Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Eye on Iran: Trump's Plans to Scuttle or Amend The Iran Nuclear Deal Remain a Work in Progress

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President Obama said Monday that the historic accord to curb Iran's ability to develop nuclear weapons - the most important arms control agreement in decades - is working, and he expressed hope that Donald Trump will keep it intact. "My suspicion is that when the president-elect comes into office ... he will look at the facts," Obama said at a news conference. Abandoning the deal would remove obstructions that blocked Iran's nuclear capabilities and could force the United States to sanction European allies that continued to honor the accord. "When you are  not responsible for it, you can call it a terrible deal," Obama said. "When you are responsible ... you are more likely to look at the facts." ... Trump's advisors make clear that revisiting the agreement is a priority for Trump even if the plan ahead is still a work in progress. "'Ripping up' is maybe a too strong a word. He's gonna take that agreement, it's been done before in international context, and then review it," Walid Phares, a Trump foreign policy advisor, told BBC radio.  "He will take the agreement, review it, send it to Congress, demand from Iranians to restore a few issues or change a few issues. And there will be a discussion. It could be a tense discussion." Another advisor, R. James Woolsey Jr., who headed the CIA from 1993 to 1995 under President Clinton, was more hawkish. Speaking on CNN, he called the deal "the worst single international agreement the United States has ever signed." Woolsey said the deal was neither implementable nor verifiable. "It is truly rotten," he said.

Eleven Middle East and North African countries accused Iran of sponsoring "terrorism" and constantly interfering in the internal affairs of Arab nations, sparking tension and instability in the region. In a letter to the U.N. General Assembly circulated Monday, the 11 countries cited Iran's support for Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Shiite Hezbollah group in Lebanon which has sent fighters to support the Syrian government. They also accused Iran of supporting "terrorist groups and cells" in Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and elsewhere. The Arab nations reiterated a statement by Bahrain's foreign minister in September that the only way forward is for Iran "to comprehensively change its foreign policies and end hostilities." The letter, organized by the United Arab Emirates, was signed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, Morocco, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Yemen. The 11 countries condemned Iran for sponsoring "terrorism" in the region, particularly in Yemen where they said Tehran is supporting the Houthis financially and militarily by training their fighters and illegally sending them weapons and ammunition.

European oil companies might be thinking twice about returning to Iran's oil fields with Donald Trump bound for the White House, according to Helima Croft, head of commodities strategy at RBC Capital Markets... Croft questioned whether European oil majors will be willing to invest in projects to further boost Iranian oil production in the wake of Trump's victory. Trump threatened during the presidential campaign to rip up the deal Iran reached with international negotiators last year to limit its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. With Trump in office, the European energy firms lining up to develop Iran's massive oil and gas reserves face a big risk: that his administration will exploit provisions in the nuclear accord that would put back in place sanctions that penalize companies that invest in Iran's oil and gas sector... Croft said renewed sanctions would basically leave foreign companies with a choice: Do business with Iran or get locked out of the U.S. financial system. "I think it will give them pause before going back in there, because the contract terms aren't great. It's not the easiest place to do business. So you have to choose between Iran and the U.S. - I still think you're picking the U.S.," she said.


Judging from Donald Trump's campaign posturing, his Big Three foreign policy views go something like this: Russia can be wooed, Iran needs to be slammed, and China's economic and strategic reach must be tamed. But what happens when they all start to overlap? A series of initiatives and announcements Monday pointed to the deepening interplay between Iran, China and Russia - and offered an early lesson to the Trump administration on the slippery reality of the world. One maxim Trump will quickly learn: Washington now has very limited power to isolate and punish Iran. Trump may be able to follow through on pledges to tear up the U.S. portion of last year's nuclear deal, which seeks to rein in Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for easing international sanctions. But that leaves America's other five negotiating partners - including Russia and China - sticking with the program and making deals with Iran.

The United Nations' nuclear watchdog may have delayed releasing a report which revealed that Iran has again violated last summer's landmark nuclear deal amid efforts by the Obama administration to protect the deal, a top nuclear expert told THE WEEKLY STANDARD. A confidential report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which said that Iran had stockpiled nuclear-related material beyond what the deal allows, came to light the day after the U.S. presidential election last week. The report documented that Iran had amassed more than 130 metric tons of heavy water, a material used in the production of weapons-grade plutonium, breaching a limit set by the deal. David Albright, founder of the Institute for Science and International Security, told TWS that the IAEA likely pushed back the release of the report until after the election due to political pressure from the Obama administration.

Seventy-six national security experts urged President-elect Donald J. Trump on Monday to reverse his hostility to the nuclear agreement signed with Iran last year and to use it as a tool to ease other tensions with the country. A report signed by the experts, including former officials from both major political parties, argued that the nuclear agreement had reduced the threat of war in the Middle East. Mr. Trump has called the nuclear agreement a foreign-policy disaster. He vowed during his campaign to renegotiate or renounce the deal, one of President Obama's signature achievements. The report stated, "The deal proved that diplomacy with Iran can bear fruit despite skepticism about Iranian sincerity, the inclination of Iran's supreme leader to abide by the deal, or the ability of Iranian hard-liners to sabotage diplomacy." ... The report was produced by the National Iranian American Council, a Washington group that has advocated improved relations with Iran...


Iran's missile programme is "non-negotiable" and tests will continue, foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said on Tuesday, following criticism from European Union diplomats. "Iran's defence capabilities cannot be compromised and are under no circumstance negotiable," he told state television IRIB. "Missile tests are conducted within the framework of Iran's defence policies." A meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday urged Tehran to refrain from ballistic missile testing. Iran's military has carried out a number of missile tests in recent months, which the United States and European governments have said are a breach of its commitments under last year's nuclear deal.


Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani blasted the US, Israel and certain regional states for creating and assisting the terrorist groups in the region. "Today, there is precise intelligence showing that the US and the Zionist regime are assisting with the creation and supporting the terrorist stream in the region, and the governments of certain regional states are also suffering this plague," Larijani said in Tehran on Monday, addressing a ceremony to commemorate the martyrdom of Mohsen Khazaei, reporter of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, who was killed in Aleppo on Saturday. The Iranian speaker said that turmoil and spread of terrorism in the region creates the best conditions for the Zionist regime to survive.


President Barack Obama's administration said on Monday he would veto legislation seeking to block financial transactions related to the export of passenger aircraft to Iran, saying it would undermine the nuclear deal implemented early this year. The legislation in the House of Representatives is the latest Republican-led effort to stop the sale of aircraft to Iran by Airbus and Boeing Co, allowed under the nuclear deal. The White House said U.S. partners would view the bill, if implemented, as a violation of the nuclear agreement.


Canadian companies operating in Iran, or considering sales after an easing of sanctions against Tehran this year, are being warned by trade experts that a Donald Trump presidency could kill their ability to do business there. This is one of many areas where the Republican president-elect's policies will have economic repercussions for Canada. Airplane maker Bombardier Inc., for instance, is chasing deals in Iran, a country on the hunt for hundreds of commercial aircraft after Tehran agreed to give up parts of its nuclear program in exchange for a scaling back of sanctions... "Canadian businesses with U.S. parent companies or subsidiaries, or which use U.S.-made inputs should be very cautious when pursuing opportunities in Iran," said Cyndee Todgham Cherniak, a Toronto-based international trade lawyer. "What may be permissible under Canadian law may become impermissible under U.S. law in 2017."


China's third-largest lender tried to obscure the trail of dollar transactions by Russian, Chinese and Middle Eastern clients and attempted to silence a compliance officer who raised alarms about it, according to New York's banking regulator. State-controlled Agricultural Bank of China was ordered to pay a $215 million penalty and install an independent monitor for 18 months to oversee the establishment of compliance controls, New York State's Department of Financial Services said in a consent order Friday... Some invoices appeared to be counterfeited or falsified, the compliance staff said, including dollar transactions apparently involving an Iranian party under U.S. sanctions. Some of these transactions were sent through the global interbank-messaging system, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, using coded messages that masked client identities to avoid DFS screening, according to the consent order.

A company in Washtenaw County has been placed on probation for five years and ordered to pay $200,000 for selling industrial equipment to a company in Iran. Mectron's attorney had warned the company that it was illegal to sell equipment to Iran without an export license. Mectron didn't get one before selling a parts inspection machine in 2010 for $47,500. The Saline-based company pleaded guilty in February and was sentenced Wednesday.


Tehran is in talks with Russian companies on petroleum swap deals, Iran's deputy oil minister for international affairs Amir-Hossein Zamaninia said Thursday. "Yes, we are," he said when asked whether the country is in talks with the Russian Federation on swap deals. According to deputy minister, initially the deals may total 150,000 barrels per day to be increased to 500,000 barrels per day "within a short period of time." ... Tehran is planning to make heads of agreements with Russian companies Lukoil, Gazprom, Gazprom Neft, Zarubezhneft and Tatneft in the second half of December, Zamaninia pointed out. "Lukoil, Gazprom, Rosneft, Gazprom Neft, Zarubezhneft and Tatneft - all have made preliminary agreements with Iranian companies. All these (Russian) companies need to do their homework and then get the ball rolling on sealing the agreements in the second half of December. Preliminary discussion are already over," he said. Moscow and Tehran are in talks over a potential exclusive presentation of Iran's oil and gas contracts for Russian companies, Russia's Deputy Energy Minister Kirill Molodtsov said Thursday, adding that the two specialized ministers have reached this agreement and currently the place and date are being discussed... The new type of oil contract will be presented to Russian companies on November 17 in Tehran.

A Hong Kong business delegation visited the Iranian capital Tehran this week to explore new business opportunities arising from the Belt and Road Initiative. It is the city's first official delegation since the United Nations lifted sanctions against Iran in January this year. Financial Secretary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) John Tsang led more than 30 business leaders from finance, information and communications technology, infrastructure and real estate services and logistics sectors to Iran from 7 to 10 November. The delegation was jointly organised by the by the HKSAR Government and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC). Among them were Vice Chairman and Chief Executive of Bank of China (Hong Kong) Limited Yue Yi, Executive Director of China State Construction International Holdings Limited Danny Hung, Chairman of Airport Authority Hong Kong Jack So and the President of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Professor Tony Chan. 

South African Sasol Company's investment in Iran's petrochemical sector is under question, Amirhossein Bahraini, managing director of Iran's Arya Sasol Polymer Company, said. The company may withdraw from taking part in Iran's petrochemical projects due to high price of ethane feedstock for petrochemical units, Bahraini said, Mehr news agency reported Nov. 6. The National Iranian Petrochemical Company and Sasol jointly launched the Arya Sasol Polymer Company in southern Iran, he said, adding that Sasol divested its interest in the joint company under the sanctions in 2013 and henceforth, has no invested or operating interest in Iran. However, following the removal of the international sanctions the South African firm was seeking to make investment in Iran's petrochemical and polymer projects, Bahraini said.


U.S. officials are expressing concern about a budding arms pact between Iran and Russia estimated to be worth more than $10 billion, according to State Department officials who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon and expressed alarm over the "increased Iranian military capability." Iran's negotiations with Russia for new weapons and military hardware come after senior officials in Tehran dismissed the recent election of Donald Trump and warned his incoming administration against taking a firmer stance against the Islamic Republic's continued military buildup. Iran is angling to purchase T-90 tanks, artillery systems, and aircraft from Moscow that are expected to keep the Islamic Republic fully armed over the next several years, according to reports in Iran's state-controlled media... "We have seen those reports and call on both sides to ensure they respect their commitments under the [nuclear deal] and UNSCR 2231, which include restrictions on providing certain military systems to Iran," a State Department official told the Free Beacon. "We remain concerned with any increased Iranian military capability, and we've expressed those concerns."


Iran shut schools and apologised to tourists Monday as its cities were hit by choking levels of air pollution. A blanket of brown-white smog descended on the capital Tehran on Sunday, blocking views of the mountains that line its northern edge and forcing many of its 14 million residents to retreat indoors or don face masks in the street. The pollution in Tehran hit 156 on the Air Quality Index of deadly airborne particles, over the 150 considered "unhealthy" for the general public. In tourist hotspot Isfahan the level hit 167. Officials apologised to foreign visitors for the bleak conditions. "We hope our people's hospitality wipes the grey image of Tehran's beautiful attractions from their minds," the capital's tourism boss Rajab Ali Khosroabadi told the ISNA news agency. Kindergartens and primary schools in Tehran were ordered to stay closed Monday and Tuesday, and traffic restrictions were tightened.


One of America's first naval heroes, Commodore Stephen Decatur, was challenged by an Algerian admiral in 1815. Decatur's reply is now enshrined in international law for ships sailing the seven seas: "I go where I please." This ethos came to define the mission of the U.S. Navy - ensuring the high seas are free and safe for all legitimate shipping. But just as the Barbary pirates of yore impeded safe passage, U.S. vessels today are challenged by new aggressors, Iran foremost. Iranian forces or their proxies have forcibly tried to prevent the U.S. Navy from sailing freely in international waters in the Persian Gulf and, more recently, in the Red Sea. The U.S. response to this disturbing pattern of sea-borne belligerence, until recently, has been muted. This only invites ever more dangerous behavior from Iran. It is time for the United States to revive Decatur's intent and allow the Navy to assert our right to go "where we please" within the boundaries of international laws and norms of behavior.

Eye on Iran is a periodic news summary from United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) a program of the American Coalition Against Nuclear Iran, Inc., a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Eye on Iran is not intended as a comprehensive media clips summary but rather a selection of media elements with discreet analysis in a PDA friendly format. For more information please email press@uani.com.

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) is a non-partisan, broad-based coalition that is united in a commitment to prevent Iran from fulfilling its ambition to become a regional super-power possessing nuclear weapons.  UANI is an issue-based coalition in which each coalition member will have its own interests as well as the collective goal of advancing an Iran free of nuclear weapons.

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