Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Eye on Iran: Trump Recertifies Iran Nuclear Deal, But Only Reluctantly

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President Trump agreed on Monday to certify again that Iran is complying with an international nuclear agreement that he has strongly criticized, but only after hours of arguing with his top national security advisers, briefly upending a planned announcement as a legal deadline loomed. Mr. Trump has repeatedly condemned the deal brokered by President Barack Obama as a dangerous capitulation to Iran, but six months into his presidency he has not abandoned it. The decision on Monday was the second time his administration certified Iran's compliance, and aides said a frustrated Mr. Trump had told his security team that he would not keep doing so indefinitely. Administration officials announced the certification on Monday evening while emphasizing that they intended to toughen enforcement of the deal, apply new sanctions on Iran for its support of terrorism and other destabilizing activities, and negotiate with European partners to craft a broader strategy to increase pressure on Tehran. Aides said Mr. Trump had insisted on such actions before agreeing to the consensus recommendation of his national security team.

The Trump administration told Congress for a second time Monday that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal and can keep enjoying sanctions relief, even as it insisted Tehran would face consequences for breaching "the spirit" of the deal. President Donald Trump, who lambasted the 2015 pact as a candidate, gave himself more time to decide whether to scuttle it or let it stand. Instead, senior Trump administration officials sought to emphasize their deep concerns about Iran's non-nuclear behavior and vowed that those transgressions won't go unpunished. In a shift from Trump's previous threat to "rip up" the deal, officials said the administration was working with U.S. allies to try to fix the deal's flaws, including the expiration of some nuclear restrictions after a decade or more. The officials also said the U.S. would slap Tehran with new sanctions penalizing it for developing ballistic missiles and other activity.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will "very shortly" make an announcement on Iran's nuclear agreement with world powers that President Donald Trump has called a "bad deal," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Monday. Under U.S. law, the State Department must notify Congress every 90 days of Iran's compliance with the 2015 deal Monday is the deadline, and a senior U.S. official said last week the administration was very likely to say Iran was adhering to the agreement although Trump has reservations about it. "The secretary of state will have an announcement very shortly on that deal," Spicer told reporters. "I think you all know that the president has made very clear that he thought this was a bad deal, a bad deal for the United States."


A senior commander in Iran's Revolutionary Guards warned the United States on Monday that if it designated the group a terrorist organization and applied new sanctions its action could be perilous for U.S. forces in the region.  U.S. officials said earlier this year that President Donald Trump's administration was considering a proposal that could lead to potentially categorizing the powerful Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization.  In Mid-June the U.S. Senate voted for new sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile program and other activities not related to the international nuclear agreement reached with the United States and other world powers in 2015.  To become law, the legislation must pass the House of Representatives and be signed by Trump. "Counting the Revolutionary Guards the same as terrorist groups and applying similar sanctions to the Revolutionary Guards is a big risk for America and its bases and forces deployed in the region," said Armed Forces Chief of Staff Major General Mohammad Baqeri, according to Sepah News, an official news site of the Guards.  

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Monday that his country has an entirely "independent judiciary" set in stone in its constitution, and deflected the notion that he or the government had much immediate authority in helping free the jailed Chinese-American graduate student Xiyue Wang."But we hope an acceptable resolution can be found," Zarif said at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City. "There are Iranians being detained (by the U.S.) on charges of sanction violations that are not applicable today... for bogus and purely political reasons." Wang, who was in Iran working on his Princeton University thesis on Eurasian history, was sentenced over the weekend to ten years behind bars for "spying," in a trial that was held behind closed doors.  Zarif also expressed his skepticism that the Syrian regime, led by embattled President Bashar al-Assad, had used chemical weapons in the country's northwestern rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in April this year, despite certainty from U.S officials and other international bodies.

Two Iranians were indicted Monday in the United States with hacking a defense contractor and stealing sensitive software used to design bullets and warheads, according to the Justice Department. According to the newly unsealed indictment businessman Mohammed Saeed Ajily, 35, recruited Mohammed Reza Rezakhah, 39, to break into companies' computers to steal their software for resale to Iranian universities, the military and the government. The two men -- and a third who was arrested in 2013 and handed back to Iran in a prisoner swap last year -- allegedly broke into the computers of Vermont-based Arrow Tech Associates. The indictment said they stole in 2012 the company's Prodas ballistics software, which is used to design and test bullets, warheads and other military ordnance projectiles. The material stolen from Arrow Tech was protected by US controls on the export of sensitive technologies, and its distribution to Iran was banned by US sanctions on the country.


Britain's easyHotel has reached an agreement with developers to open more than 500 rooms in Iran, joining other foreign chains that have moved into the country since the lifting of sanctions. The budget chain, which was launched by easyJet founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou in 2004, now operates in Britain, six other European countries and the United Arab Emirates. "There are a number of hotel companies that are looking to expand into Iran. We're looking to develop in the Middle East, and it made sense for us to take this opportunity," easyHotel Chief Executive Guy Parsons told Reuters. Other chains to have moved into Iran since the lifting of sanctions include France's Accor Spain's Melia Hotels International and several hotel companies based in the Gulf. "We're comfortable that now is the right time to go ... But we're going to keep monitoring the situation and discussing it with the franchisee and developer in Iran," he said.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposes the southwest Syria ceasefire agreed by Russia and the US since it would enable Iran to solidify its presence there, an official said Monday. The July 9 accord creating a de-escalation zone in the Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida regions includes areas that have seen Israel retaliate over stray fire into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights from clashes between Syrian regime forces and rebels. Israel has also conducted several air strikes elsewhere in Syria since the civil war there erupted in 2011. Most strikes have targeted arms convoys or warehouses of its Lebanese arch-foe Hezbollah. The Iran-backed Shiite movement is a key supporter of Syria's regime and is fighting alongside government forces. An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that Netanyahu opposed the deal "because of (the) Iranian presence" in Syria.


The Iranian judiciary's sentencing of American academic researcher Xiyue Wang to 10 years in prison on unspecified espionage charges reflects the continued ability of security and intelligence agencies to dictate unlawful and arbitrary judicial prosecutions of Western nationals, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said in a statement today. "Over and over again we're seeing foreigners who were legally allowed to enter Iran being imprisoned as political playing cards by hardliners who want to use them as hostages in their dealings with Western countries," said CHRI's Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi. "The Rouhani administration has aimed to present Iran as an open and welcoming place to visitors, but the continued entrapment of western nationals with bona fide visas reflects a politicized justice system that sends a very different message," he added. Judiciary Spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei did not name the "American infiltrator" he accused of spying during the press conference where he announced the sentence on July 16, 2017, but the judiciary's official news agency, Mizan, quoted an anonymous source identifying Wang, a 37-year-old American-Chinese graduate student at Princeton University.

Colleagues of an American student from Princeton University who was jailed in Iran on spying charges expressed shock on Monday, calling him a gifted and innocent history scholar whose ordeal has traumatized his family and community. Academics and Iran experts said the arrest and punishment of the student, Xiyue Wang, first announced Sunday in Iran, may chill scholarly ties between the United States and Iran, subverting promises of more openness from its president, Hassan Rouhani. "This kind of situation makes me wake up in a cold sweat," said Bruce Carruthers, the director of the Buffett Institute for Global Studies at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. "It is a deeply worrisome event, and I hope to God that it is not a trend or harbinger of things to come." Despite the history of hostility between the United States and Iran, scholarly exchanges have survived. But Mr. Wang's case, Mr. Carruthers said, shows that "a visitor like that can be a bargaining chip."


When the arrest of Hossein Fereydoun, President Hassan Rouhani's brother, was announced July 16 at a live recording for a video channel associated with conservative Fars News, the audience erupted in applause. Conservatives have long sought his arrest, and so it was natural they would be elated by this news. While questions remain about the charges, the arrest sends a political message to the president, who is preparing to announce his new Cabinet as his second term begins. The arrest of Hassan Rouhani's brother poses a major challenge for the Iranian president.  On July 16, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, the spokesman for the judiciary, said that bail was set for Fereydoun and since he did not put up the bail he was taken to prison. He added that Fereydoun will be released as soon as he puts up bail. According to an Iranian news website that published Mohseni-Ejei's comments, the accusations against Rouhani are "financial matters" but not related to any specific bank, as has been previously speculated.

The brother and close advisor of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was transferred to hospital on his second day of detention, according to reports on Iranian news sites. Hossein Fereydoun was summoned for questioning on Saturday in a corruption case in which he faces unspecified charges. He was later detained when he could not post bail, which was set at more than 15 million dollars, according to Fars News. The Mehr news site later reported a representative had posted bail on Fereydoun's behalf on Monday evening so he would not need to return to prison from hospital. The site did not specify the amount of the bail posted. Fereydoun is a senior diplomat who took part in the talks that led to a 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers. Some Rouhani supporters have interpreted the charges against him as a move by the hard-line judiciary to discredit the president. Fereydoun appeared in court on Monday but was transferred to hospital after appearing unwell, according to the Tasnim news site.


William Faulkner once mused that the past is never dead, in fact it's not even past. The story of the coup that toppled Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq in 1953 may not be dead, but it is unhinged from history. Tall tales by a scion of the American establishment-former CIA agent and presidential grandson Kermit Roosevelt-and reams of studies by left-wing professors have sustained the myth that the Eisenhower administration ousted Mossadeq. The Iranians are mere bystanders in this story, watching helplessly as a malevolent America manipulates their nation's destiny. Most academic speculations remain cloistered in college campuses, but the myth of Mossadeq's overthrow long escaped those boundaries. It is in the Democratic party that the tale of Mossadeq's demise has found its most hospitable home. In 2015, Barack Obama confided to Tom Friedman, "if you look at Iranian history, the fact is that we had some involvement with overthrowing a democratically elected regime in Iran."

My number one priority," Donald Trump said to the America Israel Public Affairs Committee on March 21, 2016, "is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran." Six months into Trump's presidency, it's looking more like number 10 or 20. THE WEEKLY STANDARD reported last week that the White House had decided to recertify Iranian compliance with the terms of the 2015 deal negotiated between the Obama administration and the Iranian government (cumbersomely known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA). And today, accordingly, the administration will take that course of action. But the debate goes on at the highest levels of our government. The debate isn't between those who favor the deal itself and those who don't. No one in the current administration, thankfully, thinks it was a good idea to lift economic sanctions on Iran for the promise that it wouldn't pursue the development of nuclear weapons.

Earlier this month, the French oil giant, Total, in partnership with a Chinese and an Iranian private company, signed a $4.8 billion agreement with the Iranian oil ministry to develop a portion of the vast South Pars offshore gas field, which Iran shares with Qatar. This is the first major energy deal that Iran has signed with a foreign company since the 2015 nuclear agreement. After the Obama administration gave the green light to the Boeing deal with Iran in 2016, and the Trump administration confirmed the U.S. remains committed to the nuclear deal for now, thus continuing to waive nuclear-related sanctions against Iran, European companies have felt more comfortable entering the Iranian market. The German carmaker Volkswagen follows French Peugeot into the Iranian market, the Italian company Ferrovie dello Stato has signed a €1.2 billion deal with its Iranian counterpart to build Iranian railways and French Total and Iran have reached a preliminary agreement to build three petrochemical plants in a deal that if finalized, could see the French oil giant investing up to $2 billion in Iran.

President Trump allowed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to announce late Monday that Iran is in compliance with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal. Trump did not want to certify in April or recertify in July but was persuaded on condition his team come back with a new strategy to confront Tehran.  The first draft did not make the cut, reports The New York Times. The second draft did, and a notice was sent for Congress to continue withholding nuclear-related sanctions against Iran. Although it's a close call, Tillerson's decision is a mistake. And the Iran policy review should result in: stricter enforcement of the Iran deal; renegotiation or additional non-nuclear sanctions imposed on Tehran for its ballistic missile testing as well as its state sponsored international terrorism.

When President Trump met earlier this month with Russian President Vladimir Putin, their exchange about Moscow's interference in the 2016 presidential election was all anyone seemed to care about. Trump's efforts to present an agreement between the two countries on a cease-fire in Syria as a major achievement were largely ignored by a media determined to focus exclusively on allegations of collusion between the Republicans and Russia. But it turns out his critics were wrong to dismiss the Syrian pact as a distraction. It's now clear that in his eagerness for a deal, the president fell into virtually the same trap his predecessor did when he signed the Iran nuclear deal. The real surprise here is that the biggest critic of the Syrian pact is one of the president's staunchest friends: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He spoke out once he discovered that Trump hadn't taken into account Israel's concerns about Iran being the real beneficiary of the agreement.

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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