Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Eye on Iran: FATF Continues Suspension Of Some Iran Restrictions

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The Financial Action Task Force, an international anti-money-laundering standards body, said Friday it would extend the suspension of some of its restrictions against Iran. The FATF last year granted Tehran 12 months to improve aspects of its anti-money-laundering program, saying Iran adopted and committed to an action plan to address some deficiencies. On Friday, the FATF said Iran has demonstrated a political commitment to, and taken some steps in line with, its action plan, giving the body enough reason to continue the suspension of what it calls "counter-measures." "The FATF will keep monitoring progress in the implementation of the action plan and consider next steps," the body said in a statement announcing the outcomes of its latest plenary meeting, held this week.

Tehran is the "largest state sponsor" of terror in the world and has gained "enormous influence" in the Middle East, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in an interview on Saturday, June 24. "Today, we find it [Iran] with enormous influence, influence that far outstrips where it was six or seven years ago," Pompeo told MSNBC. "Whether it's the influence they have over the government in Baghdad, whether it's the increasing strength of Hezbollah and Lebanon, their work alongside the Houthis in Yemen, the Iraqi Shias that are fighting along [them] now [at] the border [with] Syria - certainly the Shia forces that are engaged in Syria, Iran is everywhere throughout the Middle East," he added. Mike Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas, was referring to Iran-backed forces who under the label of 'Hashd al-Sha'bi (Popular Mobilization Forces or PMF) are fighting to oust Islamic State group (IS) militants from Iraq-Syrian border areas.

Four Arab states that imposed a boycott on Qatar have issued an ultimatum to Doha to close Al Jazeera television, curb ties with Iran, shut a Turkish base and pay reparations, demands so far reaching it would appear to be hard for Doha to comply.  Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have sent a 13-point list of demands apparently aimed at dismantling their tiny but wealthy neighbor's two-decade-old interventionist foreign policy which has incensed them. Kuwait is helping mediate the dispute. A Qatari government spokesman said Doha was reviewing the list of demands and that a formal response would be made by the foreign ministry and delivered to Kuwait, but added that the demands were not reasonable or actionable. "This list of demands confirms what Qatar has said from the beginning - the illegal blockade has nothing to do with combating terrorism, it is about limiting Qatar's sovereignty, and outsourcing our foreign policy," Sheikh Saif al-Thani director of Qatar's government communications office, said in a statement.


At issue is the invisible hand of sanctioned organizations like the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its vast economic footprint. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, the IRGC is Iran's "most powerful economic actor." It represents around one-sixth of the country's gross domestic product and controls hundreds of front companies that mask its involvement in huge swaths of the economy. Just consider the case of Taiwan's Yang Ming, one of the largest cargo shipping lines in the world. In March, it confirmed to United Against Nuclear Iran, an advocacy group where I serve as an advisory board member, that it would stop its work at Iran's largest container port by the end of April. The layers of ownership are endlessly complex: One IRGC-controlled entity, the Tidewater Middle East Co., is blacklisted by the Treasury Department and operates in six of Iran's ports and terminals: Assaluyeh Port, Bandar Anzali, Bandar Imam Khomeini Grain Terminal, Aprin Port, Amir Abad Port Complex, and Khorramshar Port. That means foreign shipping companies could unwittingly become entangled by IRGC-controlled entities that have successfully masked their involvement in the industry - paying loading, docking and other port fees to an internationally-sanctioned terrorist group.

The highly-consequential verdict of the Financial Action Task Force was issued in favor of Iran-albeit not to the country's expectations-as the global standard-setting body for anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism extended the suspension of countermeasures against the Islamic Republic on Friday. The intergovernmental organization recognized "Iran's demonstration of its political commitment and the relevant steps it has taken in line with its Action Plan" and indefinitely extended its suspension of countermeasures for Tehran to address its shortcomings, FATF's website reported. On June 19, two former US senators who are now top-level officials with the United Against Nuclear Iran-a non-partisan, non-profit advocacy organization in the US-wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, exhorting the FATF to not only call on its members to reinstate sanctions against Iran, but also "implement more stringent resolutions"

As the White House formulates its official policy on Iran, senior officials and key allies of President Donald Trump are calling for the new administration to take steps to topple Tehran's militant clerical government. Supporters of dislodging Iran's iron-fisted clerical leadership say it's the only way to halt Tehran's dangerous behavior, from its pursuit of nuclear weapons to its sponsorship of terrorism. Critics say that political meddling in Iran, where memories of a 1953 CIA-backed coup remain vivid, risks a popular backlash that would only empower hard-liners. That's why President Barack Obama assured Iranians, in a 2013 speech at the United Nations, that "we are not seeking regime change." But influential Iran hawks want to change that under Trump.


Iranian security forces have arrested members of a group linked to Islamic State which had planned bombings and suicide attacks in religious centers, state television reported on Saturday. Intelligence Ministry agents "were able to arrest a group linked to Daesh (Islamic state) that intended to carry out terror operations in religious cities ..., and (seized) explosive and suicide attack equipment," the television said. It did not say how many militants were held. The arrests came days after Iranian Revolutionary Guards fired missiles from western Iran into eastern Syria, aiming at bases of the Islamic State which had claimed responsibility for twin attacks that killed 18 people in Tehran on June 7.

Both Iran and Qatar on Saturday voiced support for Saudi Arabia over a suicide bombing near Islam's holiest site in Mecca despite their severed ties. "Iran... as always expresses its readiness to assist and cooperate with other countries to confront these criminals, who deal death and ignorantly spread hate," foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi said. The Qatari foreign ministry expressed "solidarity with the brotherly kingdom of Saudi Arabia". Six foreign pilgrims were wounded when a suicide bomber blew himself up near the Grand Mosque in Mecca, where hundreds of thousands of worshippers had gathered for prayers on the last Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. The Saudi interior ministry said a wider plot had been foiled with the arrest of five suspects earlier in the day.


Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Friday that a future war waged by Israel against Syria or Lebanon could draw thousands of fighters from countries including Iran and Iraq. His comments indicated that the same array of Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias - but not countries - currently fighting in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad could take part in any future conflict with Israel. Tensions have risen between Hezbollah and its longtime foe Israel in recent months since Donald Trump became U.S. president with his tough talk against Iran. Israel's air force chief said his country would use all its strength from the start in any new war with Hezbollah. "The Israeli enemy must know that if an Israeli war is launched against Syria or Lebanon, it is not known that the fighting will remain Lebanese-Israeli, or Syrian-Israeli," Nasrallah said in a televised speech.


Iran said Sunday the two-stage missiles it fired at Islamic State targets in Syria broke apart over the Iraqi desert as planned, mocking reports that some of the projectiles fell short. State TV's website quoted the airspace division chief of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh as saying "we had coordinated the fall of the engines in the desert in Iraq" in advance. "The missiles we used were two-stage, it means that the engine separates from the warhead," said Hajizadeh. Hajizadeh said U.S. drones hovered over the targets after shortly the Iranian missiles hit them. He said the U.S. may have been informed beforehand about the attack, as they had informed the Russian military, which may have relayed the information to the Americans.

A US airstrike on Syrian positions in al-Tanf on June 6 is a sign that the United States and Iran are taking sides on opposite sides of this latest fault line in the region. Arash Karami reports that Iran on June 18 for the first time launched missiles against IS positions in eastern Syria. "The timing of the strikes," Karami writes, "has led some to believe the message was also intended for the new US administration, which is adopting a policy of regime change for Tehran and is reportedly seeking to confront Iran militarily in Syria." Hashem explains that the notion of a "road link" or "land bridge" from Tehran to Beirut "might, however, be an overstatement or a bit of hyperventilating analysis, given that in the past Israeli fighter jets have on several occasions hit alleged arm supplies near and around Damascus. A longer route, mainly through a no man's land in remote areas of Iraq, is likely to be vulnerable to hits by the Israeli or US air forces, not to mention possible attacks by insurgents, including IS."


Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, called on Europe on Monday to use its influence to promote dialogue in the Persian Gulf after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar earlier this month. Blaming Iran or Qatar for "terrorism" is an attempt by those countries to avoid taking responsibility for their own failures in addressing the demands of their own people, he said in a speech in the German capital in which he argued for a new regional security mechanism for the Gulf countries.


Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, has been heckled during an annual pro-Palestinian rally in Tehran, a week after he was criticised by the supreme leader, as a power struggle between the two appeared to escalate. Rouhani, who was participating in the Quds rally, which is held on the last Friday of Ramadan, had to be rushed to his car after protesters shouted slogans comparing him to Abolhassan Banisadr, the country's first president who was impeached and later exiled after falling foul of the clerical establishment. "Rouhani, Banisadr, happy marriage," protesters chanted. There were also shouts of "Death to liar, death to American mullah". This month, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, humiliated Rouhani in public, saying he should not polarise the society in the same way - in Khamenei's opinion - that Banisadr did.

As President Hassan Rouhani addressed a gathering of Iran's top political and military leaders, he outlined core themes that helped him secure a landslide election victory, including the need to attract foreign investment to help create hundreds of thousands of jobs. But the most powerful man in the room, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Islamic republic's supreme leader, was unimpressed. "The president mentioned many things that must be done...but who must do them? He must," he said dismissively. Video footage of the event this month showed Mr Rouhani listening with a rueful smile as Mr Khamenei's caustic comments drew laughs from the audience. The episode underlined how the pragmatic president is facing increasing resistance from powerful hardline elements of the regime who are determined to curb his influence in the wake of his election victory last month.

Observers have begun analyzing who could be Iran's next supreme leader as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's deteriorates, with many saying that Khamenei's death will mark a turning point for the Iranian Republic. This comes as Foreign Affairs magazine ran an analysis saying that Khamenei desperately wants a smooth transition and is insisting that someone personally and ideologically close to him take over the helm once he dies. Sanam Vakil and Hossein Rassam, authors of the Foreign Affairs piece, argue against the notion that "the deep state" will "safeguard the Islamic Republic long after he is gone." "The problem with this argument is that the deep state is hardly invincible, and those in the regime who are aching for reform, including President Hassan Rouhani and his circle, are hardly impotent," Sanam Vakil and Hossein Rassam wrote.


One of the Obama administration's biggest diplomatic ambitions was to establish better relations with Iran, a nation with which the United States has been at odds since the fall of the shah and the rise of a powerful theocratic government in Tehran in 1979. The most important manifestation of that effort was a deal negotiated by the administration and its allies under which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. That momentary thaw, if not the agreement itself, now seems at risk. Partly this is a result of Iran's barely-concealed territorial and political ambitions, which are rightly of concern in Washington. Partly it is a result of President Trump's fondness for Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim nation, which has led him to demonize Iran, a Shiite nation and the Saudis' chief rival for regional influence. A potential flashpoint is looming in Syria. There, Iran and the United States share a common goal of defeating the Islamic State. But they have competing interests, which are growing even as the fight against ISIS seems to be going well and indeed may be approaching the endgame.

Hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough at its signing in July 2015, Iran's nuclear agreement with leading members of the international community-formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)-has achieved some notable short-term successes, many in Iran's favor. Most, not all, of Iran's nuclear activities are either frozen or highly circumscribed. In exchange, Iran is reaping the benefit of receipt of billions of dollars in previously frozen assets as well as a return to international commerce where Europe and China, among others, are seeking to invigorate trade and investment with the theocratic regime. This will be a boon for Iran's chronically mismanaged and struggling economy. The bad news is that it is misleading to conclude that Iran's nuclear ambitions have been shuttered or that those ambitions will no longer pose a threat to the security and stability of the Middle East or beyond. This is because the agreement has finite limits, ranging from 10 years to 15 years depending on the issue.

In the past five weeks, U.S. forces in Syria have struck directly at the Assad regime and its allies in Syria no less than four times. On May 18, U.S. warplanes struck regime and allied militia forces that breached a 34-mile exclusion zone around a U.S. outpost in southeastern Syria. Then on June 8 and June 20, the United States shot down Iranian-made drones as they approached the outpost. But the most dramatic event so far was the June 18 downing of a Syrian air force Su-22 by a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet. This took place after regime forces attacked a town held by the U.S.-aligned Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near Tabqa, in northern Syria. The Su-22 dropped bombs near the SDF fighters, ignored U.S. warnings, and was then shot down.

In "Iran's Next Supreme Leader" (May/June 2017), Sanam Vakil and Hossein Rassam convincingly argue that the death of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will mark a turning point in the Islamic Republic. They are right that Khamenei desperately wants a smooth transition and is insisting that someone personally and ideologically close to him take over the helm once he dies. But Vakil and Rassam err when they contend that "the deep state"-defined as "an intricate security, intelligence, and economic superstructure composed of underlings who are fiercely loyal to him"-will "safeguard the Islamic Republic long after he is gone." The problem with this argument is that the deep state is hardly invincible, and those in the regime who are aching for reform, including President Hassan Rouhani and his circle, are hardly impotent. In fact, the reformists consider Khamenei's departure a golden opportunity to steer the regime in a new direction, and they appear ready for battle.

The days of ISIS are numbered and voices are heard about the entire region being forced into a far more disastrous conflict. Various parties, mainly the US and Iran, have begun jostling, seeking to inject their influence onto what the future holds for Syria. As Iran has also wreaked havoc in Iraq and Yemen, concerns are rallying on Tehran going the distance to pull the US full-scale into the Syria inferno. Such a mentality results from misunderstanding the nature of what is known as the Iranian regime. After establishing a foothold in the strategic town of al-Tanf near the Iraq-Jordan-Syria border, US forces designated a buffer zone to provide protection for their own troops and resources, alongside their allies of anti-Assad opposition rebels.

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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