Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Eye on Iran: Trump Adds Sanctions On Iran After Certifying Its Compliance With Nuclear Deal

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The Trump administration announced new Iran-related sanctions on Tuesday intended to show its toughened stance toward the country despite having grudgingly recertified Iran's compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. The sanctions, jointly announced by departments of State, Treasury and Justice, designated 18 individuals and entities that the administration said were involved in activities including missile development, weapons procurement, and software theft. "The United States remains deeply concerned about Iran's malign activities across the Middle East, which undermine regional stability, security, and prosperity," the announcement said. It came less than 12 hours after President Trump reluctantly agreed that Iran has been honoring the nuclear agreement that relaxed many sanctions on the country in return for verifiable curbs on its nuclear activities Under an American law, the president must make such a declaration every 90 days. That law has become a vexing issue for Mr. Trump, who railed against the nuclear agreement reached under his predecessor, Barack Obama.

President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday new U.S. economic sanctions imposed against Iran contravened the country's nuclear accord with world powers and he vowed that Tehran would "resist" them, state television reported. The Trump administration slapped the new sanctions on Iran on Tuesday over its ballistic missile program and said Tehran's "malign activities" in the Middle East undercut any "positive contributions" coming from the 2015 Iran nuclear accord. "Some of the actions of the Americans are against the spirit and even the letter of the (nuclear accord). We shall resist these plans and actions," Iranian state television quoted Rouhani as saying.

A high-stakes power struggle between Iran's moderate president and his hard-line opponents in the judiciary appeared to escalate with the arrest of the president's brother and the conviction of an American student for espionage this weekend - rulings that seemed timed to embarrass the Iranian leader at home and abroad. President Hassan Rouhani, who was reelected in a landslide in May, has challenged the conservative establishment by pledging reforms in Iran and advocating diplomacy and openness toward the rest of the world. His recent criticisms of the hard-line judiciary and powerful security forces have prompted public rebukes from the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who wields ultimate authority in Iran. The tensions come as Iran and the United States spar over the terms of a nuclear deal struck with world powers to limit Iran's nuclear weapons program.


The Iran nuclear deal faces an uncertain future under President Trump, despite his reluctant decision on Monday to certify Iran's compliance for the second time in his young presidency. The Trump administration walked a careful tightrope, balancing the president's deep disgust with the agreement with the united consensus of his most senior national security advisers that the U.S. should stay in, at least for now. National security adviser H.R. McMaster and others reportedly had to talk the president into recertifying at the eleventh hour - something Trump would only agree to under certain conditions, according to The New York Times It's unclear what those conditions are, leaving open the possibility that in 90 days, the administration will once again play chicken with the landmark agreement. "The administration's strategy on Iran is no different than the rest of their foreign policy - it doesn't exist," said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It was the second time since Trump took office that he's had to certify Iran is in compliance with an agreement that he repeatedly called the "worst deal ever negotiated" on the campaign trail.


Iran's president says his country will stand up to the United States and reciprocate for any new sanctions that America imposes on the Islamic Republic. Hassan Rouhani says that if Washington, under any pretext, imposes new sanctions against Iran, "we will stand up to the United States. He says the "great nation of Iran will have an appropriate answer" and then adds - without elaborating - that the Iranian parliament will also act. Rouhani's remarks on Wednesday were broadcast on state TV. He spoke a day after the Trump administration announced new, non-nuclear sanctions on Iranians while at the same time warning Iran that it would face consequences for breaching "the spirit" of the nuclear deal with world powers. The new sanctions target 18 Iranian individuals and groups.

By the time Princeton University graduate student Xiyue Wang arrived in Iran to conduct research for his doctorate in history, he had already spent years living and working in politically turbulent countries. The Chinese-born U.S. citizen previously worked as a Pashto translator for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan and spent time in Uzbekistan while a student at Harvard University. Wang, 37, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on spying charges after his arrest last summer, an Iranian official said on Sunday. He is the latest American citizen to face jail in Iran for what the U.S. State Department has denounced as fabricated charges. His sentencing shocked his colleagues at Princeton, who described him in interviews as a quiet but collegial scholar whose intellectual curiosity stood out even at the elite school in New Jersey.  Wang is married and has a 4-year-old son. In addition to Pashto, English and his native Mandarin, Wang is also proficient in Russian and Turkish and was learning Persian in Iran.  His wife, Hua Qu, said in a statement on Tuesday that her husband "has been unjustly imprisoned for espionage that I know he did not and never would commit."

The wife of a Princeton graduate student sentenced to 10 years behind bars in Iran called on authorities there to release him Tuesday, saying the Chinese-American man has been "unjustly imprisoned." Xiyue Wang was arrested nearly a year ago but his confinement only became known Sunday when Iran's judiciary announced his sentence, accusing him of "infiltrating" the country and sending confidential material abroad. The 37-year-old, described by Iranian authorities as holding Chinese and American citizenship, was in Iran doing research for his doctorate in late 19th and early 20th century Eurasian history when he was detained. In her first comments on his case, Wang's wife Hua Qu described her husband as "one of the kindest, most thoughtful, and most loving men I have ever known." She said the couple has a four-year-old son.


For years, Iranians have had to put up with the likes of "Mash Donalds" and "Pizza Hat". Now real Western food franchises have finally arrived, but doing business in Iran is not for the faint-hearted. Despite strict international sanctions being eased under a nuclear deal with world powers last year, the Iranian economy remains bogged down by red tape and struggles to attract foreign investors. But a couple of European food franchises have decided the risks are worth taking for a taste of the estimated $7 billion (six billion euros) Iranians spend in restaurants each year, and which local consultancy ILIA says will double in the next decade. Spain's Telepizza opened its first outlet this month through an Iranian consortium that plans to pump 100 million euros into expanding nationwide. But one of the first Europeans to really get his hands dirty on the ground is 41-year-old French entrepreneur Amaury de la Serre, who bought the rights to launch Sushi Shop in Iran after falling in love with the country during a visit in 2013.


Three of the leading international powers involved in Syria's war-the U.S., Russia and Iran-are looking to expand and fortify their military presence in the country by building and upgrading foreign bases, with some already in the works. U.S. special operations forces have been involved in Syria for years, and the U.S. appears to be broadening the platforms from which it operates. Earlier this month, satellite imagery showed what appeared to be the construction of a new airstrip near Syria's southern border with Jordan and Iraq, according to The Daily Beast. This base, along with other "temporary" installations, reportedly could be used to both battle the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and bolster forces of the rebel Free Syrian Army in areas where fighters supportive of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are poised to take over. Meanwhile, Assad allies Russia and Iran have announced plans to develop their own military presence in the country.


Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Monday that he hopes Yemen's war will not spark direct confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia and that they can work together to end the conflict in the country and Syria. A Saudi-led Arab coalition intervened in Yemen's civil war in 2015, backing government forces fighting Iran-allied Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia and Iran compete for influence in the Middle East, also supporting rival groups in Syria's civil war. Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman said in May that any struggle for influence between the kingdom and Iran ought to take place "inside Iran, not in Saudi Arabia." When asked at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in New York if he was worried about direct confrontation between Tehran and Riyadh, Zarif said: "We certainly hope not. ... We don't have to fight; we don't need to fight. We don't need to try to exclude each other from the scene in the Middle East."


Two men have gone on trial in Saudi Arabia charged with spying for Iran and plotting to attack a major oil pipeline, two Saudi newspapers reported on Wednesday. In a rare espionage case involving the two arch-rivals, the Saudi teachers face charges of gathering information on the East-West Pipeline of the world's top oil exporter and plotting to blow it up, the Makkah and Al Weeam newspapers said. Riyadh's Public Prosecutor has asked the judge in the case to issue a verdict, but the judge has given the two men three weeks to defend themselves in another hearing, Makkah reported. The 5 million barrel per day Petroline mainly transports crude from fields in the kingdom's oil-producing east to the Red Sea port of Yanbu for export to Europe and North America and can handle around 60 percent of the kingdom's total oil exports.


An amendment proposed by the Iranian Parliament's Women's Block to the country's passport Law does nothing to ease state restrictions on married women's ability to independently travel abroad, a legal expert told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). "The proposed amendment still gives the authorities the power to decide whether married women can leave the country or not," said Farideh Gheirat, a prominent human rights lawyer. "This is essentially the same as the current law."  "I will be very frank: When I read the news about this amendment, I was surprised that there was nothing new," she added. "The law still does not give women the freedom to travel." On July 12, 2017, the reformist leader of the Women's Block in Parliament, Parvaneh Salahshouri, claimed the amendment would make it easier for certain categories of married women to travel abroad."We have proposed an amendment to Article 18 [of the Passport Law] regarding exit permits for women so that they would be able to travel out of the country under special circumstances," said the MP.

A central part of President Hassan Rouhani's campaign for re-election ahead of Iran's May 19 balloting focused on addressing the demands of female voters. Emphasizing women's rights more than any other candidate, the moderate Rouhani promised Iranian women equal employment opportunities and access to better services if elected to a second term. Now, women expecting the president to fulfill his promises have launched various campaigns to demand that he appoint women as ministers in his second-term Cabinet. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is under pressure to appoint women ministers after having focused on addressing the demands of female voters during his campaign for re-election. Using a Persian hashtag that translates as #NoToTheModerate'sMaleCabinet, women's rights activists have turned to Twitter and other social media networks to push for a more active role for women in managing the country. These efforts are nothing new; many first used the hashtag during a Cabinet reshuffle in October to push Rouhani to introduce female nominees for three ministerial posts he was seeking to change - the ministers of youth affairs and sports, of education and of culture and Islamic guidance.


Monday was a tough day for President Trump's agenda. As the Senate's bid to overturn Obamacare collapsed amid Republican infighting (more on that later in the newsletter), the White House reluctantly certified Iran's compliance with the nuclear deal signed by the Obama administration in 2015. This was the second time the Trump administration has done so - it is required every 90 days to notify Congress whether Iran is living up to its commitments. Trump assented to the move with profound reservations and pushed for more sanctions on Iran. "Senior administration officials made clear that the certification was grudging," my colleague Karen DeYoung wrote, "and said that President Trump intends to impose new sanctions on Iran for ongoing 'malign activities' in non-nuclear areas such as ballistic missile development and support for terrorism." Trump reportedly fumed at having to assent to another certification of Iran's compliance, which was confirmed by international monitors and the other signatories to the agreement.

On June 14, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testified before the House Foreign Relations Committee that the Donald Trump administration's Iran policy was still under development and had not yet been submitted to the president. But he conceded that the policy included the intention to "work toward support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government." This is another way of saying that the Trump administration's official policy toward Iran will likely be regime change. If that proves the case, Washington will have inadvertently made itself a far greater danger to the stability of Middle East than Tehran. This might sound like an apology for the Iranian regime. It is not. The current regime in Iran has many faults: It is repressive and authoritarian, abuses human rights and severely limits the legitimate aspirations to greater political freedom of its own people. Nonetheless, the faults of the regime and the inflammatory rhetoric of some of its supporters should not distort the picture.

The announcement on Sunday that Iran had sentenced Xiyue Wang, an American citizen and Princeton graduate student who was arrested last summer while doing research in the country, to 10 years in prison for being a spy for American and British intelligence, came the day before President Donald Trump was scheduled to recertify the Iran nuclear deal that President Barack Obama had reached in 2015. Mr. Trump had campaigned against the agreement; Mr. Wang's seizure, like so many other aggressive actions that the Iranian regime has engaged in since the nuclear deal was concluded, should have, some of his supporters surely thought, obliged the White House to abandon the Iran policy advanced by his predecessor. No such luck. And given the administration's decision Monday to issue only minor sanctions against the Islamic Republic, while recertifying Tehran's adherence to the atomic accord, it's doubtful that President Trump intends to seek Mr. Wang's release any more vigorously than had the Obama administration. Hostage-taking - for that's what was done to Mr. Wang - in the Islamic Republic is both statecraft and soulcraft. Hostages become pawns and condign punishment in the clerical regime's endless duel with the West.

The Iran nuclear deal's recent two-year anniversary prompted numerous positive commentaries on the agreement's accomplishments to date. However, as the Trump administration reviews US policy on Iran, it should remember that sunny though the present may seem, the deal's long-term costs are many and heavy-and long outweigh the benefits. So, with respect to the Iran deal, we should brace ourselves, for winter is coming. The deal's short-term positives are noteworthy. Iran has shipped out most of its stockpile of enriched uranium, is temporarily prohibited from enriching uranium to anywhere near weapons-grade levels, and redesigned its heavy-water Arak reactor so that it cannot make weapons-grade plutonium. Consequently, Iran's "breakout time," the period it would take Tehran to develop a nuclear weapon, has expanded from several months pre-deal to closer to a year.

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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