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Direct Dialogue Between U.S. and Iranian Opposition

By Jay Solomon

Reza Pahlavi, the eldest son of Iran’s last monarch, called for a direct dialogue between U.S. and Iran’s democratic opposition amid signs that President Donald Trump intends to significantly harden Washington’s position towards Tehran.

Reza Pahlavi, shown with Yasmine Pahlavi, in New York. PHOTO: ZUMA PRESS

Reza Pahlavi, shown with Yasmine Pahlavi, in New York. PHOTO: ZUMA PRESS

“We say, ‘Yes,’ if they want to have a dialogue,” said Mr. Pahlavi, who heads a political movement called the Iran National Council for Free Elections, in an interview in Washington on Wednesday. “It’s about time you start talking to voices outside the regime.”

The Obama administration reached a landmark nuclear agreement with Iran’s Islamist government in 2015 that resulted in Iran scaling back its nuclear program in return for the lifting of most international sanctions.

But Mr. Pahlavi, who supported the deal, and other Iranian opposition leaders, have been critical of what they said was former President Barack Obama’s unwillingness to promote democratic forces in Iran.

Millions of Iranians protested in 2009 against what they believed was the fraudulent re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mr. Obama muted U.S. criticism of the vote, concerned that U.S. involvement would allow Tehran’s government to demonize the protesters as Western tools.

Mr. Pahlavi said Wednesday the Trump administration should directly engage Iranian opposition leaders. He said, ultimately, relations between Iran and the West will only improve with the removal of Tehran’s theocratic government.

“We need regime change in Iran to get rid of this problem,” said Mr. Pahlavi.

The Trump administration last week placed Iran “on notice” and said it would aggressively challenge Tehran for its recent ballistic missile tests and its support for militant groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. The U.S. Treasury on Friday also sanctioned 25 Iranian-linked companies and individuals.

Some top Republicans have called for Mr. Trump to appoint a special envoy to the Iranian opposition, viewing it as another way to pressure Tehran. A White House official said Wednesday no decision had been made on this issue.

Iran’s opposition is split among royalists, left-wing groups and youth and student movements that have emerged in recent years. Mr. Pahlavi’s father, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was overthrown by supporters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979. The younger Pahlavi, 56 years old, was training at a U.S. Air Force base in Texas at the time and has lived in exile ever since.

 Source: WSJ

Iran Should Take American Threats Seriously

by Shireen T. Hunter

It was not surprising that Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, national security adviser to President Donald Trump, “officially put…Iran on notice,” following what he cited as “recent Iranian actions, including a provocative ballistic missile launch and an attack against a Saudi naval vessel conducted by Iran-supported Houthi militants.” President Trump himself later confirmed these comments.

In view of President Trump’s statements before and during the presidential campaign and given the ideological bent of his key advisers, a hardening of American position towards Iran was inevitable. In fact, even if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had won the presidency, Iran would no doubt have faced even tougher times than during the Obama administration.

Yet many Iranians, including political leaders, somehow deluded themselves into believing that as a businessman Donald Trump would be willing to cut a deal. Shortly after the presidential election, I warned in Lobelog that the only deal that Donald Trump likes is one that he wins totally. I also wrote that any deal based on the concept of win-win, of which Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, is so fond, is not the kind of deal that appeals to President Trump. Furthermore, in emphasizing America’ s honor and pride, Trump would be reluctant to deal with a country that he believes has humiliated America, including the incident of captured US Navy personnel in January 2016 .

Despite warnings by the United States, echoed by others as well, Iran decided to take the measure of the Trump administration by conducting a ballistic missile test only a few days after the new president assumed office. If indeed Tehran wanted to see how the new administration would respond, it got its answer: Iran has now been verbally rebuked and slapped with new US sanctions. As has been the habit of the Islamic Republic, the Iranian government’s immediate response to these warnings was defiance and tit-for-tat retaliation. Foreign Minister Zarif tweeted that Iran is “unmoved by threats,” although he did add that “We’ll never initiate war.” Iranian newspapers repeated Ayatollah Khomeini’s famous saying that America won’t dare do anything against Iran. Then Iran denied entry to a US wrestling team (later rescinded), and the Iranian media kept asking President Hassan Rouhani to retaliate against American sanctions.

The Islamic Republic has always walked too close to the edge in its foreign policy behavior, especially regarding relations with the United States, which has combined mostly rhetorical defiance with actual pragmatism. Whenever the risks of an actual confrontation have been great, Iran has backed off and even tried to cut a deal with the US, as at the time of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. However, as soon as the immediate threat has passed, it has reverted to its defiant posture. For example, only days after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) went into effect in October 2015, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) tested a medium-range Emad ballistic missile, thus greatly dissipating any good will that might have been generated by the agreement. At the time, some moderate elements in Iran questioned the wisdom of this action.

This aspect of Iran’s foreign policy is a direct result of its distorted priorities. Instead of focusing on Iran’s interests as a country and nation, the Islamic Republic has pursued a policy shaped by a warped version of Islamic universalism. Ironically, Iran is not accepted in the overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim world as truly Muslim. Over the years, it has spent billions of dollars on Syria, which is Sunni-majority but Alawite-dominated, including shipments of cheap oil. It has also supported various Palestinian groups that every time have turned against it, as when Arafat supported Saddam Hussein’s 1980 invasion of Iran, and more recently Hamas, which has backed Saudi Arabia’s role in Syria. By picking an unnecessary fight with Israel, Iran has actually brought Israelis and some Arabs closer together.

Iran’s dispute with Israel has been the main reason for its troubled relations with America and Europe and to some extent even Russia and China. As long as Iran does not reach a modus vivendi with Israel, as it had in pre-Islamic Revolutionary times, it cannot expect normal relations with other countries. The threat of some form of military action, by the United States and/or Israel, will remain. In October 2016, German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel urged Iran “to improve its relationship with Israel if it wanted to establish closer economic ties with Germany and other western powers.”

Meanwhile, all of Iran’s neighbors, big and small, have taken advantage of the country’s international isolation in every possible way. For instance, though it boasts that it will not bow to America, Iran remained silent when tiny Turkmenistan cut gas supplies to the country during the current tough winter. A government that so often talks about Iran’s honor, pride, and dignity does not seem bothered by these insults and slights and many others like them. But it considers even talking to America against its national dignity.

Iran has paid a huge price for its distorted set of priorities and for privileging religion over national interests, including economic advancement. In fact, since the revolution, Iran has lost decades of economic development, not to mention the losses caused by the eight-year war with Iraq (1980-88). There have also been costs associated with sanctions, rampant corruption, and managerial deficiencies. Even the country’s birth rate has become negative, reflecting its people’s low expectation of future possibilities. Iran is facing both an environmental and a demographic disaster.

The Trump administration’s policies now confront the Islamic Republic and its leaders with a stark choice: either to give priority to protecting Iran’s survival as a country, nation, and culture or to risk sacrificing it on the altar of some vague notion of Islamic universalism and anti-imperialist struggle. Unfortunately, some in Iran would willingly sacrifice Iran to bring about a cataclysmic denouement in the Middle East. A US-Iranian confrontation that might even lead to open conflict might provide just such an opportunity.

As the new U.S. administration decides what to do about Iran’s behavior—and before it chooses to escalate its threats even to the point of a possible military confrontation—it should be aware that some Iranians would welcome a chance to entangle America in a long war, even if their country becomes the greatest victim of such a conflict. But perhaps Iran’s Islamists will realize before it is too late that, if Iran ceases to exist as country, they will be left with nothing and nowhere to go. Coming to their senses, they will thus step back from the brink before it is too late.

Source: Lebelog

New Directions for American Foreign Policy

With the U.S. Senate endorsing the nomination of Rex Tillerson as the new Secretary of State, President Donald J Trump’s national security team is now complete, ready for action.

The Trump team differs from those of previous presidents in a number of ways.

To start with, Trump has decided to seek a tighter grip for himself by granting Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, or even Svengali as critics claim, a seat at the National Security Council (NSC).

Next, he has decided that his National Security Advisor, Lt. General Michael Flynn, would fix the NSC’s agenda
in consultation with Bannon.

This would give the inner-circle of presidential advisers a tighter grip on the choice of issues that the administration wishes to focus on.

Another important decision is to deprive the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top echelon of the U.S. armed forces, of a permanent presence in the NSC. Under Trump, the chiefs would be invited only to sessions that discuss matters directly related to their area of competence and authority.

Lowering the profile of the Top Brass need not be regarded as a major event if only because the top echelon of the Trump administration includes two retired four-star generals, Defence Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Secretary John F. Kelly, plus Flynn who has three stars.

The new Trump configuration also diminishes the role of the State Department, the vehicle for American diplomacy. Trump believes that the department has morphed into an exclusive club for cosmopolitan liberals more concerned about the sensibilities of foreign foes than the interests of the U.S. and its allies. Thus, the department will lose the seat traditionally reserved for the Deputy Secretary of State, even though the post may now go to a loyal Trumpist.

Tillerson’s choice as Secretary of States indicates Trump’s determination to shake the State Department. A businessman, Tillerson would be able to cast a fresh glance at all aspects of U.S. foreign policy, disregarding the receive wisdom dished out by the State Department’s “tired” diplomats.

It would be interesting to see how long would Tillerson resist “going native” and adopting the discourse and style of the State Department professionals.

The “inner circle” also includes Kt McFarland, a veteran of all Republican administrations since President Richard Nixon, who has been named Deputy National Security Adviser. Legal “know-how” for the inner circle would be provided by Don McGahan, named as White House Counsel.

Also expected to be part of the inner circle is Nikki Haley, named as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations with a seat on the Cabinet.

Two more members of the administration are likely to acquire some influence, at least on aspects of Trumps policy related to international trade and the changing patterns of the global energy market.

They are Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

The Trump ream differs from previous administrations in a number of ways.

To start with it consists mostly of people who have been successful in their respective fields of activity and do not owe their place and prestige to political patronage. This means that we could expect real debate at least within the inner circle.

Under Obama, the standard response of senior administration members was “yes, sir”. Under Trump one may get a better deal, at least with “yes, but.”

The average American public servant is often excessively concerned about “what-is-in-it-for me”, with an eye on the next rung of the ladder he might climb. Trumps team may be different if only because of the age of its members, six years older than the average for members of the last three administrations and the fact that most members do not envisage further political careers. Another factor is the personal wealth of the members of the new team that includes several billionaires. (Obama’s administration had no billionaires; most of its members were only millionaires.)

But what will the new team do?

Though no definite answer could be suggested as yet, there are indicators pointing to the direction that U.S. foreign policy might take at least in certain domains.

Some analysts, especially in Europe, have seen the Trump slogan of “America First” as an indication that the new administration tilts towards isolationism.

The “America First” slogan of Trump isn’t new however; it was launched in the late 1930s by people like the politician Huey Pierce, Father Charles Coughlin and the aviator Charles Lindbergh with a view to keep the United States out of the looming Second World War. At that time, the slogan meant a policy of disengagement or even benign neglect wherever possible.

With Trump, however, it means active engagement with the aim of securing better “deals” for the United States.
In the 1930s the slogan was really meant to convey an “America Alone” sentiment. Trump reads it differently to imply that America must come first in relation to, and competition with, other nations.

That sentiment is shared by the vast majority of Trump’s new team, men and women who have extensive experience of the outside world plus command of foreign languages.

Trump’s “America First” slogan is laced with a feeling of resentment prompted by the belief that the U.S. has been “made a sucker of” by friend and foe alike.

The average American could be world champion of friendship and generosity even to the point of fighting and dying on distant battlefields to save friends and allies. But he simply goes mad if he gets the feeling that the friends and allies he has saved simply took advantage of him, and pour scorn on him in secret.

Trumps promise, not to say threat, to tear up trade agreements is largely motivated by that anger. However, once it becomes clear that even the worst trade agreements have served U.S. interests, the “America First slogan might be given a different tonality.

What remains to be seen is the ability of the new team to translate what is a simple, not to say simplistic, slogan into the backbone of a coherent world-view and practical foreign policy.

Unlike Obama who believed, or pretended to believe, that his own ersatz charm and persiflage could move the biggest hurdles, Trump feels that what matters when the chips are down is the relative power of any two sides involved in a relationship. That point is amply made clear in Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal” in which he recommends bullying, bluster and bluffing as legitimate tools of negotiations.

In Trump’s vision of the world, no nation is assigned a permanent label, and even the United States’ oldest friends cannot expect automatic indulgence when they act in an unfriendly manner.

A nation could be an ally or even a friend but act as an adversary or even an enemy in particular instances and on specific issues. Trump has two cases most in mind. The first concerns the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which he has described as “obsolete.”

This does not mean he wants to abolish NATO; in fact last month he indicated he wants to strengthen it. But he certainly would insist on the allies meeting their commitments both in terms of financial contribution and allocation of resources.

Next, Trump has served notice on allies, including Japan South Korea, Taiwan and friendly Arab states, not to expect the U.S. to continue providing police service for their protection on a no-tomorrow basis. But here, too, the outcome may well be a strengthening of U.S. commitment to the defence of its allies.

The conventional wisdom is that Trump will be “soft” on Russian President Vladimir Putin and his projection of power in the area of influence of the deceased Soviet Empire. However, Putin’s strategy is primarily aimed at promoting his own image as a strong nationalist leader standing up against Western bullies.

Obama fell into Putin’s trap by talking tough and doing nothing to increase the cost of Russian expansionism. Trump is likely to do the opposite: turning the volume down on Putin but making sure he pays the maximum price for his cheat-and-retreat shenanigans. This is why Trump’s 30-minute long telephone conversation with Putin did not include any reference to the easing of sanctions on Russia.

Trump may adopt a similar tactic against the Islamic Republic in Tehran. There, too, the mullahs have made maximum propaganda mileage by claiming that are standing against “the only Superpower” and winning. They have set aside the fact that the same “only Superpower” went out of its way to smuggle cash to them to pay the salaries of Iranian security services.

In fact, Islamic Republic President Hassan Rouhani has publicly stated that without Obama’s help in the context of the “nuclear deal” Iran would be in the same state of economic meltdown as Venezuela is today.

There is much speculation regarding Trump’s intention to scrap the Iran “nuclear deal”, a point hinted at by Tillerson in his Senate confirmation hearings.

However, no such dramatic action may be necessary. Instead, the new administration may do two things. First, it could stop operating as a lobby for the mullahs, as Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry did. That would send a strong signal to the rest of the world that the mullah’s regime remains a pariah and has a long way before qualifying for “business as usual.”

Secondly, Trump may administer some of the mullahs’ own medicine in the form of low-intensity operations and proximity pressure. In fact, Gen. Flynn, followed by Trump himself, this week put Tehran on notice that the Islamic Republic is now under close observation and that its’ every move would receive the response it merits.

That is in contrast with Obama’s policy of boasting about “all options are on the table” while violating international law to help the mullahs under the table.

The Middle East, with special attention paid to Iraq, Syria and Yemen, in addition to Iran, is likely to feature prominently in Trump’s global strategy.

The Trump administration has better and more direct knowledge of the region than did that of Obama. General Mattis was in command in Iraq and has a vast network of contacts among politicians, the military, tribal chiefs and religious figure there. He also has a smattering of Arabic and those who know him closely claim he genuinely wants Iraq to succeed in building itself as an independent and democratic nation.

Both generals Kelly and Flynn to could be regarded as old Middle East hands having visited the region and served therein various capacities since the 1990s.

The fact that Trump has cited the “total destruction” of ISIS (Da’esh in Arabic) as a top priority adds to the importance of reviewing Washington’s policy on Iraq.

Eliminating ISIS also requires a Syrian policy different from Obama’s confused musings.

Here, too, the conventional wisdom claiming that Trump would allow Russia to take sole charge of the Syrian dossier may be misguided. In a Machiavellian sense that wouldn’t be a bad policy, keeping Russia bogged down in the Syrian quagmire and wasting rare resources on keeping Bashar al-Assad nominally in power in a tiny corner of Damascus.

However, the new administration’s aims, as put by Tillerson during the Senate hearings, include two objectives that do not tally with such a Machiavellian scheme. Tillerson fixed two goals: The departure from power of Assad and the destruction of ISIS.

More importantly, perhaps, Tillerson insisted that the two objectives should be attained together.

This means that Washington is unlikely to pursue Obama’s policy under which U.S. military capabilities would be used in Syria only to strengthen Assad by attacking his non-ISIS opponents.

Obama’s policy failed because the U.S. military chiefs, and Pentagon as a whole, opposed working with Russia to achieve their military objectives.

Trump may offer a new “deal” under which Washington and Moscow can pull resources to destroy ISIS with the assurance that Assad, too, is flushed out. Such a joint venture would also prevent Russia from inheriting a totally ruined Syria which it won’t be able to rebuild on its own.

According to Washington sources, the new administration is already preparing contingency plans to help “domestic democratic force” in Lebanon where the new President, Michel Aoun, though beholden to Tehran, is known for his ability to change course when and if necessary.

Only thanks to Gen. Flynn, a specialist in Turkish affairs, relations with Ankara are also in line for a major review. There, evolving a balance between Washington’s traditional support for Kurdish rights and its interest in consolidating Turkey’s position as key member of NATO may prove difficult to achieve but not impossible.

The fact that Iran is singled out as America’s chief adversary in the region also means a higher U.S. profile in Yemen where rebel forces backed by Iran appear to be in some disarray.

An infusion of massive Iranian support could still prevent the total defeat of the Houthis and their allies, at least for the time being. The Trump administration’s aim is to make Tehran understand the true cost of such an adventure in Yemen. That understanding may persuade Tehran strategists to review a policy that is visibly leading nowhere.

In his style as a deal-maker, Trump may also enlist Russia as second-fiddle in reining in China’s growing ambitions in the Far East and Siberia.

The new Trump team has the great advantage of being bound together with a set of clear ideas which, though debatable, could provide the U.S. with a clear direction, ending eight years of rudderless zigzag under Obama.

This new team believes that America’s enemies have little power but use all of it against the U.S. while the U.S. has a lot of power but has been afraid of using even a tiny it of it against its foes.

The new team claims its aim is to make sure that fear changes camp and that cowardice finds a home with America’s adversaries.

How well, or how badly, the new team may pursue that aim remains to be seen.


 

By Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

Obama, Trump and the Muslim Ban

As expected, the decision by the new American President Donald Trump to impose a 90-day ban on visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries has provoked violent reactions in many parts of the world, including the United States.

The fact that the majority of citizens of the countries concerned are Muslims has led some commentators to claim that the ban is anti-Islamic and violates the United States’ Constitution which guarantees respect for all religions.

A few politicians, mostly in Western Europe, have gone further by comparing Trump to Hitler and Mussolini. (Incidentally, though Hitler and Mussolini were similar they were also different!)

Deconstructing Trump’s move might show that the hysteria is misplaced if not counter-productive. It may also offer an insight into Trump’s modus operandi as president.

The first thing to settle is whether or not the move is anti-Islam.

There is nothing in Trump’s Executive Order (EO) to indicate that this is the case. Although a majority of the citizens of the nations concerned are Muslims, the EO applies to non-Muslim citizens as well.

The measure is not aimed against citizens of those countries as such; it is aimed at passports issued by governments of those countries. If a citizen of those countries has another passport, as is the case with an estimated 4.5 million dual-nationals who have European or even American passports, he would not be covered by the ban.

Muslims form a majority of populations in 57 out of the world’s 198 countries. Muslims are also found in almost all other countries. The United Sates itself is home to an estimated 6.5 million Muslims while a further 4.5 million Muslims hold American permanent residency known as the Green Card.

In the case of Iran, one of the seven countries, no fewer than 1,500 senior officials of the Islamic Republic are holders of American Green Cards, according to the Islamic Majlis in Tehran. The children of many top Khomeinist officials are among the 16,000 Iranians attending American universities.

The countries concerned – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen -account for just under 10 per cent of the world’s total population of Muslims.

None of the five countries with the largest number of Muslims, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Egypt, are included in the list of seven unwanted ones.

Only two of the seven, Iran and Sudan, describe themselves as Islamic Republic. Three other Islamic Republics, Mauritania, Afghanistan and Pakistan, are not included.

The malicious seven have been singled out because of the threat they are supposed to pose to American security. Whether or not that threat is real could be debated; but it seems plausible on several grounds.

Take Iran, for example, it has been in a state of war against the United States since 1979 when it raided the U.S. Embassy and held its diplomats hostage, a casus belli under international law.

Since then, hardly a day has passed without the Islamic Republic holding some U.S. citizens hostage in Tehran or Beirut.

Every year, Tehran hosts an international conference known as “End of America” and attended by individuals and groups that, for a variety of reasons, seek the destruction of the United States.

Iraq, also on the list, is included despite the close relationship it has with the U.S. The reason is that ISIS (or Da’esh in Arabic) still controls three of Iraq’s provinces plus its third most populous city Mosul.

In 2015, Baghdad authorities announced that ISIS had seized thousands of Iraqi passports and might use them to send infiltrators abroad.

In an even more precarious situation than Iraq, Syria suffers from similar problems. There, too, ISIS, is in control of vast chunks of territory and in possession of an unknown number of stolen passports.

In Libya, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and their affiliates are established in areas larger than Switzerland, a metaphorical marshland where mosquitoes of terror breed.

A similar situation exists in Somalia with al-Shabab and the remnants of gangs that lynched 18 U.S. Marines in Mogadishu in December 1992 are still active.

Sudan, home to the leaders of Al-Qaeda and other terror groups for decades, hosted the Popular Islamic Congress which selected a nine-man leadership council with the mission to launch their version of Jihad across the globe.

Since then, Sudan has changed and is trying to distance itself from terrorist groups. However, groups that have struck roots there for decades cannot be weeded out in a few years.

In Yemen, al-Qaeda is in control of a chunk of territory while the Houthi militia, backed by Iran, launched at least two attacks on U.S. naval vessels in 2016.

The list of the malicious seven is not a brainchild of Trump. It was established by President Barack Obama in 2016 as a new version of the list of “States Sponsors of International Terrorism” promulgated by the Bush administration in 2002.

In the same year, the Bush administration pushed through an amendment to the section 306 of The Immigration and Naturalization Act to impose a total ban on travel by citizens of the seven countries listed as “State Sponsors of international terrorism.” The amendment gave the president the right to waive the ban when and if he desired, something that both Bush and Obama used extensively.

What Trump has done is to insist on the full implementation for 90 days of an act passed under George W Bush in 2002.

The original list of “sponsors of terrorism” included Cuba and North Korea instead of Syria and Yemen.

At that time, Syria was regarded as an ally. Between 1992 and 2002 three successive U.S. secretaries of states paid a total of 29 visits to Damascus.

At the time, Yemen, under President Ali Abdullah Saleh, was also regarded as an ally. In other words, changes in political and security circumstances could alter Washington’s perception of friend and foe.

Last year, Obama paid his photo-op visit to Havana and had to remove Cuba from the “terrorist list”. Obama also removed North Korea from his list of “Countries of Concern”, presumably because he realized that no one from there might want to visit the U.S. as a tourist or on a business trip.

During his campaign, Trump promised to impose a temporary ban on all Muslims wishing to travel to the U.S. What he has come up with, however, is a temporary ban on citizens of a small number of Muslim countries.

In a sense, he has acted in Obama’s style of faking action, doing something that like candy-floss, looks big at first but melts into nothingness in a consumer’s mouth.

Obama’s authenticity was fake. Will Trump’s fakery turn out to be authentic?


 

By Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

Iran’s missile test ‘not a message’ to Trump

Iran said on Monday a recent missile trial launch was not intended to send a message to new U.S. President Donald Trump and to test him, since after a series of policy statements Iranian officials already “know him quite well”.

Iran test-fired a new ballistic missile last week, prompting Washington to impose some new sanctions on Tehran. Trump tweeted that Tehran, which has cut back its nuclear program under a 2015 deal with world powers easing economic sanctions, was “playing with fire”.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted by Tasnim news agency as saying: “Iran’s missile test was not a message to the new U.S. government.

“There is no need to test Mr Trump as we have heard his views on different issues in recent days… We know him quite well.”

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani gestures as he speaks during a ceremony marking National Day of Space Technology in Tehran, Iran February 1, 2017. President.ir/Handout via REUTERS

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani gestures as he speaks during a ceremony marking National Day of Space Technology in Tehran, Iran February 1, 2017. President.ir/Handout via REUTERS

Iran has test-fired several ballistic missiles since the 2015 deal, but the latest test on January 29 was the first since Trump entered the White House. Trump said during his election campaign that he would stop Iran’s missile program.

Qasemi said The U.S. government was “still in an unstable stage” and Trump’s comments were “contradictory”.

“We are waiting to see how the U.S. government will act in different international issues to evaluate their approach.”

Despite heated words between Tehran and Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Saturday he was not considering strengthening U.S. forces in the Middle East to address Iran’s “misbehavior”.

Hamid Aboutalebi, deputy chief of staff of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, tweeted on Monday that the U.S. government “should de-escalate regional tension not adding to it”, and Washington should “interact with Iran” rather than challenging it.

Iran announced on Saturday that it will issue visas for a U.S. wrestling team to attend the Freestyle World Cup competition, reversing a decision to ban visas for the team in retaliation for an executive order by Trump banning visas for Iranians.

Source: Reuters 

 

Zarif Says ‘Difficult Days’ Ahead

  • Zarif expects Trump may try to renegotiate the nuclear deal
  • Iran, other signatories don’t want to reexamine the deal


Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said he expects U.S. President Donald Trump to try and renegotiate the nuclear accord, heralding “difficult days” ahead for the Islamic Republic.

Zarif, in remarks published by the Tehran-based newspaper Ettelaat, said that neither Iran nor other signatories will accept reexamining the 2015 landmark accord that lifted a host of sanctions on Iran in return for curbing its nuclear program.

Kerry and Zarif

Kerry and Zarif

Trump said during the presidential campaign that he wants to “tear up” or renegotiate the terms of the deal he called “a disaster.” While he hasn’t repeated these statements since stepping into the White House, his administration on Friday imposed sanctions against a list of entities accused of having ties to Iran’s missile program after Tehran carried out a ballistic missile test.

“I believe Trump may try to renegotiate,” Zarif, who led the Iranian team that negotiated the agreement, said. “So, we will have difficult days ahead.”

The U.K, Germany, France, China and Russia remain supportive of the accord. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, who met this month with Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, another critic of the deal, said on Monday that the nuclear deal was “vital” and needed to be “properly enforced and policed.”

Source: Bloomberg

Details of Iran nuclear deal still secret

By Andrew O’Reilly

President Trump could come under new pressure to lift the curtain on secret elements of the Iran nuclear deal struck by his predecessor, especially as the Islamic Republic continues its war of words with his administration.

Only days after the Iran nuclear deal was announced in July of 2015, news began to leak out about secret side agreements made between the Islamic Republic and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Some of those agreements have been subsequently released, but with the tension ratcheting up between Iran and Trump, who has criticized the deal, the White House could reveal more details.

“Iran has been formally PUT ON NOTICE for firing a ballistic missile. Should have been thankful for the terrible deal the U.S. made with them!” Trump tweeted last week, quickly adding: “Iran was on its last legs and ready to collapse until the U.S. came along and gave it a life-line in the form of the Iran Deal: $150 billion.”

Talk of secret “side agreements” involving Iran’s past testing and inspection methods began almost as soon as the deal was reached. President Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice acknowledged that the documents between Iran and the IAEA were not public, but said Obama administration was informed of their contents and planned to share the details with Congress in a classified briefing.

Since then, however, a number of other alleged side deals have come to light and many Republicans in Congress – including former Kansas congressman and President Trump’s current CIA director Mike Pompeo – continued to demand that the full context of the deal with Iran is revealed, especially following the country’s recent failed  ballistic missile test.

“The fact that there are side deals to begin with is a problem,” Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Fox News. “The deal was sold to us as transparent and that hasn’t been the case.”

PJMedia columnist Roger Simon, in an article that was picked up by numerous conservative blogs, called for a full airing of the nuclear deal. “The time is long since past for the complete details of this quondam deal to be released,” read the column.

Diplomats cheering the deal

Diplomats cheering the deal

The agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), forced Iran to halt its enrichment of uranium, a material that can be used in nuclear weapons and in exchange received widespread relief from U.S. and international sanctions that had crippled the Iranian economy.

One of the contentious issues brought up in the side deals is Iran’s claim that they can develop ballistic missiles with a range of 2,000 kilometers and that the tests are legitimate because they are not designed to carry a nuclear warhead.

“We will follow two restrictions: The first is mentioned in the JCPOA, in the matter of no nuclear planning, and the second is the range of 2,000 km, which has already been noted previously by all elements in Iran,” Iranian Army chief of staff Hassan Firouzabadi told local media back in 2015.

Officials from the U.S. and other Western nations contend that Tehran agreed two years ago to an eight-year extension of a ban on ballistic work during the nuclear negotiations. That agreement was codified in a U.N. Security Council resolution passed in parallel, but independently from the nuclear accord.

Besides the ballistic missile tests, there have also been a number of side deals revealed since the nuclear deal was announced a year and a half ago.

The Wall Street Journal reported last fall that Washington paid a $1.7 billion ransom for U.S. hostages held in Iran and agreed to lift UN sanctions on two major Tehran banks. The Obama administration also agreed to lift sanctions on Air Iran that were first imposed when it was revealed that the airline was ferrying weapons and supplies for the country’s Revolutionary Guard.

Another side deal with the IAEA relaxed key restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in a decade, rather than the original 15 years agreed upon, and also gave the country the right to collect its own soil samples, instead of IAEA inspectors, at the Parchin military base.

On the campaign trail last year, Trump pledged to be “tough on Iran” and openly criticized the Iran deal as bad for the U.S. While his administration last week ordered sanctions against more than two dozen people and companies in retaliation for Iran’s recent ballistic missile test, the new sanctions represent a continuation of the Obama administration’s limited punishment for Iran’s ballistic missile activity and avoid a direct showdown with Tehran over the nuclear deal itself.

The sanction targets were drawn up before Obama left office – as Trump press secretary Sean Spicer noted – and don’t affect Iran Air, a big Iranian bank or any major government entity, making it unclear how effective they’ll prove as deterrents.

Still analysts and conservative lawmakers, like Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker of Tennessee, believe that Trump’s sterner approach to U.S.-Iranian relations puts the country in a good position when it comes to renegotiating the terms of the deal with Iran.

Trump spoke on Sunday with King Salman of Saudi Arabia and the White House said the two leaders “agreed on the importance of rigorously enforcing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran and of addressing Iran’s destabilizing regional activities.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would bring up the Iran issue with Trump when the two leaders meet next week.

“The new administration is in a good position to call for Iran and the IAEA to release all the documents,” Ben Taleblu said. “If Trump wants to renegotiate the deal, he can really hold Iran’s feet to the fire by vigorously enforcing of the existing agreement.”

Source: FoxNews

Global Criticism of Trump Ban Builds From Germany to Google

by Shannon Pettypiece and Steve Geimann


Global opposition to U.S. President Donald Trump intensified on Sunday, as world leaders including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Angela Merkel denounced his decision to limit entry from seven predominantly Muslim countries in the name of fighting terrorism.

Trudeau, in a tweet, said Canada would welcome those fleeing “persecution, terror and war. Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith.” Merkel expressed her concerns about the temporary ban during a call with Trump on Saturday, her chief spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement.

The chancellor “is convinced that the necessary, decisive fight against terrorism doesn’t justify placing people of a particular origin or faith under general suspicion,” Seibert said on Twitter, adding that Merkel had told Trump that international law requires states to “take in war refugees on humanitarian grounds.”

The condemnations signal the growing concern among some U.S. allies about the direction of foreign policy under Trump, and its impact on key issues from Middle East stability to climate change and global trade. Relations between Mexico and the U.S. have broken down over Trump’s plans to build a wall along their border, while the president’s repeated suggestion that NATO is obsolete has alarmed governments in Europe.

photo_2017-01-29_15-12-26Criticism of the travel ban also extended beyond the world of politics: Netflix Inc.’s chief executive officer said the changes were “un-American.” Alphabet Inc.’s Google advised staff who may be affected by the order to return to the U.S. immediately.

  • ‘Extreme Vetting’

“Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW,” Trump told his almost 23 million Twitter followers early Sunday, after two judges temporarily blocked his administration from enforcing portions of the order that would have led to the removal from U.S. airports of refugees, visa holders and legal U.S. residents from the seven countries.

Neither ruling strikes down the executive order, which will now be subject to court hearings.

Under the order, the admission of all refugees would be suspended for 120 days. Citizens of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya would be banned from entering the U.S. for 90 days, while the government determines what information it needs to safely admit visitors.

  • ‘Visible Insult’

The ban is a “visible insult” to Muslims and Iran “will reciprocate with legal, consular and political undertakings,” the official Islamic Republic News Agency said. Iran also summoned Switzerland’s ambassador in Tehran in his capacity as the head of U.S. interests in the country, the Iranian Students’ News Agency reported. The U.S. and Iran haven’t had formal diplomatic ties since shortly after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Sudan also summoned the U.S. envoy to protest the ban, the state-run Sudan New Agency reported.

“We do not agree with this kind of approach and it is not one we will be taking,” U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said Sunday in a statement, two days after meeting Trump to begin work on a trade accord. Her earlier refusal to condemn the order unleashed a flood of criticism in the U.K., including from some of her own Conservative Party colleagues.

May held a conference call on Sunday with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, instructing them to raise concerns about the ban with their U.S. counterparts in the State Department and Department of Homeland Security, according to her office. Johnson said on Twitter it was “divisive and wrong to stigmatize because of nationality.”

  • ‘Shameful’

London’s first Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, on Facebook called the ban “shameful and cruel” and said the new policy “flies in the face of the values of freedom and tolerance that the USA was built upon.” Mexico’s former President Vicente Fox said on Twitter that the executive order had “united the world” against Trump.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said refugees deserve a safe haven regardless of their background or religion, while Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen said the U.S. decision was unfair.

“The new U.S. president has taken office and his first acts in office show that he’s apparently serious,” German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told a crowd of supporters at the Social Democrat Party headquarters in Berlin on Sunday. “We as Germans and Europeans would do well rely on our own strengths and not to look out into the world with fear and submissiveness.”

U.S. Democrats labeled it a “Muslim ban” and criticized it as inhumane. Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, likened the order to the country’s slow response to the Holocaust prior to U.S. entry into World War II.

“Faced with the humanitarian crisis of our time, the United States cannot turn its back on children fleeing persecution, genocide and terror,” Durbin said in a statement calling Trump’s order a “ban on Muslims in the United States.”

“During the Holocaust we failed to fulfill our duty to humanity,” he said. “We cannot allow mindless fear to lead us into another regretful chapter in our history.”

Bloomberg

Iran Tries To Sabotage Its Own Economy To Spite The West

Correction: Since the initial report that Iran would revoke the citizenship of dual nations last week, some Iranian news sources have since stated the plan has not been finalized and some in the Iranian government have tried to walk back part of the proposal. This article has been amended to address new media claims.


Just before the one-year anniversary of Jason Rezaian’s freedom from an Iranian prison, Iran announced plans that will sabotage its own economy to spite the West. Last week, Al-Arabiya news reported that  Iran’s judiciary decided to revoke the Iranian citizenship of anyone holding dual citizenship with another country . The finality of this proposal is unclear due to conflicting media reports. This could target men and women like Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter, and Siamak Namazi, an American businessman who is currently in a notorious Tehran prison. While the action may satisfy the paranoid and power-hungry Revolutionary Guard that is responsible for the arrest and imprisonment of dozens of dual nationals – mostly American and British citizens – it would seriously hamper Iran’s ability to attract the foreign investment and engage its economy needs.

Dual nationals, many raised abroad, often have a cultural and linguistic fluency with Iran that non-Iranians lack, no matter their language training or cultural emersion. Moreover, since the Islamic Revolution, Americans who also held Iranian passports have travelled there more easily. Once in Iran, though, they have often faced harassment and recently imprisonment, as Rezaian did. Since the 1979 Revolution, dual nationals, some born abroad, have regularly returned to visit family, study and engage in business as natural conduits between cultures and economies.

During Iran’s tumultuous years of reform, conservative retrenchment and protest, dual-national journalists like Rezaian and former Time Magazine correspondent, Azadeh Moaveni, explained the changing Iran to western audiences. Their reporting (and those of their colleagues) helped sweep away the 1980s-era images of Iran as a black-robed, America-hating, hostage-taking society. They revealed a dynamic and politically engaged contemporary

Iranian society that consumes western television via illegal satellite dishes and subverts the regime’s dress code. At the same time, however, westerners – often through the work of dual-national journalists – witnessed the terrible reality of Iranian political oppression during mass protests such as the Green Revolution. Journalists have also chronicled the arrest and imprisonment of other dual nationals, based on trumped-up charges.

The Iranian government’s proposal to revoke the citizenship of dual citizens would hurt Iran’s opportunity to attract foreign business and investment. Iranian regulations often require business negotiations to be conducted in Farsi, particularly when the government is an involved party. Dual nationals with Persian language skills, cultural familiarity and connections are crucial for bringing business opportunities to Iran. Already, dual citizens faced imprisonment and other threats from Tehran, yet they still traveled to Iran.

However, without Iranian citizenship, these people who could so naturally make connections and engage in cross-border business will face much greater difficulties traveling to Iran. Since the signing of the JCPOA in 2015, Iran’s economy has been slowly rejoining the global markets. As it seeks foreign investment to reinvigorate its energy industry and global trade participation (post-sanctions) this could only hinder Iran’s economic growth.

Forbes


 

Ellen R. Wald, Ph.D. is a historian and scholar of the energy industry.  She writes and consults on the intersection of geopolitics and energy.


 

 

Iran Has Changed, But For The Worse

Heshmat Alavi


The pro-Iran engagement policy camp long advocated how a nuclear agreement with Iran would lead to a slate of numerous changes sought in the regime, rendering benefits to go around for everyone. More than one year down this road, the world has witnessed many changes in Iran. However, they are nothing to boast about.

The nuclear accord, while it should have never been supported or discussed by the international community in the first place, has been successively violated by the Iranian regime. Tehran continues its atrocious executions, human rights violations and ongoing oppression of ordinary citizens inside the country. And the mullahs in Tehran have continued their mantra of exporting “Islamic Revolution” by engulfing the entire Middle East, and beyond, into mayhem, as we are unfortunately witnessing so vividly today in Syria.

The main “change” we have witnessed in Iran has been the numerous instances where the regime has either stretched or actually violated the flaw-riddled Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the heavy water-level limit aggression being the latest such case.

The reinstatement of the Iran Sanctions Act with 99 votes in favor was a very important first step. This move has set an example of what is needed to guarantee Iran understands there will be consequences for agreement violations. And yet we need to go beyond and build upon this momentum.

This is the time to counter Iran’s terrorism in the region and the world. Iran is and has been, of course, the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism. Iran is busy destabilizing Syria with an incredible human catastrophe, as in Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon, boasting about enjoying control over four Arab capitals of the region.

The “change” we have seen in this regard is that Tehran is willing to dispatch tens of thousands of proxy militias to Syria and repeat a Srebrenica-style massacre, caring not an iota about how the international community might respond. Let us hope Aleppo has opened our eyes to the horrific potential in Iran’s support for extremism and its export of Islamic fundamentalism.

The “change” the world has witnessed in Iran’s pursuit of a vast weapons-of-mass-destruction program is its bold new approach in proliferating efforts related to mastering ballistic missiles. Iran’s missile tests have continued to violate United Nations Security Council resolutions, yet there has been hardly any serious global response.

Iran’s ballistic missile tests “are not consistent with the constructive spirit” of the JCPOA, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report.

As we speak, reports indicate the Iran-fostered and -nurtured Lebanese Hezbollah vaunts of stocking over 120,000 missiles in its arsenal. If gone unanswered, there is no limit to what extent Iran will exploit the lack of will diseasing the international community.

This is the time to confront Iran over its violation of human rights on its own home turf. In 2009, the Iranian people revolted for their God-given rights, shaking the very pillars of the regime’s foundations. And yet former U.S. President Barack Obama, then recently elected to the White House by the American people with high hopes of “change,” failed to respond to their cries for support. The oppression and repression of the mullahs’ regime that followed is something the world should never forget.

As Obama continued his devastating appeasement policy with Iran, the mullahs have not changed their course. They have not changed their designs. They have not changed their hegemonic focus.

This is a time for the United States to respond. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has in cooperation with Senator Robert Corker (R-TN), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, introduced the Countering Iran Threat Act. This, too, is an initiative that the next Congress can and is recommended to build upon.

If so, this can be the building blocks of the West, spearheaded by America, deterring Iranian aggression. This can lead us, as a world, in moving to a better day and a higher hope where the Iranian people can ultimately achieve the freedoms and blessings the democratic world enjoys today.

The world now finds itself before an opportunity to counter Iran’s continuing threats. We are entering a new era in American foreign and national security policy.

In a letter hand-delivered to U.S. President Donald Trump, nearly two dozen former senior U.S. government officials–representing a rare bipartisan spectrum–urged Washington to work with the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran.

As Iran continues its domestic oppression and military buildup, this should be one focus of the Trump administration’s foreign policy and the agenda of the new Congress.

Forbes

Oscar nominee from Iran won’t attend the ceremony

Two-time Oscar nominee Asghar Farhadi, who wrote and directed The Salesman, Iran’s entry for best foreign-language film, announced Sunday he would not attend the Academy Awards next month even if he were granted an exception to President Trump’s visa ban for citizens from Iran.

In a statement released by Farhadi’s representative Fredell Pogodin on Sunday, Farhadi said he had hoped to attend the awards and express his opinions. “However, it now seems that the possibility of this presence is being accompanied by ifs and buts which are in no way acceptable to me …”

Instead, via the statement, Farhadi expressed what he says he would have said to the news media if he made the trip to the Oscars:

Hard-liners, despite their nationalities, political arguments and wars, regard and understand the world in very much the same way. In order to understand the world, they have no choice but to regard it via an “us and them” mentality, which they use to create a fearful image of “them” and inflict fear in the people of their own countries.

This is not just limited to the United States; in my country hardliners are the same. For years on both sides of the ocean, groups of hardliners have tried to present to their people unrealistic and fearful images of various nations and cultures in order to turn their differences into disagreements, their disagreements into enmities and their enmities into fears. Instilling fear in the people is an important tool used to justify extremist and fanatic behavior by narrow-minded individuals.

However, I believe that the similarities among the human beings on this earth and its various lands, and among its cultures and its faiths, far outweigh their differences. I believe that the root cause of many of the hostilities among nations in the world today must be searched for in their reciprocal humiliation carried out in its past and no doubt the current humiliation of other nations are the seeds of tomorrow’s hostilities. To humiliate one nation with the pretext of guarding the security of another is not a new phenomenon in history and has always laid the groundwork for the creation of future divide and enmity.

He went on to condemn the “unjust conditions forced upon some of my compatriots and the citizens of the other six countries,” and expressed “hope that the current situation will not give rise to further divide between nations.”

In a statement to USA TODAY on Saturday, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts Sciences said, “The Academy celebrates achievement in the art of filmmaking, which seeks to transcend borders and speak to audiences around the world, regardless of national, ethnic or religious differences. As supporters of filmmakers — and the human rights of all people — around the globe, we find it extremely troubling that Asghar Farhadi, the director of the Oscar-winning film from Iran A Separation, along with the cast and crew of this year’s Oscar-nominated film The Salesman, could be barred from entering the country because of their religion or country of origin.”

Farhadi became the first Iranian to win an Oscar, for his 2011 film, A Separation.

On Thursday, Iranian actress Taraneh Alidoosti, star of the The Salesman, tweeted she would boycott the Oscars — whether allowed to attend or not — in protest of Trump’s immigration policies, which she called “racist.”

USA Today

Iranian Jews, Christians, and Baha’i Stuck in Iran

By Josephine Huetlin

Vienna was always the transit point for people facing religious persecution in Iran who wanted to reach the U.S. Now, hundreds have been told to go back to their tormentors.

BERLIN, Germany—Maybe, just maybe, President Donald Trump will feel something akin to sadness to know that his new border rules prompted Austria to cancel three hundred transit visas, which had been intended for Iranian Christians, Jews and Baha’i trying to flee religious persecution at home.

For decades, Austria has been acting as the go-between for refugees from Iran who have a prospects of admittance to the United States (which doesn’t have an embassy in Tehran). The program began originally as an endeavor by the late U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg to help Jews and Evangelical Christians out of the Soviet Union, but developed into a national program focused on Iran, which also makes other religious minorities in Iran eligible for refugee status, most notably the much-persecuted Baha’is.

This week, around 300 hopeful applicants were getting ready to travel from Iran to Austria with documents that would allow them to stay there for about six months. The stay itself hardly rates raves, given there is little to do but trudge through the asylum application process with help from a local NGO, go to the U.S. embassy for interviews, and bite one’s nails while waiting for official approval from the United States come summertime. It was a nerve-wrecking experience—but worth it.

No longer, though. “U.S. authorities told us that the onward trip for people to the USA, who received visas from Austrian authorities as part of the program, would be put on hold for now,“ Thomas Schnöll, the Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman, told the Associated Press. The message reportedly arrived several days before Trump signed the decree on Friday.

The Foreign Ministry in Vienna has been trying to contact the 300 applicants to inform them that they can’t come to Austria after all. But so far, they’ve only reached 100 people. We don’t know many of the remaining 200 are already on the move from Iran to Austria. The Foreign Ministry in Vienna has been spending the weekend searching through its records for airline bookings in order to track down these remaining applicants and put a last-minute stop to their quest for refuge.

Three Iranians (one elderly couple and one young woman) were left stranded at the airport in Vienna on Saturday, despite having valid travel documents and tickets for flights to the U.S. The woman took a flight back to Iran, while the elderly couple spent the night in Vienna.

Meanwhile, Schnöll has said it is “legally impossible” for Austria to accept the Iranian asylum seekers in the USA’s stead. And the small country’s tough line doesn’t just come as a response to Washington’s latest. Austria, strained by 2015’s influx of refugees, has been introducing caps and stricter security measures ever since. It was never interested in being more than a short-term transit point for the Iranians, and it certainly isn’t now.

And this was made coldly clear in a State Department email on Tuesday: Any previously approved applicant who now tries to enter Austria anyway will be blocked permanently.

As for the estimated 30 Iranian applicants who are already in Austria on a short-term visa, their fate is uncertain. In prior years, The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS, a processing centre in Vienna) told refugees who got rejected in Austria not to go back to Iran—because the discrimination and harassment that forced them to leave in the first place was likely to get even worse upon their return.

So where else can they go? By way of Austria, Iranian Jews can travel to Israel, but that is not an option for other religious minorities. (And it is very difficult to immigrate to Israel from Iran directly).

We don’t know yet how Trump’s hasty orders will shake out once the courts are done with him, and how nations that have acted as points of transit for the United States so far will reshape their own border policies accordingly. Austria’s government, like several other European countries, hasn’t even made a statement condemning Trump’s actions yet. (German Chancellor Angela Merkel, despite a polite phone call with Trump, finally had her spokesman come out Sunday and denounce Trump’s unjustifiable “general suspicion against people of a certain origin or a certain religion”).

In the past, there have been several discussions about curbing the Iranian Lautenberg immigration program, which, according the HIAS, “eases the burden of proof for members of historically persecuted groups.” Critics have argued that many other refugees would benefit from a move to the United States more than religious minorities in Iran.

But for now, these discussions are finished, because US officials have simply suspended the program. If, when and on what terms it will begin again? No one knows.

If this is what happens to the refugees that Trump supposedly favors, one must wonder what on earth can we expect to happen to all the immigrants that he so obviously loathes?

The Daily Beast

 

Trump to develop missile system against Iran

White House says the Trump administration intends to develop missile defense system to protect against attacks from Iran and North Korea.

The Trump administration intends to develop a “state of the art” missile defense system to protect against attacks from Iran and North Korea, the White House said on Friday, according to Reuters.

The statement, posted on the White House website within minutes of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, did not provide details on whether the system would differ from those already under development, its cost or how it would be paid for. The announcement follows recent threats by North Korea of an impending test-launching of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Trump recently responded to the threats by North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un by tweeting, “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!”

Former White House spokesman Josh Earnest said several weeks ago that the United States has no indication that North Korea’s nuclear capabilities have changed. With regard to Iran, Trump has spoken out against the nuclear deal between Iran and the West, promising during his election campaign to “rip it up”.

Iranian officials, however, have downplayed Trump’s threats to annul the nuclear deal, insisting he cannot do so even if he wishes. On Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif promised a “surprise” for Trump if he indeed annuls the deal.

Source: Arutz Sheva

Trump Vs. Iran: Going Beyond The JCPOA

Terming the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action “a bad deal,” Donald Trump wrote in September 2015 that “A Trump presidency will force the Iranians back to the bargaining table to make a much better deal.” But Iran’s ambitions are larger than merely acquiring the atom bomb. Hydrogen power, technology transfers and ballistic missiles are part of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear goals. The Trump administration must grapple with these armament challenges, which the JCPOA fails to address appropriately, in addition to exemptions and terminus dates already established by the accord.

Although JCPOA negotiations were led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the agreement was inked and accepted by the United Nations Security Council. Other permanent members of the UNSC, not just American rivals Russia and China but even partners Britain and France, are unlikely to accede to revising the current nuclear deal. Industries in those countries have already entered into billions of dollars of trade deals with Iran, as have U.S. companies including aerospace giant Boeing. Washington would have to re-impose sanctions not only against Iran but on friends and foes plus hurt domestic job growth.

It’s too late to undo Iran’s progress. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani boasted to the UN General Assembly in September 2013, “nuclear knowledge has been domesticated now and the nuclear technology, inclusive of enrichment, has already reached industrial scale.” The January 2017 U.S. National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends Report pointed out that “Iran’s growing power, nuclear capabilities and aggressive behavior will continue to be a concern for Israel and Gulf Arab states.” Therefore merely recasting or unilaterally abrogating the JCPOA will not be an adequate response to curtail the problem.

The Trump administration should seek in the near term to ensure full compliance by Iran to all terms of the JCPOA. Washington must disclose side-agreements related to the JCPOA by itself, Iran and other nations, then close loopholes and exceptions to technology acquisitions, raw material quantities and uranium and plutonium enrichment levels. Inspection of sites and questioning of Iranian scientists need to be vigorous, comprehensive, free of Iranian officials being present, and without advance notice. Data and intelligence sharing by and with the International Atomic Energy Agency must become routine and thorough. Overt and covert U.S. resources need to be directed at uncovering and eliminating any undisclosed sites within Iran connected directly and indirectly to nuclear weapons technology.

Iran’s government regards atomic fission as a stepping stone towards its larger goal of nuclear fusion. Toward that end, Ali Akbar Salehi who heads Iran’s atomic energy agency inaugurated a National Nuclear Fusion Program in July 2010. Asked whether sanctions would have an impact on that program, Salehi responded, “What have we been doing so far? Have the sanctions stopped us? We have enough expertise inside the country to move the [fusion] program forward … cooperation with other countries would accelerate the pace.” During and after the current JCPOA, pursuit of this potentially far more destructive capability must be forestalled by the U.S. in the interest of regional and global stability.

The danger from Iran’s nuclear program is not merely one of deploying bombs. Even as the JCPOA was being finalized in July 2015, Salehi spoke of export plans to “sell our strategic products, including enriched uranium and heavy water”—i.e., proliferation of nuclear technology. The Islamic Republic is already well-networked into official and clandestine nuclear pipelines having exchanged knowledge, technology and materials with North Korea, China, Russia and Pakistan. Once the restraints of the JCPOA end, Tehran could enhance influence and profit by supplying know-how and finished products to state and non-state actors. That declared interest possesses grave danger to global stability. At the very least, “uncertainty over Iran’s intentions could drive others to pursue nuclear capabilities” as noted in the recent National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends.

In the JCPOA’s annex B, “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons … [for] eight years.” But there are no penalties for violations, and the request does not include non-nuclear-tipped missiles. American military and intelligence agencies’ concern about the increasing accuracy of these weapons, especially against socioeconomically-sensitive targets within the Middle East, is highlighted in the quadrennial Global Trend’s Report. With missiles ranging 1,200 miles, Iran currently can unleash conventional payloads upon Saudi oilfields, Israeli cities and American bases. The U.S. Worldwide Threat Assessment of February 2016 noted: “Tehran would choose ballistic missiles as its preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons … and Tehran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East.”

More ominously, that Worldwide Threat Assessment warns “Iran’s progress on space launch vehicles provides the means and motivation to develop long-range missiles, including ICBMs.” So the U.S. cannot rely only on protection from “a serious missile defense system to meet growing threats by modernizing our Navy’s cruisers and procuring additional, modern destroyers,” as candidate Trump envisioned. While the JCPOA is still in place, his White House must take steps to entirely curtail Iran’s missile programs.

Even at its best, the JCPOA halts Iran’s nuclear progress only until 2031. Last April, while seeking the presidency, Trump emphasized that Iran “cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.” Iran’s nuclear knowledge cannot be erased but its applications can be halted. To fulfill that objective President Trump must look beyond his term in office and surmount the JCPOA’s parameters, limitations and horizons. His team needs to set new targets, consequences and inducements beyond those already in place. By so doing, the Trump administration can induce negotiation of an agreement—supplementary or parallel to the current one—whereby Iran could continue its reintegration into constructive global systems in exchange for permanently abrogating nuclear weapons, nuclear and conventional ballistic missile capability, and proliferation of nuclear technology.

Source: Forbes

Osama bin Laden worried that Iran put tracking chip in sons

By EILEEN SULLIVAN and DEB RIECHMANN
Associated Press


 

WASHINGTON (AP) – Secluded in his hideaway in Pakistan, Osama bin Laden suspected Iranian officials might implant tracking devices in his sons, according to a document released Thursday in a batch of materials seized in a 2011 raid that killed the al-Qaida leader.

“If they inject you with a shot, this shot might be loaded with a tiny chip,” bin Laden wrote in an undated letter to his sons, Uthman and Mohammed, who were being allowed to leave Iran. “The syringe size may be normal, but the needle is expected to be larger than normal size. The chip size may be as long as a seed of grain but very thin and smooth.”

In its final hours, the Obama administration released the last of three installments of documents belonging bin Laden that were collected during the raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

In the second batch of documents, released last March, bin Laden also expressed the same paranoia in a letter to one of his wives, who also lived in Iran.

“I was told that you went to a dentist in Iran and you were concerned about a filling she put in for you,” bin Laden wrote. He said he wanted to be told of any concerns she or any of his followers had about “chips planted in any way.”

Tracking down and killing the man behind the 2001 terrorist attacks on America is one of President Barack Obama’s greatest accomplishments.

Intelligence officials have worked for more than two years to declassify the hundreds of documents captured in the raid. The last batch, consisting of 49 documents, includes a running disagreement between bin Laden and al-Qaida’s affiliate in Iraq, which morphed into the Islamic State group. Those militants are currently the top target of U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

The Pentagon announced Thursday that the U.S. Air Force attacked a pair of IS military camps in Libya, seeking to eliminate extremists who had escaped from their former stronghold of Sirte.

Bin Laden is responsible for orchestrating the Sept. 11 strikes against the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people. The attacks drastically changed America’s footprint abroad and challenged some of the most basic tenets of the Constitution in an effort to detect terrorists before they strike.

In a letter to a fellow militant, written after 9/11, bin Laden called on his followers to invent new ways to battle the West.

“If we cannot manufacture weapons like the weapons of the Crusader West, we can destroy its complicated industrial and economic system and exhaust its forces that fight without faith until they escape,” he wrote.

“Therefore, the mujahidin had to create new methods that no one from the West can think about, and one of the examples of this creative thinking is using the airplane as a powerful weapon, like what had happened in the blessed attacks in Washington, New York and Pennsylvania.”

Analysis: Iran’s game plan in Afghanistan

Since the nuclear agreement between Iran and 5+1 countries was signed in July 2015 and the economic sanctions were eased, Iran has become even more aggressive in pursuing its radical and hegemonic policies in the region. Its military advances in Syria, the ascendance of the pro-Hezbollah candidate to Presidency in Lebanon and the military dominance of its proxy militias in Iraq that form the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) have further emboldened Iran.

As a result, it has increased its support to Yemeni rebels and radical Shiite groups in Bahrain. Simultaneously, the neighboring Afghanistan has emerged as Iran’s next target to expand its influence and shape its future.

In order to implement its long-term strategy in Afghanistan, Iran has increased its military support to Taliban and at the same time, counts on its own militia proxy, the Fatemiyoun Division which is made up of Afghan Shiites which was founded by Revolutionary Guards in 2013 to fight in Syria. This battle-experienced force is estimated to have more than 15,000 members and could potentially be used as an important tool to secure Iranian influence in Afghanistan.

  • Iran and Taliban

Iranian support to Taliban became more apparent in May 2016 when the group’s top leader, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was killed by US drone attack in Pakistan as he was returning from Iran. Jahan News, an Iranian outlet close to the Revolutionary Guards, confirmed that he had stayed in Iran for two months prior to his death and had meetings with Iranian officials. In May 2015, an Iranian news websites tied to the Revolutionary Guards reported that a Taliban delegation visited Iran and several editorials have been published in governmental press to justify Iran’s support to Taliban.

On December 12, 2016, Iran’s ambassador to Kabul, Mohammad Reza Behrami, told Tasnim News that “Iran maintains contacts with the Taliban for control and intelligence purposes”. According to a report published by Wall Street Journal on June 11, 2015, Tehran “formalized” its partnership with the Taliban in early 2014, when it opened an office for the terrorist group in Iran. Last October, a Taliban official told Pakistan’s Express Tribune that Maulvi Nek Muhammad, a veteran Taliban leader, was the group’s special envoy to Iran. Last year, a Taliban delegation, led by the group’s military commission chief Ibrahim Sadr, also visited Tehran to “seek military aid.”

According to Voice of America, “the Afghan Senate said on December 5, 2016 that it will investigate growing military ties between Taliban insurgents and Iran and Russia. Asif Nang, the governor of western Farah province said that families of a number of high ranking Taliban leaders reside in Iran and bodies of Taliban fighters who were killed in recent clashes in the provincial capital have been transported to their families in Iran. Lawmaker Jumadin Gayanwal said that Iran has supplied the group with weapons that could target and damage tanks and planes.”

A report titled “Iranian Taliban?” published by Afghanistan’s largest daily Hasht-e Sobh on November 14, claimed that “the Iranian government had recently put a military training facility inside Iran at the disposal of the Taliban.” A 2014 report by Pentagon detailed Iranian military support to Taliban. According to WSJ, “Afghan security officials said they had clear evidence that Iran was training Taliban fighters within its borders. Tehran now operates at least four Taliban training camps in the Iranian cities of Tehran, Mashhad and Zahedan and in the province of Kerman.”

The Iranian approach to Taliban has considerably evolved during the past two decades. In the late 1990s, when the group seized power in Kabul, Iran considered it as a threat and backed anti-Taliban forces. But, after 2001 when the US and its allies overthrew the Taliban regime, Iran changed its position as it considered the US presence a bigger threat. After 2001, Iran provided sanctuary to many leaders of the group and later helped them to reorganize against the United States and its allies in Afghanistan.

In 2007, after the US signed a partnership agreement with Kabul allowing American forces to stay in Afghanistan, Iran ramped up its support to Taliban. The US Department of State’s “Country Reports on Terrorism” for 2012 asserts that “Iran has arranged arms shipments to select Taliban members, including small arms and associated ammunition, rocket propelled grenades, mortar rounds, 107mm rockets, and plastic explosives… In 2012, the Iranians shipped a large number of weapons to Kandahar, Afghanistan, aiming to increase its influence in this key province.” The report adds that the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force “trained Taliban elements on small unit tactics, small arms, explosives, and indirect fire weapons, such as mortars, artillery, and rockets.” A series of Treasury Department terror designations reveals the relationship between the IRGC-QF and the Taliban.

  • The Afghan Units of Iran Revolutionary Guards

After the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran begun financing and providing training and military support for some of the Afghan groups that fought Soviet occupation, a move designed to secure Iranian influence following the Soviet withdrawal. In early 1986, the Revolutionary Guards established the “Abouzar Brigade” made up of Shiite Afghans, predominantly poor immigrants living in Iran, and used them in the war against Iraq. The Brigade, had several thousand members and participated in battles against Iranian-Kurdish rebel groups and also operations against Iraq. According to figures by the Iranian regime, almost 3000 of the Brigade fighters were killed and injured during the Iran-Iraq war.

Then, in 2013 the Revolutionary Guards formed a new Afghani unit called “Fatemiyoun” and deployed it to Syria. The Division operates under the direct command of Qassem Soleymani and is comprised of more than 15,000 members. According to Iranian press reports, more than 550 members of the group has been killed in Syria so far.

  • So what are their goals?

While maintaining good relation with Afghan government, Iran pursues a long-term and multi-faceted strategy to secure its influence in Afghanistan and advance its geopolitical agenda in south and central Asia. Iran’s support to Taliban is viewed as a marriage of convenience as Tehran aims to weaken US military presence in Afghanistan, eventually forcing total US withdrawal. Iran is also helping Taliban as a counter balance to the presence of ISIS in the country. As the European Union’s special representative to Afghanistan said in an interview, “the Iranians are already trying to secure their immediate borders towards Afghanistan against ISIS penetration by working together with various groups — warlords [and] Taliban — along their own borders to create a buffer zone.” Iran is also facing a low-level insurgency in the Sunni populated province of Sistan and Baluchistan and is concerned that ISIS could exploit the Iranian Sunni minority’s grievances.

But Iran has a broader goal to secure its zone of influence in Farsi speaking and Shiite populated regions of Afghanistan notably in the Central region where the Hazara Shiite community live and in the Herat province which shares border with Iran. In this context, the Revolutionary Guards’ vast network of recruitment in Afghanistan and within the Afghan community in Iran and the rise of IRGC’s own proxy Afghan units like Fatemiyoun that has gained enormous battlefield experience in Syria, could be used as an important leverage in a civil war torn Afghanistan and help Iran to add part of Afghanistan to its “Shiite crescent” stretching to the Mediterranean Sea.

Iran repopulates Syria with Shia Muslims

In the valleys between Damascus and Lebanon, where whole communities had abandoned their lives to war, a change is taking place. For the first time since the conflict broke out, people are starting to return.

But the people settling in are not the same as those who fled during the past six years.

The new arrivals have a different allegiance and faith to the predominantly Sunni Muslim families who once lived there. They are, according to those who have sent them, the vanguard of a move to repopulate the area with Shia Muslims not just from elsewhere in Syria, but also from Lebanon and Iraq.

The population swaps are central to a plan to make demographic changes to parts of Syria, realigning the country into zones of influence that backers of Bashar al-Assad, led by Iran, can directly control and use to advance broader interests. Iran is stepping up its efforts as the heat of the conflict starts to dissipate and is pursuing a very different vision to Russia, Assad’s other main backer.

Russia, in an alliance with Turkey, is using a nominal ceasefire to push for a political consensus between the Assad regime and the exiled opposition. Iran, meanwhile, has begun to move on a project that will fundamentally alter the social landscape of Syria, as well as reinforcing the Hezbollah stronghold of north-eastern Lebanon, and consolidating its influence from Tehran to Israel’s northern border.

“Iran and the regime don’t want any Sunnis between Damascus and Homs and the Lebanese border,” said one senior Lebanese leader. “This represents a historic shift in populations.”

Key for Iran are the rebel-held towns of Zabadani and Madaya, where Damascus residents took summer breaks before the war. Since mid-2015 their fate has been the subject of prolonged negotiations between senior Iranian officials and members of Ahrar al-Sham, the dominant anti-Assad opposition group in the area and one of the most powerful in Syria.

Talks in Istanbul have centred on a swap of residents from two Shia villages west of Aleppo, Fua and Kefraya, which have both been bitterly contested over the past three years. Opposition groups, among them jihadis, had besieged both villages throughout the siege of Aleppo, attempting to tie their fate to the formerly rebel-held eastern half of the city.

The swap, according to its architects, was to be a litmus test for more extensive population shifts, along the southern approaches to Damascus and in the Alawite heartland of Syria’s north-west, from where Assad draws much of his support.

 

Capture

Labib al-Nahas, the chief of foreign relations for Ahrar al-Sham, who led negotiations in Istanbul, said Tehran was seeking to create areas it could control. “Iran was very ready to make a full swap between the north and south. They wanted a geographical continuation into Lebanon. Full sectarian segregation is at the heart of the Iranian project in Syria. They are looking for geographical zones that they can fully dominate and influence. This will have repercussions on the entire region.

“[The sieges of] Madaya and Zabadani became the key issue to prevent the opposition from retaking Fua and Kefraya, which have exclusive populations of Shia. Hezbollah consider this a security zone and a natural extension of their territory in Lebanon. They have had very direct orders from the spiritual leadership of Iran to protect them at any cost.”

Iran has been especially active around all four towns through its Hezbollah proxies. Along the ridgelines between Lebanon’s Bekaa valley and into the outskirts of Damascus, Hezbollah has been a dominant presence, laying siege to Madaya and Zabadani and reinforcing the Syrian capital. Wadi Barada to the north-west, where ongoing fighting is in breach of the Russian-brokered ceasefire, is also part of the calculations, sources within the Lebanon-based movement have confirmed.

Elsewhere in Syria, demographic swaps are also reshaping the geopolitical fabric of communities that, before the war, had coexisted for centuries. In Darayya, south-west of Damascus, more than 300 Iraqi Shia families moved into neighbourhoods abandoned by rebels last August as part of a surrender deal. Up to 700 rebel fighters were relocated to Idlib province and state media announced within days that the Iraqis had arrived.

Shia shrines in Darayya and Damascus have been a raison d’etre for the presence of Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed Shia groups. The Sayeda Zainab mosque on the capital’s western approach has been heavily fortified by Hezbollah and populated by families of the militant group, who have moved in since late 2012. Tehran has also bought large numbers of homes near the Zainab mosque, and a tract of land, which it is using to create a security buffer – a microcosm of its grander project.

Abu Mazen Darkoush, a former FSA commander who fled Zabadani for Wadi Barada said Damascus’s largest Islamic shrine, the Umayyad mosque, was now also a security zone controlled by Iranian proxies. “There are many Shia who were brought into the area around the mosque. It is a Sunni area but they plan for it to be secured by Shias, then surrounded by them.”

Senior officials in neighbouring Lebanon have been monitoring what they believe has been a systematic torching of Land Registry offices in areas of Syria recaptured on behalf of the regime. A lack of records make it difficult for residents to prove home ownership. Offices are confirmed to have been burned in Zabadani, Darayya, Syria’s fourth city, Homs, and Qusayr on the Lebanese border, which was seized by Hezbollah in early 2013.

Darkoush said whole neighbourhoods had been cleansed of their original inhabitants in Homs, and that many residents had been denied permission to return to their homes, with officials citing lack of proof that they had indeed lived there.

“The first step in the plan has been achieved,” he said. “It involved expelling the inhabitants of these areas and burning up anything which connects them to their land and homes. The second step will be replacing the original inhabitants with newcomers from Iraq and Lebanon.”

In Zabadani, Amir Berhan, director of the town’s hospital, said: “The displacement from here started in 2012 but increased dramatically in 2015. Now most of our people have already been taken to Idlib. There is a clear and obvious plan to move Sunnis from between Damascus and Homs. They have burned their homes and fields. They are telling people ‘this place is not for you anymore’.

“This is leading to the fragmentation of families. The concept of family life and ties to the land is being dissolved by all this deportation and exile. It is shredding Syrian society.”

At stake in postwar Syria, with the war beginning to ebb, is more than who lives where when the fighting finally stops. A sense of identity is also up for grabs, as is the bigger question of who gets to define the national character.

“This is not just altering the demographic balance,” said Labib al-Nahas. “This is altering the balance of influence in all of these areas and across Syria itself. Whole communities will be vulnerable. War with Iran is becoming an identity war. They want a country in their likeness, serving their interests. The region can’t tolerate that.”

The Guardian

Rafsanjani: ‘Moderate’ or godfather of the state-sponsored terrorism?

By, Avideh Motmaen – Far

The Times of Israel


The sudden death of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani at age 82 caused significant concern among the so-called Iranian reformists, re-branded as ”moderates” during the last Presidential election.

Since his death on January 8, 2017, many news agencies and propaganda machines have been trying to create a new face for the fourth Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani despite many of the crimes attached to his name nationally and internationally. His name has not been the least among many of the Iranian regime’s high profile figures wanted by Interpol for terrorism in the last two decades.

From the AMIA terror attack to the Mykonos restaurant assassinations, Mr Rafsangani played the key role in advancing the international terror agenda of the Iranian regime during his presidential tenure.

In fact Rafsanjani’s terrorist activities, can be traced back as far as the sixties, where he was linked to the assassination of Prime Minister Mansoor, during the Pahlavi reign.

Moreover, since the first days of the Iranian revolution of 1979, his shadow has been seen in many unclaimed terror attacks against rival Mullahs and revolutionaries. He has also a fair share of responsibility in the mass executions during the first decade of Islamic Republic reign.

During his last years in office as the fourth President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a series of political assassinations were carried out under the supervision of Mr Rafsanjani’s Intelligence ministry. The elimination of nearly two dozen prominent Iranian figures in atrocious ways and a series of terror attacks on political activists and key opposition figures in Europe, such as the assassination of Dr Shapour Bakhtiar in France happened under the direct supervision of Mr Rafsanjani.

During his two terms of Presidency, he introduced two sets of development programs which many experts believe have resulted in devastating social and economic catastrophes, such as the rapid growth of drug addicts and the destruction of small and medium size businesses by his reckless and miscalculated privatization of industries.

Mr Hashemi Rafsanjani is the key figure behind the expansion of the IRGC from a military organization to a massive, uncontrollable, enterprise whose mad agenda resulted in a national economic monopoly and regional instability across the Middle East as this political, economic and military enterprise caused unrest in places such as Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. In fact, in the early nineties, it was Mr Hashemi Rafsanjani who allowed the IRGC to become involved in economic activities and ordered them to become self-sufficient financially.

One of the primary money making areas for the IRGC during those years was dam constructions, which occurred in an unprecedented number, and resulted, decades later, in a great ecological disaster and is still one of the most significant challenges for Iran in years to come.

After the 2009 post-election unrest, Mr Hashemi supposedly changed sides, yet never crossed the red lines of the Islamic Republic Revolutionary ideology. Therefore, crediting him as the symbol and leader of Iran’s moderate movement is laughable.

In fact, nothing reformist or moderate, in the sense we understand in the West, ever existed in the Islamic regime’s political sphere.

What they are trying to coin for the last few decades as ”reformist” or ”moderate” is nothing but a slightly less fundamentalist version of revolutionary.

Ideals of the Islamic Republic of Iran geared toward showing a friendlier facade to the West and a modicum if respect for human rights on the International stage. Reformists or Moderates or whatever they may call themselves, have no responsibility except to act as a pressure relief valve for the Islamic Republic by providing the illusion of a power balance, thereby dampening the pressures for a regime change and extend the life of the Islamic Republic.

Mohsen Behzad Karimi, an Iranian political commentator once correctly said: ‘’The real characteristic of Iranian regime moderates is tangible only by comparing them to hardliners as we compare Taliban to ISIS. ‘’

“Unofficial ambassador”of the regime in Tehran; “charm-offensive” strategy for the Trump Administration!

Hossein Mousavian

Hossein Mousavian

A former diplomat and nuclear negotiator outlined three options US president-elect, Donald Trump, may exercise in his policy on Iran.

When campaigning for the White House, Trump attacked the 2015 nuclear agreement that the outgoing administration of US President Barack Obama and five other powers negotiated with Iran, calling it “a disaster” and “the worst deal ever negotiated”.

It has been in force since January to roll back Tehran’s nuclear program in return for giving it relief from international sanctions.

Although there is uncertainty over what policy Trump will pursue on Iran after he is sworn into office next month, his Cabinet choices so far point to a hard line.

“I can say there could be three different scenarios for Trump and his administration to go ahead on Iran,” Hossein Mousavian said in a recent speech at Brown University.

“The first scenario could be a regime change policy. Actually from 1953 to 2013, I believe, it has been the US strategy and therefore there is 60 years of experience of the US regime change policy in Iran and many of you may have heard 1953 when the US and the UK orchestrated a coup that removed democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq in Iran and installed a dictator Shah.”

He said the popular 1979 revolution was a reaction to both the dictatorship and foreign intervention, calling them “the root causes of the Iranian revolution”.

“If Trump is going to go for the same strategy Iran-US relations have experienced since 1979 or you want to go back from 1953 to 2013, I believe he has the right Cabinet members,” he said.

The second choice facing Trump is a policy of “engagement”, which Mousavian said was what led the nuclear negotiations to success in less than two years.

  •   Engagement’s Payoff

“For the first time, because of the engagement policy we had real, direct negotiations between Iran and the US in September 2013 and the issue was nuclear,” he said.

September 2013 also marks the date when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani came to office.

“You might say Obama had the same engagement policy in 2008 when he was elected. I would say he did not have the right team … In 2013, we had a new president and also [Secretary of State] John Kerry was different from Hillary Clinton and also high-level decision-makers at … the White House were also different,” the ex-diplomat said.

“If you started from September 2013 and if you could reach the deal within 18 months, the final deal, it means negotiations really matter and diplomacy works.”

Trump could also go for what Mousavian described as a “breakthrough” policy to help establish “truly friendly” relations between the two arch-foes, although he admitted it sounds rather idealistic.

“The third scenario, which some friends in this room might think of and which is really idealistic and is not going to happen at all on Trump’s watch, could be a real breakthrough in Iran-US relations,” Mousavian said.

Source: Financial Tribune

Trump urges Israel to ‘stay strong

 

US President-elect Donald Trump has chided the Obama administration for its stance toward Israel, shortly before the US secretary of state was set to deliver a speech regarding international opposition to Israeli settlement building.

 

“We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect. They used to have a great friend in the U.S., but…….,” Trump, a Republican, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

 

“not anymore. The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this (U.N.)! Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!” he added, referring to when he takes over the White House from Democratic President Barack Obama.

 

Source: 9News