Archive for the ‘Iran’ Category

Rouhani gets Iranian supreme leader’s nod as second-term president, faces risks – Reuters

ANKARA (Reuters) – Hassan Rouhani won the endorsement of Iran’s supreme leader for his second term of president on Thursday after an easy election win, pledging to open Iran to foreign trade and investment but facing internal hardline resistance and renewed U.S. antagonism.

Under Rouhani’s watch, Iran emerged from international isolation in 2015 when it struck a deal with six world powers to curb its disputed nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of financial and economic sanctions in place for a decade.

But his quest to parlay fragile detente with the West into financial infusions to rebuild Iran’s oil-based economy has been slowed by investors’ fears of pre-existing U.S. sanctions and suspicions among powerful hardline acolytes of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of any rise in Western influence.

The new U.S. sanctions could embolden Rouhani’s conservative rivals who say the nuclear deal was a form of capitulation.

An elite insider who has held senior political and military posts since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Rouhani comes off as a pragmatist unlike Khamenei and his allies, and analysts have cast doubt on his ability to balance their demands and the expectations of his often young and more liberal supporters.

Khamenei, who has the last word on all major issues of state, formally endorsed Rouhani as president in a ceremony broadcast live on state television on Thursday, after the pragmatist romped to re-election on May 19.

Addressing religious, military and political leaders, Khamenei prayed for “the success of a worthy person”.

Handing the presidential mandate to Rouhani, Khamenei kissed him on the cheek and the president kissed the Supreme Leader on his shoulder, a sign of supplication.

Khamenei again called for economic self-sufficiency and a “resistance economy”, a stance arising from his repeated criticism of the halting pace of economic recovery since most international sanctions on Iran were lifted early last year.

Rouhani will be sworn in on Saturday and then have two weeks to present his cabinet to parliament for a vote of confidence.

“The government’s aim is to improve Iran’s image in the world …, to safeguard people’s rights…, to end poverty…, to protect the religious democracy and our people’s votes,” Rouhani said in a speech at the ceremony.

Analysts said Rouhani may struggle to make a significant impact given sharpening divisions in the dual clerical-republican power structure, and Washington’s return to an aggressive Iran policy since Donald Trump took office.

“Hardliners will try even harder than in Rouhani’s first term to make him look like a lame duck president … It will be very difficult for Rouhani to deliver on the economy,” said Meir Javdanfar, an Iranian-born expert on the Islamic Republic at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel.

Rouhani’s own supporters have expressed concern over his inability to include women as ministers in his new cabinet because of pressure from religious hardliners.

Javdanfar said the new U.S. sanctions on Iran signed by Trump into law on Wednesday, along with measures against Russia and North Korea would likely deter foreign investors and so undermine Rouhani’s efforts to boost the economy.

Rouhani stuck to an upbeat outlook in his speech. “The nuclear deal is a sign of Iran’s goodwill on the international stage…Iran will never be isolated,” he said.

During his 2016 election campaign, Trump blasted the nuclear agreement – negotiated under his predecessor Barack Obama – as “the worst deal ever” but not followed through on threats to pull the United States out of it.

But Iran’s deputy foreign minister said the fresh sanctions violated provisions of the nuclear deal and vowed an “appropriate and proportional” response.

“Imposing new sanctions on Iran by America is a reactionary, illegitimate and irrational move,” state television quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi as saying on Thursday.

Reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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Rouhani gets Iranian supreme leader’s nod as second-term president, faces risks – Reuters

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August 3, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Iran’s ties to US universities an infiltration to fear – Washington Times

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Rep. Dan Donovan wants the feds to look into some curious grants given to the likes of Columbia, Harvard and Princeton that came from a foundation with a pro-Iran, anti-Israel slant.

This is an investigation that should definitely go forth, and the sooner, the far better.

The Alavi Foundation was deemed in June by jurors in Manhattans federal court of illegally managing 650 Fifth Ave. on behalf of Iran. Now, its this same group, the Alavi Foundation, thats been tied to the funding of certain professors at these Ivy American schools and others around the U.S. who are decidedly anti-Israel and pro-Iran in their teachings.

As Donovan said, the New York Post reported: Did this foundation attempt to subvert American academic institutions?

Good question. And one that raises the knee-jerk reaction that better vetting of donors by university folk is needed.

But this goes deeper than a funding concern.

Critics are worried the foundation dollars may have been used to purposely plant pro-Iran professors within the U.S. university system. Its not out of the realm of possibility.

This is what acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said in late June, while making the case against Alavi: For over a decade, hiding in plain sight, this 36-story Manhattan office tower secretly served as as front for the Iranian government and as a gateway for millions of dollars to be funneled to Iran in clear violation of U.S. sanctions laws.

And now, this same group has reportedly sent millions of dollars into dozens of Americas top-ranking colleges and universities?

For what purposes?

If the money came with strings attached say, stipulations that certain professors must be hired, or that certain doctrines should be taught then this is a radical infiltration of dangerous proportions, pure and simple.

Donovan said hes going to contact the secretary of the Department of Education, along with various congressional committees, and ask for an investigation.

One needs to be conducted, and pronto. And if untoward infiltration has occurred, then justice beginning with firings of compromised professors and complicit administrators should be both swift and harsh.

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August 3, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

View: America’s dangerous game with Iran – euronews

In recent weeks, US President Donald Trump and his advisers have joined Saudi Arabia in accusing Iran of being the epicenter of Middle East terrorism. The US Congress, meanwhile, is readying yet another round of sanctions against Iran. But the caricature of Iran as the tip of the spear of global terrorism, in Saudi King Salmans words, is not only wrongheaded, but also extremely dangerous, because it could lead to yet another Middle East war.

In fact, that seems to be the goal of some US hotheads, despite the obvious fact that Iran is on the same side as the United States in opposing the Islamic State (ISIS). And then theres the fact that Iran, unlike most of its regional adversaries, is a functioning democracy. Ironically, the escalation of US and Saudi rhetoric came just two days after Irans May 19 election, in which moderates led by incumbent President Hassan Rouhani defeated their hardline opponents at the ballot box.

Perhaps for Trump, the pro-Saudi, anti-Iran embrace is just another business proposition. He beamed at Saudi Arabias decision to buy $110 billion of new US weapons, describing the deal as jobs, jobs, jobs, as if the only gainful employment for American workers requires them to stoke war. And who knows what private deals for Trump and his family might also be lurking in his warm embrace of Saudi belligerence.

The Trump administrations bombast toward Iran is, in a sense, par for the course. US foreign policy is littered with absurd, tragic, and hugely destructive foreign wars that served no real purpose except the pursuit of some misguided strand of official propaganda. How else, in the end, to explain Americas useless and hugely costly entanglements in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and many other conflicts?

Americas anti-Iran animus goes back to the countrys 1979 Islamic Revolution. For the US public, the 444-day ordeal of the US embassy staff held hostage by radical Iranian students constituted a psychological shock that has still not abated. The hostage drama dominated the US media from start to finish, resulting in a kind of public post-traumatic stress disorder similar to the social trauma of the 9/11 attacks a generation later.

For most Americans, then and now, the hostage crisis and indeed the Iranian Revolution itself was a bolt out of the blue. Few Americans realize that the Iranian Revolution came a quarter-century after the CIA and Britains intelligence agency MI6 conspired in 1953 to overthrow the countrys democratically elected government and install a police state under the Shah of Iran, to preserve Anglo-American control over Irans oil, which was threatened by nationalization. Nor do most Americans realize that the hostage crisis was precipitated by the ill-considered decision to admit the deposed Shah into the US for medical treatment, which many Iranians viewed as a threat to the revolution.

During the Reagan Administration, the US supported Iraq in its war of aggression against Iran, including Iraqs use of chemical weapons. When the fighting finally ended in 1988, the US followed up with financial and trade sanctions on Iran that remain in place to this day. Since 1953, the US has opposed Irans self-rule and economic development through covert action, support for authoritarian rule during 1953-79, military backing for its enemies, and decades-long sanctions.

Another reason for Americas anti-Iran animus is Irans support for Hezbollah and Hamas, two militant antagonists of Israel. Here, too, it is important to understand the historical context.

In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon in an attempt to crush militant Palestinians operating there. In the wake of that war, and against the backdrop of anti-Muslim massacres enabled by Israels occupation forces, Iran supported the formation of the Shia-led Hezbollah to resist Israels occupation of southern Lebanon. By the time Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, nearly 20 years after its original invasion, Hezbollah had become a formidable military, political, and social force in Lebanon, and a continuing thorn in Israels side.

Iran also supports Hamas, a hardline Sunni group that rejects Israels right to exist. Following decades of Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands captured in the 1967 war, and with peace negotiations stalemated, Hamas defeated Fatah (the Palestine Liberation Organizations political party) at the ballot box in the 2006 election for the Palestinian parliament. Rather than entering into a dialogue with Hamas, the US and Israel decided to try to crush it, including through a brutal war in Gaza in 2014, resulting in a massive Palestinian death toll, untold suffering, and billions of dollars in damage to homes and infrastructure in Gaza but, predictably, leading to no political progress whatsoever.

Israel also views Irans nuclear program as an existential threat. Hardline Israelis repeatedly sought to convince the US to attack Irans nuclear facilities, or at least allow Israel to do so. Fortunately, President Barack Obama resisted, and instead negotiated a treaty between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (plus Germany) that blocks Irans path to nuclear weapons for a decade or more, creating space for further confidence-building measures on both sides. Yet Trump and the Saudis seem intent on destroying the possibility of normalizing relations created by this important and promising agreement.

External powers are extremely foolish to allow themselves to be manipulated into taking sides in bitter national or sectarian conflicts that can be resolved only by compromise. The Israel-Palestine conflict, the competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the Sunni-Shia relationship all require mutual accommodation. Yet each side in these conflicts harbors the tragic illusion of achieving an ultimate victory without the need to compromise, if only the US (or some other major power) will fight the war on its behalf.

During the past century, Britain, France, the US, and Russia have all misplayed the Middle East power game. All have squandered lives, money, and prestige. (Indeed, the Soviet Union was gravely, perhaps fatally, weakened by its war in Afghanistan.) More than ever, we need an era of diplomacy that emphasizes compromise, not another round of demonization and an arms race that could all too easily spiral into disaster.

Jeffrey D. Sachs is Professor of Sustainable Development and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, Director of Columbias Center for Sustainable Development and of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. His books include The End of Poverty, Common Wealth, The Age of Sustainable Development, and, most recently, Building the New American Economy

The views expressed in opinion articles published on euronews do not represent our editorial position

Project Syndicate 2017

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August 2, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

It’s time to take on the Iran-North Korea nuke alliance – New York Post

Iran or North Korea? Which threat should America confront first?

Heres a thought: both.

Save for the weather, North Korea wouldve tested an intercontinental ballistic missile last Thursday, at almost the same time as Iran did. It missed the date, coinciding with the anniversary of the 1953 armistice pact that ended the Korean War, likely thanks to a rain storm.

Nerveless, it tested the next day, creating a Mideast-East Asian stereo boom heard around the world.

American experts no longer think itll take North Korea years to be able to hit the continental United States. Most watchers now expect it sometime next year.

So President Trump has drawn the short straw. Three predecessors failed to stop the Kim regimes nuclear and missile advances. If he wants to stop the Norks, Trump has no choice but to act and all of his options are bad.

Meanwhile, much of President Barack Obamas Iran deal is expected to unravel during Trumps tenure as well.

What can he do?

Americans and others have long observed cooperation between these two rogue regimes. You dont need to be a trained missile expert to notice the design similarities between North Koreas home-built Rodong and its Iranian clone, the Shahab 3. Or the Rodong B and Shahab 4.

Iranian nuclear scientists were present at Pyongyangs first nuclear test. Iran-allied Syria modeled its nuclear plant (later eliminated by Israel) on a similar North Korean one. Rather than violating the Obama deal by experimenting at home, Iran can advance its nuclear program by observing North Koreas and contributing to its progress.

The mullahs have what Kim Jong-un needs most: cash. Pyongyangs only foreign-currency-worthy export is weapons and knowing how to build and use them, which Iran craves. Its a match made in hell.

So why are countries threatened by North Korea, like Japan, so eager to do business with Iran? After all, dont the mullahs enable the Norths quest to develop the missiles that get fired near Japan?

Theres no proof of such cooperation, Tokyo officials said when I asked them about it on a recent trip to Japan.

Theyre right. For decades, America shied away from revealing what the intelligence community knew about the Tehran-Pyongyang love affair because we dreamed of diplomatic breakthroughs on both fronts (and feared revealing spy methods).

After the Sunday ICBM test, such timidity is no longer an option.

Americas UN Ambassador Nikki Haley tweeted Sunday that China is aware they must act and that Japan and South Korea must increase pressure. Its not only a US problem but one that requires an international solution.

Yet, an international solution has eluded Haley since July 4, the last time North Korea launched a missile designed to reach the continental US. Russian diplomats have ridiculously argued theres no proof this was an ICBM, therefore no need to increase sanctions.

Such obfuscation will likely continue. Russia and China will block attempts to corner Kim and his henchmen especially now that administration officials like CIA Director Mike Pompeo are starting to push the idea of toppling the Kim regime, which both Beijing and Moscow oppose.

So one action the United States can take would be to put forth a UN resolution naming and sanctioning persons and entities involved in the Iran-North Korea arms cooperation.

Western diplomats tell me it likely wont pass. Yet theyre intrigued by publicly airing, Adlai Stevenson-like, Americas intel on Iran-Nork cooperation.

Irans missile program was, bizarrely, left out of Obamas nuclear deal. Revealing the Tehran-Pyongyang nexus might convince allies wobbly about Tehrans violations that the mullahs threat is global. It could also start the process of plugging a major cash source for the Kim regime.

And then, theres action beyond the United Nations: Obama rarely used the Proliferation Security Initiative, a treaty signed by 105 countries that allows search and seizure of ships carrying illicit arms. Expose the Iran-North Korea connection, then use PSI to disrupt it, with our allies help.

Weve long thought of Iran and North Korea as separate problems. Time for a holistic approach that will give a jolt to the diplomatic stalemate.

US flights over South Korean skies are helping. Talking publicly about adding Japan and South Korea to the global nuclear club may scare China into action. So will blacklisting companies that do business with Kim Jong-un. Regime change should be the ultimate target.

But a change in diplomatic strategy is needed too, and fast. Time to expose what everyone knows, but no one ever says out loud: Kim and the mullahs are BFFs.

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It’s time to take on the Iran-North Korea nuke alliance – New York Post

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August 1, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Iran accused of helping fund Temple Mount unrest – The Times of Israel

The Islamic Republic of Iran reportedly provided aid to Palestinian protesters demonstrating against new security measures at the Temple Mount last month.

The aid reportedly included boxes of food and drink, which came with a flyer attached depicting the Dome of the Rock and a quote attributed to Irans Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reading, With the help of God Palestine will be freed. Jerusalem is ours.

While Palestinian media reported that the food packages were provided by an Iranian youth movement, a PA intelligence official said it was clear that the Iranian regime was behind the aid.

It is clear to us that the regime in Tehran, by means of its long arms, is behind this catering operation, the official told the Israel Hayom daily in an article published Tuesday.

The sums come to millions of shekels and the Iranians found an opening to reap the benefits and send a message to the Palestinian public right under Israels nose that it is Iran that looks out for them. The flyer attached to all the food packages and the quotes of Khamenei make clear who is behind these food baskets.

Another Palestinian official told Israel Hayom that while the PA was aware of the Iranian effort, it did not notify Israel because of PA President Mahmoud Abbass decision to freeze security ties in protest of the security measures placed at the Temple Mount following the July 14 terror attack at the holy site, when three Arab Israelis shot dead two police officers with weapons smuggled into the compound.

In the territory under Palestinian control this would not happen, he added. We would not allow the Iranians a foothold like this, because this would come back at us like a boomerang with the reactions of Arab states.

The Iranian involvement also angered senior PA officials, with an unnamed official said to be close to Abbas telling the daily that it was a mistake to allow Iran to reach into the West Bank with its tentacles.

The Islamic Republic has long funded operations against Israel, often through its provision of money and arms to the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups.

Iran has also made calling for Israels destruction and the liberation of Jerusalem central to its propaganda efforts.

While Israel removed last week all of the new security measures installed at the Temple Mount, a PA official told The Times of Israel that security cooperation will gradually be restored as long as Muslim access to the holy site remains unrestricted.

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Lebanese ‘spy’ held in Iran ends hunger strike – The Times of Israel

BEIRUT The lawyer of a Lebanese man held in Iran since 2015 says his client has ended a 33-day hunger strike.

Majed Dimashkiyeh sent The Associated Press a letter from Nizar Zakka announcing an end to his hunger strike following a request from his children.

Zakka, who has permanent US residency, went missing in 2015, during his fifth trip to Iran. Two weeks later, Iranian state TV reported that he was in custody and suspected of having deep links to US intelligence services.

Last September, Zakka was sentenced to 10 years in prison and handed a $4.2 million fine after a security court convicted him of espionage.

Members of the US House of Representatives issued a resolution this week calling for Zakkas release.

Zakka, 50, was rushed to a hospital earlier this month, where he refused an IV, his brother Ziad told The Associated Press. He said his brother was prepared to die if he is not released, and refused to sign documents in Farsi, a language he doesnt understand.

Ziad Zakka, left, brother of Nizar Zakka who is imprisoned in Iran, speaks with his brothers lawyer Majed Dimshkiyeh in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, July 18, 2017. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

Zakkas family denies the allegations against him. His brother said he had been invited to attend a conference at which President Hassan Rouhani spoke of sustainable development and providing more economic opportunities for women.

He showed the AP a letter of invitation for his brother from Iranian Vice President Shahindokht Molaverdi.

He is completely losing hope in life, and this is the most difficult period a human being might reach, Zakka said in an interview in Beirut earlier this month, adding that he had urged his brother to end the hunger strike when he spoke to him by phone.

The family has urged Lebanese President Michel Aoun to raise Zakkas case when he visits Iran in August. Aoun is a close ally of Hezbollah, a powerful Iranian-backed Lebanese group.

We hope that President Aoun will reach a happy ending in this matter, said Majed Dimashkiyeh, a lawyer for the family who has sent an official letter to Aoun asking him to intervene with Iranian authorities.

Zakka, who used to live in Washington, leads the Arab ICT Organization, or IJMA3, an industry consortium from 13 countries that advocates for information technology in the region.

The Associated Press reported in May last year that IJMA3 had received at least $730,000 in contracts and grants since 2009 from both the State Department and the US Agency for International Development, USAID.

Ziad Zakka said their mother passed away last July. He said she had sent a letter to Irans Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Rouhani through the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, telling them that my dream is to see Nizar.

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July 30, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Trump’s Dangerous Game With Iran – New York Magazine

Trump. Photo: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

On Friday, North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile, leading to an eruption of concern from the security community. The Trump White House, however, has this week focused its belligerence lesson Pyongyang and the weapons it has, and more on Iran, despite the nuclear weapons it is prevented from getting.Last week, Secretary of State Tillerson pleasantly surprised his critics by certifying that Iran is complying with the terms of the 2015 deal that iced its nuclear ambitions and subjected it to intense inspections and restrictions for the next decade and more. This week, his boss fired back:I would be surprised if they were in compliance at the next review in 90 days, PresidentTrump told The Wall Street Journal.

This has less to do with Iran and more to do with Trumps frustration with his own Cabinet for supporting the deal reportedly so great that he commissioned a parallel working group of lower-level, less-experienced officials to advise him before the next review.

So the threat of a major conflict with Iran is high because the administration wants it that way.Mostif not all of the administrations key national security players, and their allies in Congress, see stepped-up U.S. military activity in the region as important to confronting Iran. Far from believing that the Iran deal contained the most serious U.S.-Iran flashpoint, theybelieve Iran, even without nuclear weapons, poses an existential threat to the U.S. and our allies. They believe that regime change switching out Irans theocracy for a (hypothetical) secular democracy is the only way, long-term, to deal with that threat. (Hands up if you recall hearing that one before about a country beginning with I.)

This belief, by itself, isnt the problem. Many, though far from most, Iranians, share their longing for a government that is more liberal and democratic, and less allied with extremist groups elsewhere in the Middle East. And though there is often hyperbole in the accusations, they are grounded in truth: Iran supports armed extremist groups in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel-Palestine, and to a lesser extent Yemen including the worlds most potent non-state fighting force, Hezbollah. Irans government mistreats its people badly though not, say, worse than our Saudi allies. The anti-Tehran faction believes that its worth putting pressure on Irans willingness to comply with the nuclear deal in order to push on these other issues while the Obama administration believed the U.S. and the region could live with problematic behavior but not with nuclear empowerment.

No, the problem is that the combination of a highly militarized standoff, multiple shooting wars across the region, and an administration that combines high rhetoric and low predictability is a recipe for escalation.

Just Tuesday, a U.S. Navy vesselfired warning shotsat an Iranian boat, apparently operated by the hard-line Revolutionary National Guard forces, that came within 150 yards of it. Such incidents had decreased significantly during 2016, but still occur with some regularity.As far as we can tell, the hotline communication Secretary Kerry developed with Iranian foreign minister Zarif has been discontinued.The Iranians are well aware though most Americans are not of the stepped-up tempo of U.S. military operations in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, and the heightened presence of ground and naval forces.

Add to that the package of new sanctions that the president apparently demanded asthe price for certifying the deal this time. Within 24 hours of the certification, the administration put economic sanctions on 18 new Iranian individuals and corporate entities for a range of alleged offenses including harassment of U.S. naval vessels and attempts to build ballistic missiles or steal U.S. software. Most offenses had no direct connection to the nuclear deal. Tehran responded with rage, saying that these sanctions themselves violated the terms of the nuclear deal.

The White House has help from Congress in ratcheting up tensions. The House andSenate have now eachpassed versions ofa bipartisan sanctions bill. While it has gotten attention for the new penalties it imposes on Russian entities and foreigners who collaborate with them to harm U.S. interests on cybersecurity, energy, human rights, and other areas,it also sets a range of new penalties on Iranians for actions related to ballistic missiles, regional terrorism, or human-rights violations. Now we wait to see whether President Trump will sign or veto legislation thatputs on Moscow the very pressures they hope will bend Tehran to the breaking point.

So anyone in Iran who wants to claim that the U.S. is implacably opposed to Irans existing government and actively seeking to undermine it economically, while challenging it militarily, has plenty of data to point to.

Given Irans regional goals, the means it believes are acceptable to employ, and the groups with which it is allied, defending U.S. interests and the nuclear deal was always going to require both strong regional presence and adroit diplomacy. What we have instead, though, is the unpredictable and bellicose rhetoric of the president and his team. Deterrence theory says that countries can be frightened into remaining peaceful if they know exactly what the consequences for aggression would be.

But the range of tweets, offhand remarks, threats, and past ruminations about regime change leave quite a bit of room for Iranian actors to believe that Washington is determined not just to contain their government, but to remove it from power. Michael Crowley points out at Politico that key Trump officials are on the record as saying that Iran will remain a U.S. enemy until the clerical leaders and military officials who control the countrys political system are deposed. And they have continued to make such statements earlier this spring, Secretary Tillerson sparked a public protest from the Iranian government when he told Congress that the U.S. should work with opposition groups toward the peaceful transition of that government.

The nuclear deal was never intended to resolve all the problems between the U.S. and Iran. It was intended to take off the table the question of nuclear weapons, which all sides had identified as the flashpoint that could most easily flare into war. But given both Washingtons differences with Tehran on key issues from human rights to Syria, and this administrations addiction to incendiary and off-the-cuff rhetoric, thats exactly where we (still) are.

Sundays vote to elect a constituent assembly could further undermine the countrys democracy or unleash large-scale political violence.

The socialist nation is in free-fall. The Times Andes bureau chief lets us know whats going on, why, and what might come next.

The first major legislation passed during Trumps presidency will be a bill he opposed and now has no choice but to sign.

A hack forever tainted in Trumps eyes by his one moment of decency.

The nuclear deal was meant to reduce the risk of war. With the president backing away from it, get ready for fireworks.

Its too early to tell whether Democrats have a real shot at winning back the House next year, but a big jump in candidates running is a good sign.

Donald Trump likes having generals around, and he really likes John Kelly. But can a Marine run a White House whose boss loves chaos above all?

Trump tweeted that he is proud of Priebus and all they accomplished.

Please dont be too nice, Trump told police in Long Island.

If the climactic vote on the skinny repeal had gone the other way, the result would have probably been the same: GOP failure, with much time lost.

The U.S. believes the missile used to send a satellite to space could be a precursor to an ICBM.

Brian Kilmeade says the same dumb thing Paul Ryan said a few months ago.

Republicans came within one vote of passing a health-care bill that they wrote over lunch and admitted was a disaster. Thats a national crisis.

Kasich has never bent the knee to Trump. But viable primary challengers to sitting presidents come from the fever swamps, not the sensible center.

Moscow is taking away a vacation home where U.S. diplomats walk their dogs and have cookouts.

Consider the violence the president has done to the structures of American democracy in just the past seven days.

A proposed zoning change to the area near Grand Central is set to remake the neighborhood for decades. But at what cost?

Republicans couldnt come up with a workable health-care plan, so they kept kicking the can down the road. The road finally ended in the Senate today.

An eight-year crusade to destroy universal coverage has failed, and a social achievement endures.

Three Republicans Susan Collins, John McCain, and Lisa Murkowski voted against the bill.

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July 29, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

US calls Iranian satellite launch ‘provocative’ – Washington Post

The State Department said Thursday that Irans launch of a space satellite was a provocative action that violates a U.N. resolution on ballistic missiles as well as the spirit of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday that reports that Iran had launched a rocket carrying a satellite into space violated U.N. Security Council resolution 2231, which calls on Iran not to conduct any activity involving ballistic missiles that are designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Nauert said the United States regards the launch as continued ballistic missile development that is discouraged in the U.N. resolution.

We consider this to be a provocative action, and a provocative action that undermines the security, the prosperity of those in the region and around the world as well.

We believe that what happened overnight in the early morning hours here in Washington is inconsistent with the Security Council resolutions, she added. We believe that what happened overnight and into the morning is in violation of the spirit of the nuclear agreement.

[U.S. slaps new sanctions on Iran, after certifying its compliance with nuclear deal]

The launch of a satellite-carrying rocket was reported by Iranian state media on Thursday, but it was unclear exactly when the launch occurred. Officials in Israel and the United States fear Iran could use the technology to produce long-range missiles that could pose a threat to the region, and beyond, if they help Iran develop intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Irans defense ministry denies that its space program is a vehicle for weapons development, and the head of its space agency has even offered to cooperate with NASA and share its data with other countries.

The Trump administration has been highly critical of Irans ballistic missile tests. This month, the White House certified that Iran was in compliance with its commitments under the nuclear agreement. But while the language on Irans nuclear program is precise and extensive, the language involving missiles is ambiguous.

Resolution 2231 was passed in 2015 to endorse the deal in which six world powers, including the United States, agreed to ease nuclear-related economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program. The agreement is officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The language on ballistic missiles replaced a resolution dating from 2010 that said Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. The 2015 version merely calls on Iran not to conduct such activity.

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July 27, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Looks like Rex Tillerson tricked Trump into keeping the Iran deal forever – Washington Examiner

During a week in which all signs point to Republicans enshrining President Obama’s top domestic achievement into law, it’s now looking like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has tricked President Trump into keeping the main pillar of Obama’s foreign policy legacy in place indefinitely: the disastrous Iran deal.

On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that as part of Trump’s move to certify Iran’s compliance with the deal, the administration is pushing to “test” the deal with more inspections. On the surface, this may seem like a move to step up enforcement and lay the groundwork to unwind the deal theoretically consistent with Trump’s vow to “get tough” on Iran. But in practice, it looks like a stalling tactic designed by Tillerson and Obama holdovers in the State Department to handcuff Trump, with endless bureaucratic delays, from ever being able to pull out of the deal.

Last week, Iran deal supporters in the administration, led by Tillerson, talked Trump into sticking with the deal and certifying Iran compliance for the second time of his presidency, even as he told the Wall Street Journal, “If it was up to me, I would have had them noncompliant 180 days ago.”

Under the agreement that secured his decision recertify the deal, the United States will push for more inspections of Iranian military sites. As the AP puts it, “If Iran refuses inspections, the argument goes, Trump finally will have a solid basis to say Iran is breaching the deal, setting up Tehran to take most of the blame if the agreement collapses. If Iran agrees to inspections, those in Trump’s administration who want to preserve the deal will be emboldened to argue it’s advancing U.S. national security effectively.”

The problem is twofold one logistical, and one more fundamental.

Logistically, the process of requesting inspections of Iranian sites is long and arduous, with plenty of opportunities for international institutions and foreign governments to gum up the works, delaying any firm resolution indefinitely, and thus putting pressure on Trump to constantly renew the deal to let the process play out. The prospect of this has not been lost on opponents of the Iran deal, who have been furiously emailing and texting with each other in despair as they contemplate the implications.

In an email to reporters, Omri Ceren, managing director of the Israel Project and one of the most dogged and informed opponents of the deal, observed that, “The push [for inspections] can drag on literally indefinitely: It requires the State Department to persuade the Europeans to persuade the [International Atomic Energy Agency] to persuade the Iranians to allow inspections, and in between there need to be bilateral and multilateral intelligence exchanges, and anyway the [Iran deal] allows Iran to engage in dialogue with the IAEA indefinitely without ever violating the deal.”

There are a number of scenarios in which this convoluted process can be exploited by Tillerson and his band of Iran deal proponents at the State Department to maneuver Trump into holding off on his desire to escape the Iran deal.

“One scenario: In 3 months, Iran deal advocates will tell the president he has to certify because the deal is still being tested,'” Ceren wrote. “Another scenario: In 3 months, the Europeans (or Iran deal advocates channeling them) will tell the president he has to certify because they’ve bought into the testing,’ and would backlash against decertification while it’s ongoing. These are a half-dozen of these scenarios getting bounced around this morning.”

As I noted, these are the logistical problems with substituting the “more inspections” approach in the place of a more focused strategy specifically unwinding the deal. But there’s also a more fundamental problem: Regardless of whether it’s enforced, the Iran deal is still a really crappy deal.

That is, even if Iran completely complies with the deal, it will still be given space to become a much more dangerous conventional threat while putting it on a glide path to nuclear weapons over time.

One of the main conservative cases for an unconventional outsider like Trump was that at least he was willing to burn things down that needed to be burnt down. But he’s been consistently outplayed by swamp creatures. He vowed to reverse eight years of damaging Obama policies, yet more than six months into the Trump presidency, Obama’s legacy at home and abroad looks increasingly secure.

Link:
Looks like Rex Tillerson tricked Trump into keeping the Iran deal forever – Washington Examiner

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July 27, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Rouhani gets Iranian supreme leader’s nod as second-term president, faces risks – Reuters

ANKARA (Reuters) – Hassan Rouhani won the endorsement of Iran’s supreme leader for his second term of president on Thursday after an easy election win, pledging to open Iran to foreign trade and investment but facing internal hardline resistance and renewed U.S. antagonism. Under Rouhani’s watch, Iran emerged from international isolation in 2015 when it struck a deal with six world powers to curb its disputed nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of financial and economic sanctions in place for a decade. But his quest to parlay fragile detente with the West into financial infusions to rebuild Iran’s oil-based economy has been slowed by investors’ fears of pre-existing U.S. sanctions and suspicions among powerful hardline acolytes of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of any rise in Western influence. The new U.S. sanctions could embolden Rouhani’s conservative rivals who say the nuclear deal was a form of capitulation. An elite insider who has held senior political and military posts since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Rouhani comes off as a pragmatist unlike Khamenei and his allies, and analysts have cast doubt on his ability to balance their demands and the expectations of his often young and more liberal supporters. Khamenei, who has the last word on all major issues of state, formally endorsed Rouhani as president in a ceremony broadcast live on state television on Thursday, after the pragmatist romped to re-election on May 19. Addressing religious, military and political leaders, Khamenei prayed for “the success of a worthy person”. Handing the presidential mandate to Rouhani, Khamenei kissed him on the cheek and the president kissed the Supreme Leader on his shoulder, a sign of supplication. Khamenei again called for economic self-sufficiency and a “resistance economy”, a stance arising from his repeated criticism of the halting pace of economic recovery since most international sanctions on Iran were lifted early last year. Rouhani will be sworn in on Saturday and then have two weeks to present his cabinet to parliament for a vote of confidence. “The government’s aim is to improve Iran’s image in the world …, to safeguard people’s rights…, to end poverty…, to protect the religious democracy and our people’s votes,” Rouhani said in a speech at the ceremony. Analysts said Rouhani may struggle to make a significant impact given sharpening divisions in the dual clerical-republican power structure, and Washington’s return to an aggressive Iran policy since Donald Trump took office. “Hardliners will try even harder than in Rouhani’s first term to make him look like a lame duck president … It will be very difficult for Rouhani to deliver on the economy,” said Meir Javdanfar, an Iranian-born expert on the Islamic Republic at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel. Rouhani’s own supporters have expressed concern over his inability to include women as ministers in his new cabinet because of pressure from religious hardliners. Javdanfar said the new U.S. sanctions on Iran signed by Trump into law on Wednesday, along with measures against Russia and North Korea would likely deter foreign investors and so undermine Rouhani’s efforts to boost the economy. Rouhani stuck to an upbeat outlook in his speech. “The nuclear deal is a sign of Iran’s goodwill on the international stage…Iran will never be isolated,” he said. During his 2016 election campaign, Trump blasted the nuclear agreement – negotiated under his predecessor Barack Obama – as “the worst deal ever” but not followed through on threats to pull the United States out of it. But Iran’s deputy foreign minister said the fresh sanctions violated provisions of the nuclear deal and vowed an “appropriate and proportional” response. “Imposing new sanctions on Iran by America is a reactionary, illegitimate and irrational move,” state television quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi as saying on Thursday. Reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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August 3, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Iran’s ties to US universities an infiltration to fear – Washington Times

ANALYSIS/OPINION: Rep. Dan Donovan wants the feds to look into some curious grants given to the likes of Columbia, Harvard and Princeton that came from a foundation with a pro-Iran, anti-Israel slant. This is an investigation that should definitely go forth, and the sooner, the far better. The Alavi Foundation was deemed in June by jurors in Manhattans federal court of illegally managing 650 Fifth Ave. on behalf of Iran. Now, its this same group, the Alavi Foundation, thats been tied to the funding of certain professors at these Ivy American schools and others around the U.S. who are decidedly anti-Israel and pro-Iran in their teachings. As Donovan said, the New York Post reported: Did this foundation attempt to subvert American academic institutions? Good question. And one that raises the knee-jerk reaction that better vetting of donors by university folk is needed. But this goes deeper than a funding concern. Critics are worried the foundation dollars may have been used to purposely plant pro-Iran professors within the U.S. university system. Its not out of the realm of possibility. This is what acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said in late June, while making the case against Alavi: For over a decade, hiding in plain sight, this 36-story Manhattan office tower secretly served as as front for the Iranian government and as a gateway for millions of dollars to be funneled to Iran in clear violation of U.S. sanctions laws. And now, this same group has reportedly sent millions of dollars into dozens of Americas top-ranking colleges and universities? For what purposes? If the money came with strings attached say, stipulations that certain professors must be hired, or that certain doctrines should be taught then this is a radical infiltration of dangerous proportions, pure and simple. Donovan said hes going to contact the secretary of the Department of Education, along with various congressional committees, and ask for an investigation. One needs to be conducted, and pronto. And if untoward infiltration has occurred, then justice beginning with firings of compromised professors and complicit administrators should be both swift and harsh.

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August 3, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

View: America’s dangerous game with Iran – euronews

In recent weeks, US President Donald Trump and his advisers have joined Saudi Arabia in accusing Iran of being the epicenter of Middle East terrorism. The US Congress, meanwhile, is readying yet another round of sanctions against Iran. But the caricature of Iran as the tip of the spear of global terrorism, in Saudi King Salmans words, is not only wrongheaded, but also extremely dangerous, because it could lead to yet another Middle East war. In fact, that seems to be the goal of some US hotheads, despite the obvious fact that Iran is on the same side as the United States in opposing the Islamic State (ISIS). And then theres the fact that Iran, unlike most of its regional adversaries, is a functioning democracy. Ironically, the escalation of US and Saudi rhetoric came just two days after Irans May 19 election, in which moderates led by incumbent President Hassan Rouhani defeated their hardline opponents at the ballot box. Perhaps for Trump, the pro-Saudi, anti-Iran embrace is just another business proposition. He beamed at Saudi Arabias decision to buy $110 billion of new US weapons, describing the deal as jobs, jobs, jobs, as if the only gainful employment for American workers requires them to stoke war. And who knows what private deals for Trump and his family might also be lurking in his warm embrace of Saudi belligerence. The Trump administrations bombast toward Iran is, in a sense, par for the course. US foreign policy is littered with absurd, tragic, and hugely destructive foreign wars that served no real purpose except the pursuit of some misguided strand of official propaganda. How else, in the end, to explain Americas useless and hugely costly entanglements in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and many other conflicts? Americas anti-Iran animus goes back to the countrys 1979 Islamic Revolution. For the US public, the 444-day ordeal of the US embassy staff held hostage by radical Iranian students constituted a psychological shock that has still not abated. The hostage drama dominated the US media from start to finish, resulting in a kind of public post-traumatic stress disorder similar to the social trauma of the 9/11 attacks a generation later. For most Americans, then and now, the hostage crisis and indeed the Iranian Revolution itself was a bolt out of the blue. Few Americans realize that the Iranian Revolution came a quarter-century after the CIA and Britains intelligence agency MI6 conspired in 1953 to overthrow the countrys democratically elected government and install a police state under the Shah of Iran, to preserve Anglo-American control over Irans oil, which was threatened by nationalization. Nor do most Americans realize that the hostage crisis was precipitated by the ill-considered decision to admit the deposed Shah into the US for medical treatment, which many Iranians viewed as a threat to the revolution. During the Reagan Administration, the US supported Iraq in its war of aggression against Iran, including Iraqs use of chemical weapons. When the fighting finally ended in 1988, the US followed up with financial and trade sanctions on Iran that remain in place to this day. Since 1953, the US has opposed Irans self-rule and economic development through covert action, support for authoritarian rule during 1953-79, military backing for its enemies, and decades-long sanctions. Another reason for Americas anti-Iran animus is Irans support for Hezbollah and Hamas, two militant antagonists of Israel. Here, too, it is important to understand the historical context. In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon in an attempt to crush militant Palestinians operating there. In the wake of that war, and against the backdrop of anti-Muslim massacres enabled by Israels occupation forces, Iran supported the formation of the Shia-led Hezbollah to resist Israels occupation of southern Lebanon. By the time Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, nearly 20 years after its original invasion, Hezbollah had become a formidable military, political, and social force in Lebanon, and a continuing thorn in Israels side. Iran also supports Hamas, a hardline Sunni group that rejects Israels right to exist. Following decades of Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands captured in the 1967 war, and with peace negotiations stalemated, Hamas defeated Fatah (the Palestine Liberation Organizations political party) at the ballot box in the 2006 election for the Palestinian parliament. Rather than entering into a dialogue with Hamas, the US and Israel decided to try to crush it, including through a brutal war in Gaza in 2014, resulting in a massive Palestinian death toll, untold suffering, and billions of dollars in damage to homes and infrastructure in Gaza but, predictably, leading to no political progress whatsoever. Israel also views Irans nuclear program as an existential threat. Hardline Israelis repeatedly sought to convince the US to attack Irans nuclear facilities, or at least allow Israel to do so. Fortunately, President Barack Obama resisted, and instead negotiated a treaty between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (plus Germany) that blocks Irans path to nuclear weapons for a decade or more, creating space for further confidence-building measures on both sides. Yet Trump and the Saudis seem intent on destroying the possibility of normalizing relations created by this important and promising agreement. External powers are extremely foolish to allow themselves to be manipulated into taking sides in bitter national or sectarian conflicts that can be resolved only by compromise. The Israel-Palestine conflict, the competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the Sunni-Shia relationship all require mutual accommodation. Yet each side in these conflicts harbors the tragic illusion of achieving an ultimate victory without the need to compromise, if only the US (or some other major power) will fight the war on its behalf. During the past century, Britain, France, the US, and Russia have all misplayed the Middle East power game. All have squandered lives, money, and prestige. (Indeed, the Soviet Union was gravely, perhaps fatally, weakened by its war in Afghanistan.) More than ever, we need an era of diplomacy that emphasizes compromise, not another round of demonization and an arms race that could all too easily spiral into disaster. Jeffrey D. Sachs is Professor of Sustainable Development and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, Director of Columbias Center for Sustainable Development and of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. His books include The End of Poverty, Common Wealth, The Age of Sustainable Development, and, most recently, Building the New American Economy The views expressed in opinion articles published on euronews do not represent our editorial position Project Syndicate 2017

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August 2, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

It’s time to take on the Iran-North Korea nuke alliance – New York Post

Iran or North Korea? Which threat should America confront first? Heres a thought: both. Save for the weather, North Korea wouldve tested an intercontinental ballistic missile last Thursday, at almost the same time as Iran did. It missed the date, coinciding with the anniversary of the 1953 armistice pact that ended the Korean War, likely thanks to a rain storm. Nerveless, it tested the next day, creating a Mideast-East Asian stereo boom heard around the world. American experts no longer think itll take North Korea years to be able to hit the continental United States. Most watchers now expect it sometime next year. So President Trump has drawn the short straw. Three predecessors failed to stop the Kim regimes nuclear and missile advances. If he wants to stop the Norks, Trump has no choice but to act and all of his options are bad. Meanwhile, much of President Barack Obamas Iran deal is expected to unravel during Trumps tenure as well. What can he do? Americans and others have long observed cooperation between these two rogue regimes. You dont need to be a trained missile expert to notice the design similarities between North Koreas home-built Rodong and its Iranian clone, the Shahab 3. Or the Rodong B and Shahab 4. Iranian nuclear scientists were present at Pyongyangs first nuclear test. Iran-allied Syria modeled its nuclear plant (later eliminated by Israel) on a similar North Korean one. Rather than violating the Obama deal by experimenting at home, Iran can advance its nuclear program by observing North Koreas and contributing to its progress. The mullahs have what Kim Jong-un needs most: cash. Pyongyangs only foreign-currency-worthy export is weapons and knowing how to build and use them, which Iran craves. Its a match made in hell. So why are countries threatened by North Korea, like Japan, so eager to do business with Iran? After all, dont the mullahs enable the Norths quest to develop the missiles that get fired near Japan? Theres no proof of such cooperation, Tokyo officials said when I asked them about it on a recent trip to Japan. Theyre right. For decades, America shied away from revealing what the intelligence community knew about the Tehran-Pyongyang love affair because we dreamed of diplomatic breakthroughs on both fronts (and feared revealing spy methods). After the Sunday ICBM test, such timidity is no longer an option. Americas UN Ambassador Nikki Haley tweeted Sunday that China is aware they must act and that Japan and South Korea must increase pressure. Its not only a US problem but one that requires an international solution. Yet, an international solution has eluded Haley since July 4, the last time North Korea launched a missile designed to reach the continental US. Russian diplomats have ridiculously argued theres no proof this was an ICBM, therefore no need to increase sanctions. Such obfuscation will likely continue. Russia and China will block attempts to corner Kim and his henchmen especially now that administration officials like CIA Director Mike Pompeo are starting to push the idea of toppling the Kim regime, which both Beijing and Moscow oppose. So one action the United States can take would be to put forth a UN resolution naming and sanctioning persons and entities involved in the Iran-North Korea arms cooperation. Western diplomats tell me it likely wont pass. Yet theyre intrigued by publicly airing, Adlai Stevenson-like, Americas intel on Iran-Nork cooperation. Irans missile program was, bizarrely, left out of Obamas nuclear deal. Revealing the Tehran-Pyongyang nexus might convince allies wobbly about Tehrans violations that the mullahs threat is global. It could also start the process of plugging a major cash source for the Kim regime. And then, theres action beyond the United Nations: Obama rarely used the Proliferation Security Initiative, a treaty signed by 105 countries that allows search and seizure of ships carrying illicit arms. Expose the Iran-North Korea connection, then use PSI to disrupt it, with our allies help. Weve long thought of Iran and North Korea as separate problems. Time for a holistic approach that will give a jolt to the diplomatic stalemate. US flights over South Korean skies are helping. Talking publicly about adding Japan and South Korea to the global nuclear club may scare China into action. So will blacklisting companies that do business with Kim Jong-un. Regime change should be the ultimate target. But a change in diplomatic strategy is needed too, and fast. Time to expose what everyone knows, but no one ever says out loud: Kim and the mullahs are BFFs.

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August 1, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Iran accused of helping fund Temple Mount unrest – The Times of Israel

The Islamic Republic of Iran reportedly provided aid to Palestinian protesters demonstrating against new security measures at the Temple Mount last month. The aid reportedly included boxes of food and drink, which came with a flyer attached depicting the Dome of the Rock and a quote attributed to Irans Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reading, With the help of God Palestine will be freed. Jerusalem is ours. While Palestinian media reported that the food packages were provided by an Iranian youth movement, a PA intelligence official said it was clear that the Iranian regime was behind the aid. It is clear to us that the regime in Tehran, by means of its long arms, is behind this catering operation, the official told the Israel Hayom daily in an article published Tuesday. The sums come to millions of shekels and the Iranians found an opening to reap the benefits and send a message to the Palestinian public right under Israels nose that it is Iran that looks out for them. The flyer attached to all the food packages and the quotes of Khamenei make clear who is behind these food baskets. Another Palestinian official told Israel Hayom that while the PA was aware of the Iranian effort, it did not notify Israel because of PA President Mahmoud Abbass decision to freeze security ties in protest of the security measures placed at the Temple Mount following the July 14 terror attack at the holy site, when three Arab Israelis shot dead two police officers with weapons smuggled into the compound. In the territory under Palestinian control this would not happen, he added. We would not allow the Iranians a foothold like this, because this would come back at us like a boomerang with the reactions of Arab states. The Iranian involvement also angered senior PA officials, with an unnamed official said to be close to Abbas telling the daily that it was a mistake to allow Iran to reach into the West Bank with its tentacles. The Islamic Republic has long funded operations against Israel, often through its provision of money and arms to the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups. Iran has also made calling for Israels destruction and the liberation of Jerusalem central to its propaganda efforts. While Israel removed last week all of the new security measures installed at the Temple Mount, a PA official told The Times of Israel that security cooperation will gradually be restored as long as Muslim access to the holy site remains unrestricted.

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August 1, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Lebanese ‘spy’ held in Iran ends hunger strike – The Times of Israel

BEIRUT The lawyer of a Lebanese man held in Iran since 2015 says his client has ended a 33-day hunger strike. Majed Dimashkiyeh sent The Associated Press a letter from Nizar Zakka announcing an end to his hunger strike following a request from his children. Zakka, who has permanent US residency, went missing in 2015, during his fifth trip to Iran. Two weeks later, Iranian state TV reported that he was in custody and suspected of having deep links to US intelligence services. Last September, Zakka was sentenced to 10 years in prison and handed a $4.2 million fine after a security court convicted him of espionage. Members of the US House of Representatives issued a resolution this week calling for Zakkas release. Zakka, 50, was rushed to a hospital earlier this month, where he refused an IV, his brother Ziad told The Associated Press. He said his brother was prepared to die if he is not released, and refused to sign documents in Farsi, a language he doesnt understand. Ziad Zakka, left, brother of Nizar Zakka who is imprisoned in Iran, speaks with his brothers lawyer Majed Dimshkiyeh in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, July 18, 2017. (AP/Bilal Hussein) Zakkas family denies the allegations against him. His brother said he had been invited to attend a conference at which President Hassan Rouhani spoke of sustainable development and providing more economic opportunities for women. He showed the AP a letter of invitation for his brother from Iranian Vice President Shahindokht Molaverdi. He is completely losing hope in life, and this is the most difficult period a human being might reach, Zakka said in an interview in Beirut earlier this month, adding that he had urged his brother to end the hunger strike when he spoke to him by phone. The family has urged Lebanese President Michel Aoun to raise Zakkas case when he visits Iran in August. Aoun is a close ally of Hezbollah, a powerful Iranian-backed Lebanese group. We hope that President Aoun will reach a happy ending in this matter, said Majed Dimashkiyeh, a lawyer for the family who has sent an official letter to Aoun asking him to intervene with Iranian authorities. Zakka, who used to live in Washington, leads the Arab ICT Organization, or IJMA3, an industry consortium from 13 countries that advocates for information technology in the region. The Associated Press reported in May last year that IJMA3 had received at least $730,000 in contracts and grants since 2009 from both the State Department and the US Agency for International Development, USAID. Ziad Zakka said their mother passed away last July. He said she had sent a letter to Irans Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Rouhani through the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, telling them that my dream is to see Nizar.

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July 30, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Trump’s Dangerous Game With Iran – New York Magazine

Trump. Photo: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images On Friday, North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile, leading to an eruption of concern from the security community. The Trump White House, however, has this week focused its belligerence lesson Pyongyang and the weapons it has, and more on Iran, despite the nuclear weapons it is prevented from getting.Last week, Secretary of State Tillerson pleasantly surprised his critics by certifying that Iran is complying with the terms of the 2015 deal that iced its nuclear ambitions and subjected it to intense inspections and restrictions for the next decade and more. This week, his boss fired back:I would be surprised if they were in compliance at the next review in 90 days, PresidentTrump told The Wall Street Journal. This has less to do with Iran and more to do with Trumps frustration with his own Cabinet for supporting the deal reportedly so great that he commissioned a parallel working group of lower-level, less-experienced officials to advise him before the next review. So the threat of a major conflict with Iran is high because the administration wants it that way.Mostif not all of the administrations key national security players, and their allies in Congress, see stepped-up U.S. military activity in the region as important to confronting Iran. Far from believing that the Iran deal contained the most serious U.S.-Iran flashpoint, theybelieve Iran, even without nuclear weapons, poses an existential threat to the U.S. and our allies. They believe that regime change switching out Irans theocracy for a (hypothetical) secular democracy is the only way, long-term, to deal with that threat. (Hands up if you recall hearing that one before about a country beginning with I.) This belief, by itself, isnt the problem. Many, though far from most, Iranians, share their longing for a government that is more liberal and democratic, and less allied with extremist groups elsewhere in the Middle East. And though there is often hyperbole in the accusations, they are grounded in truth: Iran supports armed extremist groups in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel-Palestine, and to a lesser extent Yemen including the worlds most potent non-state fighting force, Hezbollah. Irans government mistreats its people badly though not, say, worse than our Saudi allies. The anti-Tehran faction believes that its worth putting pressure on Irans willingness to comply with the nuclear deal in order to push on these other issues while the Obama administration believed the U.S. and the region could live with problematic behavior but not with nuclear empowerment. No, the problem is that the combination of a highly militarized standoff, multiple shooting wars across the region, and an administration that combines high rhetoric and low predictability is a recipe for escalation. Just Tuesday, a U.S. Navy vesselfired warning shotsat an Iranian boat, apparently operated by the hard-line Revolutionary National Guard forces, that came within 150 yards of it. Such incidents had decreased significantly during 2016, but still occur with some regularity.As far as we can tell, the hotline communication Secretary Kerry developed with Iranian foreign minister Zarif has been discontinued.The Iranians are well aware though most Americans are not of the stepped-up tempo of U.S. military operations in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, and the heightened presence of ground and naval forces. Add to that the package of new sanctions that the president apparently demanded asthe price for certifying the deal this time. Within 24 hours of the certification, the administration put economic sanctions on 18 new Iranian individuals and corporate entities for a range of alleged offenses including harassment of U.S. naval vessels and attempts to build ballistic missiles or steal U.S. software. Most offenses had no direct connection to the nuclear deal. Tehran responded with rage, saying that these sanctions themselves violated the terms of the nuclear deal. The White House has help from Congress in ratcheting up tensions. The House andSenate have now eachpassed versions ofa bipartisan sanctions bill. While it has gotten attention for the new penalties it imposes on Russian entities and foreigners who collaborate with them to harm U.S. interests on cybersecurity, energy, human rights, and other areas,it also sets a range of new penalties on Iranians for actions related to ballistic missiles, regional terrorism, or human-rights violations. Now we wait to see whether President Trump will sign or veto legislation thatputs on Moscow the very pressures they hope will bend Tehran to the breaking point. So anyone in Iran who wants to claim that the U.S. is implacably opposed to Irans existing government and actively seeking to undermine it economically, while challenging it militarily, has plenty of data to point to. Given Irans regional goals, the means it believes are acceptable to employ, and the groups with which it is allied, defending U.S. interests and the nuclear deal was always going to require both strong regional presence and adroit diplomacy. What we have instead, though, is the unpredictable and bellicose rhetoric of the president and his team. Deterrence theory says that countries can be frightened into remaining peaceful if they know exactly what the consequences for aggression would be. But the range of tweets, offhand remarks, threats, and past ruminations about regime change leave quite a bit of room for Iranian actors to believe that Washington is determined not just to contain their government, but to remove it from power. Michael Crowley points out at Politico that key Trump officials are on the record as saying that Iran will remain a U.S. enemy until the clerical leaders and military officials who control the countrys political system are deposed. And they have continued to make such statements earlier this spring, Secretary Tillerson sparked a public protest from the Iranian government when he told Congress that the U.S. should work with opposition groups toward the peaceful transition of that government. The nuclear deal was never intended to resolve all the problems between the U.S. and Iran. It was intended to take off the table the question of nuclear weapons, which all sides had identified as the flashpoint that could most easily flare into war. But given both Washingtons differences with Tehran on key issues from human rights to Syria, and this administrations addiction to incendiary and off-the-cuff rhetoric, thats exactly where we (still) are. Sundays vote to elect a constituent assembly could further undermine the countrys democracy or unleash large-scale political violence. The socialist nation is in free-fall. The Times Andes bureau chief lets us know whats going on, why, and what might come next. The first major legislation passed during Trumps presidency will be a bill he opposed and now has no choice but to sign. A hack forever tainted in Trumps eyes by his one moment of decency. The nuclear deal was meant to reduce the risk of war. With the president backing away from it, get ready for fireworks. Its too early to tell whether Democrats have a real shot at winning back the House next year, but a big jump in candidates running is a good sign. Donald Trump likes having generals around, and he really likes John Kelly. But can a Marine run a White House whose boss loves chaos above all? Trump tweeted that he is proud of Priebus and all they accomplished. Please dont be too nice, Trump told police in Long Island. If the climactic vote on the skinny repeal had gone the other way, the result would have probably been the same: GOP failure, with much time lost. The U.S. believes the missile used to send a satellite to space could be a precursor to an ICBM. Brian Kilmeade says the same dumb thing Paul Ryan said a few months ago. Republicans came within one vote of passing a health-care bill that they wrote over lunch and admitted was a disaster. Thats a national crisis. Kasich has never bent the knee to Trump. But viable primary challengers to sitting presidents come from the fever swamps, not the sensible center. Moscow is taking away a vacation home where U.S. diplomats walk their dogs and have cookouts. Consider the violence the president has done to the structures of American democracy in just the past seven days. A proposed zoning change to the area near Grand Central is set to remake the neighborhood for decades. But at what cost? Republicans couldnt come up with a workable health-care plan, so they kept kicking the can down the road. The road finally ended in the Senate today. An eight-year crusade to destroy universal coverage has failed, and a social achievement endures. Three Republicans Susan Collins, John McCain, and Lisa Murkowski voted against the bill.

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July 29, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

US calls Iranian satellite launch ‘provocative’ – Washington Post

The State Department said Thursday that Irans launch of a space satellite was a provocative action that violates a U.N. resolution on ballistic missiles as well as the spirit of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday that reports that Iran had launched a rocket carrying a satellite into space violated U.N. Security Council resolution 2231, which calls on Iran not to conduct any activity involving ballistic missiles that are designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Nauert said the United States regards the launch as continued ballistic missile development that is discouraged in the U.N. resolution. We consider this to be a provocative action, and a provocative action that undermines the security, the prosperity of those in the region and around the world as well. We believe that what happened overnight in the early morning hours here in Washington is inconsistent with the Security Council resolutions, she added. We believe that what happened overnight and into the morning is in violation of the spirit of the nuclear agreement. [U.S. slaps new sanctions on Iran, after certifying its compliance with nuclear deal] The launch of a satellite-carrying rocket was reported by Iranian state media on Thursday, but it was unclear exactly when the launch occurred. Officials in Israel and the United States fear Iran could use the technology to produce long-range missiles that could pose a threat to the region, and beyond, if they help Iran develop intercontinental ballistic missiles. Irans defense ministry denies that its space program is a vehicle for weapons development, and the head of its space agency has even offered to cooperate with NASA and share its data with other countries. The Trump administration has been highly critical of Irans ballistic missile tests. This month, the White House certified that Iran was in compliance with its commitments under the nuclear agreement. But while the language on Irans nuclear program is precise and extensive, the language involving missiles is ambiguous. Resolution 2231 was passed in 2015 to endorse the deal in which six world powers, including the United States, agreed to ease nuclear-related economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program. The agreement is officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The language on ballistic missiles replaced a resolution dating from 2010 that said Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. The 2015 version merely calls on Iran not to conduct such activity.

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July 27, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Looks like Rex Tillerson tricked Trump into keeping the Iran deal forever – Washington Examiner

During a week in which all signs point to Republicans enshrining President Obama’s top domestic achievement into law, it’s now looking like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has tricked President Trump into keeping the main pillar of Obama’s foreign policy legacy in place indefinitely: the disastrous Iran deal. On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that as part of Trump’s move to certify Iran’s compliance with the deal, the administration is pushing to “test” the deal with more inspections. On the surface, this may seem like a move to step up enforcement and lay the groundwork to unwind the deal theoretically consistent with Trump’s vow to “get tough” on Iran. But in practice, it looks like a stalling tactic designed by Tillerson and Obama holdovers in the State Department to handcuff Trump, with endless bureaucratic delays, from ever being able to pull out of the deal. Last week, Iran deal supporters in the administration, led by Tillerson, talked Trump into sticking with the deal and certifying Iran compliance for the second time of his presidency, even as he told the Wall Street Journal, “If it was up to me, I would have had them noncompliant 180 days ago.” Under the agreement that secured his decision recertify the deal, the United States will push for more inspections of Iranian military sites. As the AP puts it, “If Iran refuses inspections, the argument goes, Trump finally will have a solid basis to say Iran is breaching the deal, setting up Tehran to take most of the blame if the agreement collapses. If Iran agrees to inspections, those in Trump’s administration who want to preserve the deal will be emboldened to argue it’s advancing U.S. national security effectively.” The problem is twofold one logistical, and one more fundamental. Logistically, the process of requesting inspections of Iranian sites is long and arduous, with plenty of opportunities for international institutions and foreign governments to gum up the works, delaying any firm resolution indefinitely, and thus putting pressure on Trump to constantly renew the deal to let the process play out. The prospect of this has not been lost on opponents of the Iran deal, who have been furiously emailing and texting with each other in despair as they contemplate the implications. In an email to reporters, Omri Ceren, managing director of the Israel Project and one of the most dogged and informed opponents of the deal, observed that, “The push [for inspections] can drag on literally indefinitely: It requires the State Department to persuade the Europeans to persuade the [International Atomic Energy Agency] to persuade the Iranians to allow inspections, and in between there need to be bilateral and multilateral intelligence exchanges, and anyway the [Iran deal] allows Iran to engage in dialogue with the IAEA indefinitely without ever violating the deal.” There are a number of scenarios in which this convoluted process can be exploited by Tillerson and his band of Iran deal proponents at the State Department to maneuver Trump into holding off on his desire to escape the Iran deal. “One scenario: In 3 months, Iran deal advocates will tell the president he has to certify because the deal is still being tested,'” Ceren wrote. “Another scenario: In 3 months, the Europeans (or Iran deal advocates channeling them) will tell the president he has to certify because they’ve bought into the testing,’ and would backlash against decertification while it’s ongoing. These are a half-dozen of these scenarios getting bounced around this morning.” As I noted, these are the logistical problems with substituting the “more inspections” approach in the place of a more focused strategy specifically unwinding the deal. But there’s also a more fundamental problem: Regardless of whether it’s enforced, the Iran deal is still a really crappy deal. That is, even if Iran completely complies with the deal, it will still be given space to become a much more dangerous conventional threat while putting it on a glide path to nuclear weapons over time. One of the main conservative cases for an unconventional outsider like Trump was that at least he was willing to burn things down that needed to be burnt down. But he’s been consistently outplayed by swamp creatures. He vowed to reverse eight years of damaging Obama policies, yet more than six months into the Trump presidency, Obama’s legacy at home and abroad looks increasingly secure.

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July 27, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed


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