Thursday, May 18, 2017

Eye on Iran: Trump Administration Keeps 'Status Quo' On Iran Sanctions

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The Trump administration's decision to renew waivers under the nuclear deal and add seven to its blacklist adheres to the status quo regarding the U.S. posture on Iran, sanctions experts said. On Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury Department put seven individuals and entities, including two senior Iranian defense officials and a China-based network, under sanctions for their alleged roles in Iran's missile programs. Treasury said it took action in conjunction with a report on Iranian human rights violations released by the U.S. State Department. An official told The Wall Street Journal that the administration is also signing a sanctions waiver for Iran in line with the terms of the nuclear agreement. Together, experts said, the twin moves of renewing waivers and expanding non-nuclear sanctions targets "preserve the status quo" under the nuclear deal as the administration continues a broader policy review. President Donald Trump criticized the nuclear agreement during the campaign, but he has toned down his remarks since taking office.

The Trump administration signaled on Wednesday that it would not, for now, jettison the Iran nuclear deal, despite the president's harsh criticism of the agreement during the campaign. Facing a deadline of Thursday, the administration said it was waiving sanctions against Iran, as required under the deal. To have done otherwise would have violated the accord, freeing the Iranians to resume the production of nuclear fuel without any of the limits negotiated by the Obama administration two years ago. But while acknowledging that the deal would remain in place, the administration imposed modest new sanctions against several Iranian individuals and four organizations, including a China-based network that supplied missile-related items to a key Iranian defense entity. That appeared to be an effort to mollify Republican critics of the deal, which President Trump has called a "disaster" and said he would have negotiated far more skillfully.

As it reviews the landmark Iranian nuclear deal President Trump once vowed to tear up, the Trump administration imposed a fresh set of sanctions on Tehran's ballistic missile program Wednesday. But the administration also re-upped the program that eased other economic sanctions on Iran as a result of the 2015 international deal that has essentially blocked Tehran's ability to create the fuel used for nuclear bombs. The dual action appears to be part of strategy to stick with the nuclear agreement while trying to punish Iran for its continued development of ballistic missiles and support for terrorist groups, a policy consistent with President Obama's approach.


President Hassan Rouhani faces a hard-line opponent in a national vote Friday that is shaping up as one of the most contentious and consequential elections since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979. The contest puts before Iranian voters two candidates with conflicting visions for the country-Mr. Rouhani, who has made an opening to the West, and a political newcomer wary of where such a path leads Ebrahim Raisi, a 56-year-old cleric with close ties to Iran's supreme leader, has emerged as a tougher-than-expected challenger, taking advantage of economic troubles and railing during campaign rallies against inefficient government and its failure to address corruption.

US President Donald Trump passed up a chance to derail the nuclear deal with Iran on Wednesday, a move analysts said reflected business interests at home and diplomatic relations abroad. During Trump's election campaign he vowed to "rip up" the nuclear agreement with Tehran if elected, calling it "the worst deal ever". Trump had until Thursday to extend a sanctions waiver on Iran, and the US state department announced a day earlier it would be signed, meaning old sanctions wouldn't be re-imposed and the nuclear deal will continue - at least for now. "We are communicating to the US Congress that the United States continues to waive sanctions as required to continue implementing US sanctions-lifting commitments," a State Department statement said.


China said on Thursday it had lodged a complaint with the United States after it imposed narrow penalties on Iranian and Chinese figures for supporting Iran's ballistic missile program China has complained repeatedly to the United States about unilateral sanctions against Chinese individuals and companies linked to either Iran or North Korea's nuclear or missile programs. U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday extended wide sanctions relief for Iran called for under a 2015 international nuclear deal even as he imposed the new penalties. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China followed local rules and regulations and closely adhered to its responsibilities to the international community. "China is opposed to the blind use of unilateral sanctions particularly when it damages the interests of third parties. I think the sanctions are unhelpful in enhancing mutual trust and unhelpful for international efforts on this issue," she told a daily news briefing.


U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday extended wide sanctions relief for Iran called for under a 2015 international nuclear deal even as he imposed narrow penalties on Iranian and Chinese figures for supporting Iran's ballistic missile program. The dual actions, announced by the Departments of State and Treasury, appeared intended to signal a tough stance on Iran even as Trump continued predecessor President Barack Obama's pact under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. While Trump criticized the nuclear agreement as a presidential candidate - at one point saying he would "dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran" - Wednesday's actions demonstrated that he has decided, at least for now, to keep it.

In February 2016, Helga Kern boarded a plane to Iran, registered with the depository to trade stocks and within weeks opened a broker account and started buying shares, all with the aim of launching an Iran fund for Western investors. But on the eve of Friday's presidential election in Iran, Kern, who is a managing partner at Swiss fund advisory firm KK Research, has little hope that other investors will emulate her dash into the oil-rich country which had appeared on the verge of ending three decades of isolation. "If you had asked me a year ago, I would have been more optimistic," said Kern, who still travels to Iran regularly but for now focuses on research on Iranian firms and industries. The launch of the investment fund has been postponed. "At the time I was very much convinced that Iran would open up fast - but now I would put a question mark over the 'fast'," she told Reuters from Zurich.


Israel has often had hostile relations with its Muslim neighbors. But right now its greatest enemy may be Iran, which has one of the most powerful militaries in the region and has for years been openly hostile toward the very existence of Israel. The situation may only be getting worse, with Iran seemingly on the rise since the Obama administration hatched a deal with the country that lifted international sanctions and gave the Islamic Republic approximately $100 billion in frozen assets. Israel's relations with Iran have changed since the Jewish state's founding in 1948. Up until 1979, the two countries had relatively close ties. With Israel sometimes at war with its Arab neighbors, the non-Arab Iran was an important ally.

A recent study of political statements by key Iranian officials throughout 2016 and the first half of 2017 provides interesting insights into the country's political vision and identifies future trends in its foreign policy, especially with regards to bilateral relations with the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey and key issues such as the nuclear deal, Syria, and the Palestinian question. The study, conducted by Al Jazeera Centre for Political and Strategic Studies and titled Priorities of Iran's Foreign Policy, analysed 1400 statements by prominent figures including Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif, the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the minister of defense and armed forces, Hossein Dehghan. While both the Supreme Leader and the IRGC leadership showcase Iran as a regional powerhouse, the more reformist Rouhani and the ministry of foreign affairs focus on Iran's role in combating "terrorism".


Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denounced the heated rhetoric of Iran's presidential election campaign on Wednesday as "unworthy", a thinly-veiled rebuke of pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani's attacks on his main conservative challenger. The withdrawal of other conservative candidates has turned Friday's election into an unexpectedly tight two-horse race between Rouhani, 68, and hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, a 56-year-old protege of the supreme leader. Khamenei's intervention could help sway the vote by signaling dissatisfaction with Rouhani's conduct. "In the election debates, some remarks were made that were unworthy of the Iranian nation. But the (wide) participation of the people will erase all of that," Khamenei told an audience on Wednesday, according to his own website.

President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday urged Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militia under its control not to meddle in Friday's presidential election, in a rare warning that underscored rising political tensions. The Guards, who oversee an economic empire worth billions of dollars, are seldom criticised in public, but the pragmatist Rouhani is locked in an unexpectedly tight race against hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who is believed to have their support. "We just have one request: for the Basij and the Revolutionary Guards to stay in their own place for their own work," Rouhani said in a campaign speech in the city of Mashad, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).  Rouhani reinforced his appeal by quoting the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, who he said had warned the armed forces against interfering in politics.

As Tehran's notorious traffic slowed, the waiting campaigners pounced, pushing posters with the smiling face of Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, through the open windows of trapped cars, pleading for votes and shouting slogans as drivers edged away. They were determined to make every minute count in the last days of a campaign in which Rouhani began as favourite, but has ended locked in a bitter and close-run fight with a conservative rival. The short-term stakes of Friday's election are high: the future of 2015's landmark nuclear deal and Iran's cautious rapprochement with the west; the direction of its economy; control of its oilfields; and the freedom given to dissent. In the long term, the election could decide an even more crucial political battle -that for Iran's next supreme leader. The successor to ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamanei will be the most powerful person in Iran, and only the third person to lead the Islamic republic since its foundation.

For months now, a black-turbaned cleric from eastern Iran has been campaigning in provincial cities, presenting himself as an anticorruption hero as he rallies support among the poor and the pious in an underdog effort to win the presidency in Friday's election. While the candidate, Ebrahim Raisi, 56, a hard-liner who made his career in Iran's judiciary, seems to have come out of nowhere, he is seen as a favorite and possible successor to Iran's 78-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Winning the presidency, many analysts say, could be a major step in his ascent to that all-powerful position. "When he speaks I hear our leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei," said Hadi Seifollah, 32, who runs a shop selling prayer mats, religious rings and the white-and-black checkered scarves worn by Iran's paramilitary basij forces. "Raisi believes first in the Islamic Republic, its ideology," he added. "He will deal with corruption. Other candidates only talk about the economy."

Iranians vote in a presidential election on Friday that could decide the country's direction and who gets a more powerful job that isn't on the ballot paper: the Islamic Republic's next supreme leader. Since Ebrahim Raisi, until recently a little-known cleric, entered the race last month talk is rife about whether he is being groomed as a potential successor to Ali Khamenei. The 77-year-old head of state is supposed to be above the political fray, but his perceived support for Raisi has united conservatives and electrified an otherwise routine election campaign. No Iranian president has lost a bid for a second term in the history of the republic founded by the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Khamenei's intervention means that although still the opinion poll favorite, Rouhani has come closer to being the first.


Tomorrow, Iran will hold its 12th presidential election. The election is now a two-man race between incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, the centrist-reformist candidate, and Ebrahim Raisi, the candidate closest to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. In the past week, polls show Rouhani over the 50 percent threshold he needs to win, but also show that almost 50 percent of voters are either undecided or don't express their preference. The election results are anything but a foregone conclusion. Those who call these elections window dressing will continue to miss both the intricate politics on display and the underlying issues that inform them.

The Trump administration had no sooner renewed a waiver on U.S. sanctions against Iran's crude-oil exports Wednesday than it introduced a raft of new sanctions against the regime. Call it the waive-and-slap approach. The oil-exports sanctions waiver, which will continue to temporarily allow Iran to sell its crude oil to international customers despite the statutory sanctions, had come due as part of the Iran nuclear deal. But their renewal is no sign that President Trump is flip-flopping on his campaign promise to "tear up" the deal. The Trump administration is currently conducting an Iran-policy review. The last thing Mr. Trump should do before this policy is finalized is to make drastic and premature decisions that could incite a diplomatic backlash.

A CIA official said during the Ronald Reagan time in office that Saudi Arabia was one of the most important allies of America during the 1980's, adding that the Americans viewed the Saudi kingdom as a decisive factor towards fulfilling many significant aims. The US partnership with Saudi Arabia achieved many mutual goals, particularly in terms of confronting the communist tide. What facilitated bilateral cooperation is that both countries were worried of the consequences of this communist expansion. Back then, Prince Bandar bin Sultan said Saudi Arabia's influence was major and thought that the reward for this cooperation must be much more than the AWACs surveillance aircrafts and it must be "nuclear arms." Throughout the history of American-Saudi relations, mutual worries were the ember and flame of cooperation. This has been the case since the presidential term of Franklin Roosevelt and up until Donald Trump's. Back then, the communist threat was mutual.

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

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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