatti’s disclosures, Trump’s decision to kill the Iran deal, and Rudy Giuliani’s media tour.

With Michael Avenatti’s revelation that the shell company Michael Cohen used for the Stormy Daniels payoff also received money tied to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg (as well as payments from other companies with government business), it looks like the two main threads of Donald Trump’s legal troubles may be part of the same story. Has Avenatti found the “collusion” that Trump has spent so much energy denying?

Avenatti, whose revelations have since been verified by the Times and others, is doing exactly what Woodward and Bernstein did in Watergate — following the money. By doing so he has unveiled an example of collusion so flagrant that it made Trump and Rudy Giuliani suddenly go mute: a Putin crony’s cash turns out to be an essential component of the racketeering scheme used to silence Stormy Daniels and thus clear Trump’s path to the White House in the final stretch of the 2016 election. Like the Nixon campaign slush fund that Woodward and Bernstein uncovered, this money trail also implicates corporate players hoping to curry favor with a corrupt president. Back then it was the telecommunications giant ITT, then fending off antitrust suits from the government, that got caught red-handed; this time it’s AT&T. Both the Nixon and Trump slush funds were initially set up to illegally manipulate an American presidential election, hush money included. But the Watergate burglars’ dirty tricks, criminal as they were, were homegrown. Even Nixon would have drawn the line at colluding with Russians — or, in those days, the Soviets — to sabotage the Democrats.

5 of the Most Blatantly Unethical Moves by the Trump Administration

I know some accuse Avenatti of being a media whore, but he’s the one media whore I can’t get enough of. He knows what he’s doing, he has the goods, and he is playing high-stakes poker, shrewdly, with what appears to be a winning hand. It is also entertaining to imagine how crazy he is driving Trump. In personality and presence he’s exactly the kind of take-no-prisoners television defender that Trump would want appearing with Sean Hannity in his defense. That was the point of the Mooch. That is the point of Rudy. Apparently that was even once the point of Michael Cohen. If Avenatti, as others have noted, is Billy Flynn from the musical Chicagothen Trump is left with Larry, Curly, and Moe.

Donald Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. from the Iran deal has drawn condemnation from European alliesBarack Obama, and scores of other experts. Will Trump face any political penalty for his choice?

Honestly, I doubt Trump will still be in office when the full fallout of this blunder is felt. The blunder, one should add, is not only to pull out of a deal that was working but also to have no “better deal” (or policy at all) to take its place. But the interesting political piece about both this decision and the onrushing summit with Kim Jong-un is that Trump has persuaded himself that big bold foreign policy moves, however harmful to America and its allies, will rescue him from the rampaging scandal at home. This, again, has a Watergate echo: As the revelations of White House horrors piled up during the midterm election season of 1974, Nixon decided to travel to Moscow, ostensibly a diplomatic mission in the cause of détente. This stunt didn’t stave off the wolves closing in on him in Washington, and the current regurgitation of this tactic won’t save Trump either.

At least Nixon had foreign-policy expertise. He wouldn’t have given away the store to the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. By contrast, there’s every reason to fear that Trump’s ignorant foray into Korea will make Neville Chamberlain’s performance at Munich look Churchillian. Kim is not an idiot; he will keep playing the American president for all he can, knowing that Trump needs a “win” abroad to counterbalance all his losses at home. And Trump’s desperation to make a “deal” with North Korea for his own personal political salvation gets visibly greater with every Michael Avenatti television appearance. Witness the president’s decision to turn up at Andrews Air Force Base at 2 a.m. tomorrow to personally greet the three American detainees that North Korea released today. That Trump thinks this photo op will be effective counterprogramming to Stormy Daniels suggests he’s now lost one talent he unassailably did possess, an intuitive knack for show business.

Even in non-corrupt modern presidencies, there’s little evidence that foreign-policy achievements sway voters. (Foreign-policy debacles — wars that devolve into quagmires, for instance — do move voters, but not in a good way.) In Trump’s case, his America First base could not care less if he wins one of those suspect foreign Nobel Prizes as meaningless as the one awarded Obama. The majority of Americans who are not in Trump’s base won’t care either. Meanwhile, nuclear proliferation and possibly war hang in the balance.

After subjecting the country to a week of the Rudy Giuliani media tour, Donald Trump is now considering sidelining the lawyer. Has Giuliani done more damage to his own reputation or to Trump’s defense?

Both Trump’s legal strategy (if there is one) and Rudy’s reputation were in tatters well before this frequently hilarious and wholly unhinged media tour. It’s an indicator of how much the Trump defense is in disarray that the White House thought it was a good idea to send Giuliani to last weekend’s Sunday shows even after nearly a full week of screwups. And the debacle just keeps rolling along: Just hours before Avenatti posted his bombshell yesterday, Rudy was firmly declaring that Michael Cohen “possesses no incriminating information about the president.”

There’s clearly not just a screw loose in Giuliani but a missing link in his story with Trump. Rudy was a fierce Trump defender during the campaign and lobbied vociferously for a Cabinet position during the transition. Twice he was considered for both secretary of State and secretary of Homeland Security, and twice he was rejected. What does that say about him when you consider that those who did make the cut to top Trump administration jobs included Michael Flynn, Ben Carson, Tom Price, Scott Pruitt, Betsy DeVos, and Ryan Zinke? What does Giuliani have for — or on — Trump that brought him into the fold now? Inquiring minds would like to know.

In any case, Trumpism has bequeathed America not merely a post-fact but post-rule-of-law culture. Rudy, like his boss, claims nonexistent extralegal privileges for presidents, dismisses FBI agents as “stormtroopers,” and endorses “rumor” as a legal strategy. I’d say his record for mad-dog lunacy is perfect were it not for the moment when he told Hannity that Jared Kushner is “disposable” — a judgment that no doubt reflects the view of Kushner’s father-in-law and is surely correct. That is our national Godfather replay at its best.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard welcomes Trump’s pullout from nuke deal

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard welcomes Trump’s pullout from nuke deal

General Mohammad Ali Jafari says the Americans were ‘not trustworthy’ from the start, adds move won’t have any impact

The head of Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard General Mohammad Ali Jafari speaks to journalists after his speech at a conference called "A World Without Terror," in Tehran, Iran, October 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The head of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard General Mohammad Ali Jafari speaks to journalists after his speech at a conference called “A World Without Terror,” in Tehran, Iran, October 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard welcomed US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal, saying it was clear from the beginning that the Americans were “not trustworthy” and that the move would have no impact.

The semi-official Fars news agency on Wednesday quoted General Mohammad Ali Jafari as predicting that the European Union, which opposed the pullout, would eventually join the US, meaning the “the fate of the deal is clear.”

He was quoted as saying: “We welcome Trump’s decision on pulling out of the deal. This is not a new event and has no effective role in any field.” He added that “it was clear that the Americans are not trustworthy.”

The Revolutionary Guard is a paramilitary force dominated by hardliners, which answers directly to Iran’s supreme leader.

The country’s hardliners and conservatives have long opposed the nuclear pact, and on Wednesday called again to scrap it.

“Trump has torn up the nuclear deal, it is time for us to burn it,” said the hard-line Kayhan newspaper, echoing a recent threat by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Kayhan has been one of the fiercest critics of the agreement, under which Iran vowed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

But the country’s reformists are in favor of preserving the deal.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday slammed Trump’s decision to pull out of the nuclear deal as an act of “psychological warfare,” warning that his country could start enriching uranium more than ever in the coming weeks.

President Hassan Rouhani attends a meeting with officials and industrialists, at a petroleum conference in Tehran, Iran, May 8, 2018. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Rouhani has stated in recent days that he hopes to salvage the deal as much as possible with the help of the other parties — Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia, and the European Union — who have strongly opposed Washington’s decision to pull out.

State television said the decision was “illegal, illegitimate, and undermines international agreements,” Reuters reported.

Speaking live on state television, Rouhani said he wished to discuss Trump’s decision with the European, Russian, and Chinese parties to the 2015 deal. There’s a “short time” to negotiate, he said, adding that he will be sending Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to countries remaining in the accord.

“I have ordered Iran’s atomic organization that whenever it is needed, we will start enriching uranium more than before,” he said, adding that Iran would start this “in the next weeks.”

The Iranian president appeared on the state broadcaster just minutes after Trump announced the historic decision to withdraw the United States from the agreement.

READ MORE:

Iran: Khamenei Refuses to Abandon Iran’s Regional Role

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Khamenei Refuses to Abandon Iran’s Regional Role

Tuesday, 1 May, 2018 – 08:15
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. (Reuters)
London – Asharq Al-Awsat
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei closed the door to any international attempts to negotiate Tehran’s regional role and ballistic missile program, accusing the US administration of waging an economic war against his country run by the US Treasury Department.

Khamenei criticized the positions of US President Donald Trump without naming him, pointing out that years ago he addressed a letter to former US President Georges Bush, in which he said that the “hit-and-run era is over.”

“They know that if they get into a military conflict with Iran, they will be struck multiple times over,” he stated.

Commenting on the international move aimed at containing Iran’s regional threats, Khamenei said the Middle East wars were “the result of the American presence.”

“The United States, not Iran, should withdraw from West Asia,” he stressed.

According to Khamenei, Iran is engaging in an “economic and cultural” confrontation with the United States, claiming that the Treasury Department was leading the war against Iran, in a tacit reference to the possibility of imposing new international sanctions if Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal.

Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told state media that his country was “fully prepared” for any scenario in case Trump decided to withdraw from the nuclear deal.

“Iran [is] fully prepared for any US scenario on the 2015 nuclear deal,” he said.

Iran’s nuclear chief said that Tehran was technically ready to enrich uranium to a higher level than before, Reuters reported.

According to the agency, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, said Iran was able technically to enrich uranium to a higher level than it could before it signed the 2015 deal designed to curb its nuclear program.

Iran Admits To Them Not Adhering To ‘Nuclear Deal’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

(IF IRAN IS IN A BETTER POSITION RIGHT NOW IN REGARD TO URANIUM ENRICHMENT WHILE UNDER THE ‘NUCLEAR DEAL’ THEN IT IS OBVIOUS THAT THEY HAVE BEEN IN VIOLATION OF THAT DEAL FOR SOME TIME NOW)

Tehran warns it can enrich uranium to higher levels than before nuclear deal

Head of Iran’s atomic agency says he hopes ‘Trump comes to his senses’ and does not quit accord

Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi talks at a conference on international cooperation for enhancing nuclear safety, security, safeguards and non-profileration, at the Lincei Academy, in Rome, October 10, 2017. (AP/Gregorio Borgia)

Head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi talks at a conference on international cooperation for enhancing nuclear safety, security, safeguards and non-profileration, at the Lincei Academy, in Rome, October 10, 2017. (AP/Gregorio Borgia)

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization warned Monday that Tehran is technically able to enrich uranium to a higher level than it could before it signed a nuclear deal with six world powers in 2015.

Directing his comments at US President Donald Trump, who is considering scrapping what he calls a terribly flawed agreement in the coming days, Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted by Iranian state TV as saying, “Iran is not bluffing … Technically, we are fully prepared to enrich uranium higher than we used to produce before the deal was reached… I hope Trump comes to his senses and stays in the deal.”

Salehi made his comments hours before Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was slated to address Israel and the watching world on Monday evening in remarks relating to Iranian nuclear activities.

According to Israel’s Hadashot news and Channel 10 news, Netanyahu will reveal intelligence information, based on a large cache of documents recently obtained by Israel, which he believes proves Iran has duped the world regarding the state of its nuclear program.

A satellite image of Iran's Fordo uranium enrichment facility (photo credit: AP/DigitalGlobe)

A satellite image of Iran’s Fordo uranium enrichment facility. (AP/DigitalGlobe)

Trump has given Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia until May 12 to fix what he sees as the main shortfalls in the deal.

So far, all these countries have said they will stand by the original deal and Tehran has threatened grave consequences if it is cancelled.

Iran stopped producing 20 percent enriched uranium when it signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015 in return for the lifting of sanctions against Tehran.

To make a nuclear bomb, uranium needs to be enriched to 80% to 90% purity.

READ MORE: