Storm brewing in Iran over nuclear deal, terror ties and domestic unrest

Recent developments are indicating a tough road ahead for Iran in what is promising to be a tumultuous summer.

U.S. President Donald Trump sacked his top diplomat, Rex Tillerson, on March 13, citing specifically differences regarding the Iran nuclear deal.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo, nominated to lead the State Department, favors a firm approach confronting Tehran’s regional policy and is a major critic of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the Iran accord is formally known.

Former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, a strong critic of Tehran, is now Trump’s National Security Advisor.

Prior to this, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited Iran on March 5, expressing concerns over Tehran’s ballistic missile program and Middle East belligerence. This portrayed the JCPOA’s fragile nature and Tehran’s failure to use Europe as a shield against the Trump administration.

Couple all this with escalating Iranian protests across the country, and the regime’s recent intention of filtering Telegram, a popular messaging app used by over 40 million people, and you have a recipe for disaster from Tehran’s perspective.

Prelude

Paving the path for Iran’s miseries, the Financial Action Task Force issued its latest report in February placing a June ultimatum for Tehran to input significant changes in its banking system and end financial relations with terrorist groups through nine specific procedures.

As Iran remains blacklisted in the financial market, investors are very hesitant over launching any meaningful project with the clerical regime.

Iran’s economic bankruptcy, parallel to widespread protests by people from all walks of life that continue as we speak, provide a very clear understanding about Tehran’s chief crises.

Double impact

The groundworks of such circumstances are vivid in two very specific JCPOA weak points, from Iran’s perspective. While Europe lifted many sanctions, similar steps imposed by the U.S. remained considering how Congress disagreed with the Obama administration’s engagement with Tehran.

Obama used his executive authority to suspend nuclear sanctions, while non-nuclear sanctions imposed by the U.S., blocking America’s financial system to Iran. As a result, European banks are unable to get involved in dollar transactions with Iran.

This, again, leaves the JCPOA very fragile and allows Trump to annul the entire accord while financial & non-nuclear sanctions remain intact.

Underestimation

Failing to comprehend the impact, Iran was boasting about Western companies lining up for business. This honeymoon ended quickly as Tehran came to understand its grave underestimation.

Former U.S. secretary of state John Kerry began receiving calls from his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, seeking measures to set aside banking sanctions.

In March 2016, Mohammad Nahavandian, then chief of staff of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, travelled to London warning of unaccountable results if the JCPOA fails to resolve Tehran’s economic dilemmas. Maybe he was referring to the Iranian uprising where the poor flooded the streets and raised demands for regime change.

Sweeping changes

Iran’s economic predicaments continue as we speak, especially with the Obama years ending and the Trump administration executing sweeping changes in U.S. policy vis-à-vis Iran. Banks and companies across the globe, especially Europe, are showing cold feet in engaging with this regime.

Speaking at London’s Chatham House back in February, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi vividly voiced his regime’s concerns, complaining how Tehran is not fully benefiting from the JCPOA and describing the atmosphere as “destructive” resulting from Washington’s “confusion” regarding the nuclear pact’s future.

Iran also miscalculated the JCPOA as a green light by the international community to deploy the Lebanese Hezbollah and dozens of other Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force-linked militia to not only massacre the Syrian people, but enjoy military presence in Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.

From 2015 onward Tehran is significantly developing its ballistic missile arsenal, providing such an inventory to the Houthis in Yemen to target Saudi Arabia. All the while, Iranian officials continue boasting about Hezbollah’s missile capabilities.

In response, the U.S. Congress is continuously adopting sanctions targeting the Iranian regime’s belligerence, especially blacklisting the IRGC.

Another expressively sweeping change that proved Iran’s calculations completely came as Europe began distancing from Tehran. Iran’s JCPOA dream story is culminating, realizing Europe will never choose business with this regime over its strategic economic relations with the U.S.

European officials went to great lengths to have Iran curb its ballistic missile program and regional meddling in the face of Trump’s threat to exit the JCPOA.

This resulted in Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other senior officials adopting strong positions against France, expressing their discontent of Europe siding with the U.S.

“If we have maintained our missile range to 2,000 kilometers, it is not due to technological limitations… we will increase our missile reach to the extent which we feel threatened,” said IRGC deputy Hossein Salami in a state TV interview on November 26.

Ultimate concern

While international isolation creates mounting quandaries for Iran, domestic unrest has forever been Tehran’s ultimate concern. To add insult to injury, Iran’s ongoing protests and uprising is under the navigation of the opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). This coalition has for four decades been the main target of the Iranian regime’s onslaught.

Professor Ivan Sascha Sheehan in his recent article in The Hill says:

“Tehran’s violent reaction to peaceful protests demonstrates that the language of strength is the only language the regime understands. Even under current president Hassan Rouhani’s so-called ‘moderate’ leadership, the Islamic Republic continues its illicit activities to every extent it is permitted to do so.”

This is not a call to war. Quite the contrary. The world should acknowledge Iran’s current wars in Syria and Yemen, conveniently gone neglected by mainstream media and appeasement supporters.

The international community can best support the Iranian people’s uprising by crippling the regime’s entities, such as the Central Bank and IRGC. This goes analogous to recognizing the Iranian people’s organized resistance for regime change, symbolized in the PMOI/MEK.

An Iranian expression translate into “April showers bring May flowers.”

This spring is already promising a stormy summer for the Iranian regime and a year of historical developments for the Iranian people.

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Why is Iran’s currency nosediving?

From late July of last year Iran’s currency, the rial, has lost 40 percent of its value against the United States dollar. This is considered a national catastrophe by many analysts.

What is the reason and roots of this significant crisis?

We are hearing a variety of answers these days, including:

  • Unknown fate of the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
  • S. President Donald Trump appointing former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton as his new National Security Advisor after sacking General H.R. McMaster
  • Deliberate increasing of the U.S. dollar value by the government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to provide for a portion of the regime’s budget deficit
  • Banks going bankrupt as people are losing their trust

All these are correct. A closer look, however, leads us to this conclusion that these developments have formulated during the past two years. All the while, the rial’s nosedive began immediately after the mullahs’ regime took the reigns of power in 1979.

1980 – U.S. dollar = 100 rials

1986 – U.S. dollar = 610 rials

1995 – U.S. dollar = 2630 rials

November 2011 – U.S. dollar = 10,600 rials

February 2012 – U.S. dollar = 26,050 rials

Conclusion: The events of the past two years cannot be the root cause of the rial’s nosedive.

Iran’s corrupt infrastructure and economic foundations are the main origin of this epidemy. A country’s economic structure is based on a specific infrastructure.

For example:

Germany – Heavy industry

Turkey – Tourism and industry (in 2005 Turkey was listed as among the world’s 20 industrial countries)

Japan – Electronics and auto manufacturing

South Korea – Auto manufacturing and …

What is the Iranian regime’s economy founded upon?

Industry? Tourism? Auto manufacturing? Agriculture? …

None of the above. The Iranian regime’s economic foundation is extremely corrupt, heavily based on massive smuggling and large-scale imports. This is blocking “all paths for any efforts to heal Iran’s economy,” according to Radio France Internationale.

One side-effect of an ill-founded economic infrastructure resembles in the price of a country’s currency against the U.S. dollar. For the past 39 years of the mullahs’ rule in Iran, we are continuously witnessing the rial nosediving, people losing their purchasing power, increasing poverty and …

Of course, political developments, such as the unknown future of the JCPOA and … will render spontaneous falls in the rial’s value. However, we must keep in mind the root reason, being Iran’s deeply corrupt economic structure (or lack thereof).

The Iranian regime, in nature, belongs to a time-period dating back to the Middle Ages, leaving it without any capacity to generate necessary changes.

Iran reacting to John Bolton’s appointment as US National Security Advisor

Bolton’s selection is tantamount to increasing pressure on Iran

Naghavi Hosseini, spokesman of the Iranian parliament’s Security & Foreign Policy Commission said:

“The selection of John Bolton as the U.S. National Security Advisor is aimed at increasing pressures & aggressive policies against Iran in the coming days.

“Bolton is one of the planners of toppling the Islamic Republic Of Iran.

“Down this path Bolton is supporting the [Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK)].

“We are also witnessing the coming of a new U.S. Secretary of State and a new sanctions bill against Iran in the U.S. Congress.

“This trend signals the fact that the Americans… intend to continue their aggressive and enmity policy against Iran.”

JamNews website:

“Firebrand PMOI/MEK supporter becomes the new U.S. National Security Advisor.”

“Bolton has time and again… sought regime change in Iran and is known for his strong positions against the Islamic republic.

“The National Security Advisor is an important post in the White House and plays a significant role in policy-making & administration decisions in regards to U.S. foreign policy and military strategy.

“Donald Trump and H.R. McMaster were talking about his resignation for some time. They pushed this development forward to have the new team in place sooner.

“[Bolton], now in the main decision-making entity defining U.S. strategy, publicly supports regime change in Iran.

“Supporters of aggressive action against Iran’s regime admire Bolton for his frankness.

“Bolton also has good relations with the [PMOI/MEK], meeting with Maryam Rajavi and delivering a number of speeches in their events.”

Guardian Council spokesman Abbasali Kadkhodaie says:

“The news is short yet very meaningful. John Bolton, an [Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK)] supporter, obtains the highest political post in Trump’s administration.”

Rouydad 24 website:

“Supporter of war against [Iranian regime] becomes US National Security Advisor!”

“Bolton is among the most explicit opponents of the nuclear agreement (JCPOA).”

“Bolton is among the main [PMOI/MEK] supporters and has supported regime change in Iran in his speeches at their rallies.”

Tabnak website (affiliated to former Revolutionary Guards chief Mohsen Rezaie):

“With new changes in the White House, one must say the neocons have gained the main role in Trump’s foreign policies against Iran.”

“The nuclear deal and political regime change in Iran is the epicenter of this defiance.”

“Considering the new circumstances, we must say political regime change is once again in the Trump administration’s agenda.”

“[The new White House apparatus] considers Iran the main issue in the Middle East and Tehran the main threat against US interests.”

“They are attempting to portray [the Iranian regime] as tantamount to ISIS.”

Youth Journalists Club:

“As the new White House National Security Advisor, John Bolton will be playing an important role in Trump’s security decisions.”

“Bolton has repeatedly adopted aggressive positions against [the Iranian regime].”

“He is a staunch supporter of exiting the JCPOA.”

Bazar Ariya website:

“Leaving the Iran nuclear deal was the pivotal point of John Bolton’s first TV interview.”

“Trump’s new National Security Advisor reiterated he is participating in this program to talk about US’ possible JCPOA exit.”

“John Bolton is known for his strong stance against the [Iranian regime].”

“(US Secretary of State-nominee Mike) Pompeo also holds strong opinions against the nuclear pact.”

نتيجه سفر وزير خارجه فرانسه به ايران چيست؟

سفر روز دوشنبه وزير خارجه فرانسه ژان ايو لودريان واكنشهاي مختلفي را، بطور خاص از داخل ايران، برانگيخته است.

روزنامه کیهان، كه به عنوان ارگان علي خامنه اي، ولي فقيه ايران شناخته ميشود، با تیتر «وزیر خارجه فرانسه در راه تهران با کلاه برجام ۲» مدعی تلاش فرانسه برای اعمال جامهای زهر بعدی است.

سایت رویداد ۲۴نوشت: ۳ موضوع برجام، موشک و نقش ایران در منطقه، از مهمترین چالشهای پیش‌روی ایران، اروپا و آمریکا و کشورهای منطقه است.»

اين موضوعي است كه تهران را بيش از هرچيز ديگر نگران ميكند، چرا كه بسيار روشن است اروپاييها هرگز بجاي آمريكا طرف ايران را نمي گيرند.

در تلاشي براي بالا بردن قيمت قبل از سفر لودريان، تهران روز دوشنبه اعلام كرد در صورتي كه واشينگتن از برجام خارج شود از توانايي توليد اورانيوم غنيشده غلظت بالا ظرف دو روز برخوردار است.

بهروز كمالوند، سخنگوي سازمان انرژي اتمي ايران به تلويزيون العالم گفت، «اگر آمريكا از توافق خارج شود… ايران ميتواند ظرف كمتر از 48 ساعت غني سازي اورانيوم 20 درصد خود را از سر گيرد.»

قاسمی، سخنگوی وزارت‌خارجه رژیم گفت لودريان تنها وارد رایزنی خواهد شد و مذاکره‌یی در کار نیست. اما مواضع رسمی فرانسه چیز دیگری را بیان می‌کند.

لودریان وزیر خارجه فرانسه روزنامه فرانسوی «ژورنال دو دیمانش» گفت: «برنامه موشکهای بالستیک ایران که چند هزار کیلومتر برد دارند، با قطعنامه‌های شورای امنیت سازگار نیستند و فراتر از نیاز ایران برای دفاع از مرزهایش هستند… در صورتی که این مشکل مستقیماً حل نشود، ایران با خطر تحریم‌های جدید مواجه خواهد شد.»

در حال حاضر فرانسه نقش رهبری اروپا در مذاکرات با رژیم را برعهده دارد. لودریان در سفر به تهران در مورد شروط ترامپ برای تغییر برجام و موضوعات منطقه‌یی با مقامات رژیم صحبت می‌کند.

خبرگزاری فارس نوشت آمریکا به فرانسه وکالت داده است شروط ترامپ را روی میز رژیم بگذارد و کشورهای اروپایی هم با تأیید همان شروط همراهی خودشان را با آمریکا نشان دادند.

در ديدار خود با لودريان، اظهارات حسن روحاني، رئيس جمهوري ايران بطور روشن نگرانيهاي عميق تهران در مورد آينده برجام را فاش ساخت.

روحاني گفت، «برجام آزمايشي براي همه طرفها است و لغو آن منجر به پشيماني همگان خواهد شد.»

بايد موضوع زمانبندی این سفر را هم در نظر داشته باشيم چرا كه درست پیش از سفر نخست‌وزیر اسراییل به آمریکا طراحی شده است. سفری که موضوع اصلی آن ایران بود.

دو هفته بعد هم ولیعهد عربستان به آمریکا می‌رود که این سفر هم در رابطه با دخالتهای منطقه‌یی رژیم انجام می‌شود. نقش تهران در سوريه نگرانيهايي را ايجاد كرده است.

سناتور ليندزي گراهام اخيراً در مصاحبه يي گفت، «… اگر ما ايران را اخراج نكنيم و در ژنو به توافقي دست نيابيم كه سوريه را به سوريها بدهد، اين جنگ هرگز تمام نخواهد شد. بنابراين، آقاي رئيس جمهوري، مسأله فقط شكست داعش نيست. اگر سوريه را در دستان روسيه و ايرانيان رها كنيد، اين جنگ هرگز تمام نخواهد شد.»

 و سرانجام ماه آینده هم، زمان دیدار ماکرون ـ از موضع رهبری اروپا در بحث برجام ـ با ترامپ است.

در نتيجه، هدف سفر لودريان به ايران را ميتوان اعمال فشار جدي از طرف ترامپ و شروط او توصيف كرد. تهران به شدت نگران خواهد بود، با اشراف به اينكه همه ملاقاتها در گفتگوهاي ماكرون در واشينگتن به بلوغ خواهند رسيد. دو هفته بعد از آن ترامپ تصميم خود در مورد برجام را اعلام خواهد كرد.

اين مسأله تهران را در برابر يك مشكل جدي قرار ميدهد. تن دادن به شروط جديد جهت حفظ برجام منجر به ضربه يي استراتژيك خواهد شد، كه حداقل آن كاهش برنامه موشكهاي بالستيك و نفوذ خود در خاورميانه است. ايران اين دو ركن را افتخار و عمق استراتژيك منطقه يي خود ميداند.

اما تصميم براي رد شروط واشينگتن يقيناً باعث بازگشت تحريمهاي فلج كننده براي تهران خواهد بود.

علاوه بر اين مسأله ادامه اعتراضات توسط ايرانيان در سراسر كشور است. اين در كنار فراخوانهايي است جهت برپايي اعتراضات سراسري بيشتر به مناسبت چهارشنبه سوري ميباشد.

اپوزيسيون ايران، سازمان مجاهدين خلق ايران، فراخواني براي قيام سراسري در اين روز داده است. مقامات ارشد ايراني گفته اند مجاهدين سازماندهنده آخرين موج از اعتراضات سراسر كشور بودند.

بحرانهاي تهران تازه آغاز شده است.

What Comes After French FM’s Iran Visit

Monday’s Tehran visit by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is startling a wide variety of responses, especially from inside Iran.

Kayhan daily, known as the mouthpiece of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, ran a piece titled “French Foreign Minister heading to Tehran with a JCPOA-2 hat,” using the acronym for the Iran nuclear deal, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, while describing Paris’ efforts to impose further setbacks upon Iran’s regime.

The semi-official Ruydad 24 website in Iran writes, “The JCPOA, ballistic missile program and Iran’s role in the region are of the most important challenges before Iran, Europe, the United States and Middle East countries.”

This is what concerns Tehran the most, being crystal clear the Europeans would never side with Iran over the U.S.

Seeking to raise the stakes prior Le Drian’s visit, Tehran on Monday announced it enjoys the capability of producing higher enriched uranium within two days if Washington’s abandons ship on the 2015 nuclear deal between.

“If America pulls out of the deal … Iran could resume its 20 percent uranium enrichment in less than 48 hours,” Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told al-Alam TV.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said Le Drian will be merely involved in discussions and there are no negotiations involved. France’s official position says otherwise.

“Iran’s ballistic missile program, with a range of a few thousand kilometers, is definitely non-consistent with United Nations Security Council resolutions and goes beyond Iran’s need to defend its borders,” Le Drian said in an interview with the French daily Le Journal du Dimanche.

“If this dilemma is not resolved directly, Iran will be facing the threat of new sanctions,” he added.

France is leading Europe in talks with Iran and it is very likely Le Drian discussed with Iran’s officials the conditions raised by U.S. President Donald Trump.

“The U.S. has asked France to lay Trump’s conditions before Iran. European countries have confirmed these conditions,” according to the semi-officials Fars news agency, said to be linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

In his meeting with Le Drian, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s remarks vividly displayed Tehran’s deep concerns about the JCPOA’s future.

“The JCPOA is a litmus test for all parties and its dismantling will bring disappointment for everyone,” Rouhani said.

We must also take into consideration the timing of Le Drian’s visit, coming prior to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, in which Iran was the main issue of talks.

Two weeks later Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman to Washington where Iran’s regional meddling will most likely be discussed. Tehran’s role in Syria has raised major concerns.

“…if we don’t push Iran out and come up with an agreement in Geneva that gives Syria back to the Syrians. This war never ends. So, Mr. President it’s just not about defeating ISIL. If you leave Syria in the hands of Russia and the Iranians this war never ends,” said Senator Lindsey Graham in a recent interview.

Finally, Trump will be hosting his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, as the leader of Europe in regards to the JCPOA.

As a result, the objective of Le Drian’s visit to Iran can be described as placing Trump’s significant pressures and imposing his conditions. Tehran will most definitely be concerned, knowing all meetings will evolve in Trump’s talks with Macron in Washington. Two weeks later Trump will announce his decision on the JCPOA.

This leaves Tehran before a particular dilemma. Succumbing to the new conditions set to preserve the JCPOA will deliver a strategic setback, being, to say the least, significantly curbing its ballistic missile program and Middle East influence. Iran considers these two pillars its pride and regional strategy depth.

Choosing to reject Washington’s conditions, however, will most certainly lead to the return of crippling sanctions for Tehran.

Add to this dilemma the ongoing protest staged by Iranians across the country. This goes alongside calls for further nationwide protests next Tuesday, marking the country’s annual “Fire Festivities” held on the last Tuesday night of the Iranian calendar before inviting in the new year.

Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) has issued a call for a nationwide uprising to mark this celebration. Senior Iranian officials have acknowledged how the PMOI/MEK organized the recent flare of protests across the country.

Tehran’s troubles are only beginning.

ANALYSIS: How Iran’s regime enters its 40th year as an Islamic Republic

February 11 marked the beginning of the 40th year Iran’s clerics are ruling over what they describe as an “Islamic Republic.”

The fact that this regime is facing a whirlwind of domestic and foreign crises goes beyond doubt. While Tehran’s state media boasts massive support among the populace, remarks heard recently from Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei portray a canvas of impasse, a weak entity and the road ahead being uphill, to say the least.

In response to increasing unrest across the country protesting political and economic corruption, Khamenei acknowledged the fact that “fighting cruelty and corruption is very difficult… it will not be resolved easily.”

He is acknowledging the growing scope of systematic corruption riddling the ruling apparatus, and his regime’s weakness in tackling such a demanding issue. Khamenei’s words also indicate Iran’s population will no longer tolerate discrimination, injustice and state-sponsored corruption.

Interesting is how in his latest remarks Khamenei refuses to discuss the 120-day ultimatum issued by U.S. President Donald Trump over the fate of the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. This further shows his weak hand, especially since Europe is cooperating with Washington’s demands of taking on Tehran’s meddling across the Middle East and ballistic missile program.

Khamenei’s silence is very meaningful and will be devastating for his regime in the near future.

“Systemized corruption”

Political and economic corruption is now considered institutionalized in Iran’s governing systems, ranking this country as one of the world’s most corrupts states. Obviously, economic corruption is merely one result of political corruption, and after 40 years we have come to learn the very subject of corruption has become an inseparable aspect of Iran’s regime.

Iranian Vice President Es’hagh Jahangiri says “termite corruption” is infecting every essence of Iran’s political and economic infrastructure, while Ahmad Tavakoli, head of Iran’s Expediency Council goes further.

“Unfortunately, corruption has become systematic. If measures are not taken, corruption will most definitely bring an end to the Islamic republic,” he adds, cited by the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

Changing times

Once known for its chest-thumping in refusing to discuss its role in the internal affairs of countries across the Middle East and the so-called “defensive” ballistic missile program, Iran, sensing the changing times, is now signaling steps back in this regard.

In a public acknowledgment of increasing international pressures and Europe distancing away from Iran, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said in Paris how Tehran would be willing to discuss “other issues” if the West makes certain the JCPOA remains “a successful experience.”

Although these remarks may seem rather harsh, those familiar with the language used by Iranian officials understand this is saber-rattling to save face, knowing discussions over “other issues” will be grueling and far more demanding than anything Tehran experienced during the Obama years.

Obvious is how Iran’s hardliners fiercely oppose such talks, yet all parties of this factionalized regime are realizing there is no good option ahead, and only choosing from bad and worse.

With Trump providing a last chance for what he describes as “the worst deal ever,” the Europe trio of Britain, France and Germany, all seeking to preserve the JCPOA due to their economic interests in Iran, are scrambling to blueprint a plan addressing Trump’s concerns over Tehran’s destructive role in the Middle East and ballistic missile drive.

Dirty money

Despite Araqchi’s claim of there being no link between the Iran nuclear accord and its influence across the region, new evidence shows the U.S. government tracing portions of the $1.7 billion released by the Obama administration to Tehran – as part of the JCPOA signing – has found its way into the hands of Iran-supported terrorists.

Informed sources are indicating how Tehran has been allocating such funds to pay members of the Lebanese Hezbollah, known as Iran’s main proxy group and provide the budget needed for the Quds Force, the Revolutionary Guards element described as Iran’s leading foreign intelligence arm involved also in covert action.

The Houthis of Yemen should also be sending their gratitude to Team Obama as evidence shows they, too, have received dividends of the notorious cash load airlifted to Iran. Tehran is using the Houthis to exert pressure on Riyadh from its own backyard.

This is not good news for Iran as such findings will most likely further convince Trump in his effort against the JCPOA. As heard from Araqchi, Tehran understands perfectly well the scrapping of this accord and the return of crippling sanctions, coupled with ongoing domestic protests, are a recipe for disaster.

Troubling months

In another sign of the Trump administration’s determination to take on the issue of Iran’s belligerence, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in the region, paying visits to Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Kuwait.

Iran is most definitely a major topic of his discussions and Tehran is bracing for possibly a new onslaught of regional pressure, similar to that of Europe, making costing demands.

With Iran protests taking a toll on the regime – as seen on Sunday with many cities witnessing people boycotting pro-regime rallies and protesters hitting the streets at night – and increasing word of banks going bankrupt, the months ahead look grim for Iran. This regime understands better than anyone that the public’s increasing wrath will be demanding, and it is using the JCPOA, its regional influence and ballistic missile program to bargain with the international community.

The difference between now and 2015 is that the White House is not at all fond of Iran’s bellicosity, and more importantly, the Iranian people are making serious demands of regime change.

Iran And Future Relations With Europe

Following the recent statement issued by U.S. President Donald Trump on the future of the Iran nuclear deal, technically dubbed as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and the four conditions he raised on America’s continued cooperation with this already controversial pact, Tehran’s concerns are focusing on why the Europeans haven’t shown the regime’s desired negative response.

Washington’s conditions include increasing inspections, ensuring “Iran never even comes close to possessing a nuclear weapon,” eliminating all JCPOA expiration dates, and requiring Congress to adopt a bill incorporating Iran’s ballistic missile program into the pact.

Some time ago I explained “How Iran Is Losing Europe,” receiving a variety of messages of agreement and more of harsh disagreement. Regarding the new developments that fall into this line of argument, one can analyze the true feelings of those ruling the Iranian regime through their media outlets.

Tehran is extremely concerned that the U.S. government is reaching agreements with its European partners to stand their ground on these four conditions, leading to escalating restrictions for Iran.

The semi-official Khorasan daily expresses Tehran’s concerns over why the EU’s response refused to firmly reject Trump’s statement, describing the stance as “conservative.”

“Negotiating the existing JCPOA is not in their agenda. However, instead of emphasizing on their previous positions, all parties are now talking of analyzing and making decisions regarding Trump’s conditions,” the piece reads in this regard.

In a sign of the continuing internal factional dispute amongst Iran’s ruling factions, this article lashes at the bloc loyal to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

“The fact that [the Europeans] consider this subject as assessable is an issue we must take into consideration in our calculations, and we must not have high hopes in the Europeans,” the article adds.

There is increasing talk about the EU’s response to Trump’s statement and its conditions as a signal of Europe beginning an episode of increasing cooperation with the US in relation to the JCPOA, and similar agreements over Tehran’s slate of belligerences.

“It appears that [French President Emmanuelle] Macron has agreed with Trump to launch talks about Iran’s ballistic missile program in return for the U.S. remaining loyal to the JCPOA. Trump raising the issue of ballistic missile negotiations is without a doubt involving France and Europe into an already lost faceoff,” according to the semi-official KhabarOnline website.

For those unfamiliar with the language and culture of Iran’s state-backed media outlets, this is actually an indication of Tehran’s weakness and deep concerns, and not a signal of readiness for further talks.

Describing the U.S. President’s four demands as “Trump’s pseudo ultimatum to Europe on the JCPOA,” the semi-official Iranian Diplomacy website considers this stance as in line with the European Union and indicates its hope of the Green Continent having more influence on Washington for the unpredictable future.

“The recent remarks and stance heard from Trump and senior U.S. officials proves that behind the curtains the Europeans are playing an important role in convincing Trump to once again waive sanctions for another four months,” the text reads in part.

There are also voices heard inside Iran who have lost complete hope of Europe providing any life rope whatsoever to safeguard the JCPOA in the near future and beyond.

“The EU today is facing a variety of dilemmas and internal crises, lacking the necessary organization to stand against various decisions made by Washington, including in regards to the JCPOA,” reads a piece in the semi-official Khabar One website.

From Tehran’s perspective, the conditions set by Trump are completely unacceptable and a prelude to place pressure Europe to adopt a stronger position in regards to Iran’s ballistic missile program, meddling in the Middle East and stoking terrorism.

Speaking of Iran’s bellicosity, relations with Germany is witnessing a twist recently. Following an investigation by the country’s domestic intelligence agency, German authorities on Tuesday raided the homes and offices of 10 suspected Iranian spies, Reuters reported citing prosecutors.

Considering the recent protests rocking the very pillars of this regime and raising many eyebrows, Iran’s human rights dossier will most likely remain under a constant international spotlight that may actually become the most dangerous source of Tehran’s brewing troubles in the near future.

Washington, with Trump’s latest demands, will most likely seek to transform the JCPOA into a meaningless platform for Iran, and yet a medium to increase its pressures and conditions. With Europe left in a pickle to decide between Washington and Tehran, it doesn’t need a political or economic expert to comprehend how bleak the future looks for the Iranian regime.

This is exactly why Iran’s media outlets, known as a good source into the mentality of Iran’s ruling elite, consider the EU’s new soft approach vis-à-vis Trump’s statement a step in undermining the JCPOA altogether and imposing further obligations to degrade Iran’s positions, especially in the Middle East and for its already dwindling and dismal social base.

This is sensed vividly in the words of Abdolreza Faraji-rad, Iran’s former ambassador to Norway.

“Following his discussions with other European leaders, Macron is deciding to both maintain his policy of safeguarding the JCPOA while launching talks regarding Iran’s ballistic missile program and this regime’s role in the region, all to gain U.S. content,” he explained in a radio interview.

Iran is entering troubled 2018 waters, especially with the wave of protests promising to gain strength across the country. How the West, and especially Europe, will respond to the Iranian people’s efforts to realize meaningful change and the regime’s human rights violations, is a major issue.

ANALYSIS: Will new sanctions change the balance of power in Iran?

US President Donald Trump is calling for new sanctions on Iran in his Friday decision, while providing Tehran with sanctions relief “for the last time” under an accord he himself describes as the “worst deal ever.”

The President is stepping into this verdict after consulting the all-important Iran question with his national security team. The factor changing the playing field now is the nationwide protests that continue to threaten the very pillars of Iran’s regime.

New scenario

The law obliges the US administration to announce every 90 days whether Iran is complying with a 2015 agreement the international community aiming to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.

The fact that Iran is shaking under the feat of tens of thousands of protesters in over 140 cities across the country raises Trump’s latest decision to an unprecedented and utterly dangerous level for Tehran.

This follows first the United Nations Security Council discussion of Iran’s human rights violations, and as US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said it best, the voice of the Iranian people being heard. The new sanctions, targeting most importantly Iranian judiciary chief Sadegh Amoli Larijani, are of human rights nature and place the crosshairs on Tehran’s “Achilles’ Heel.”

This will definitely act as a wakeup call for all senior and lower level officials Iranian involved in four decades of human rights violations, devastating millions of Iranian families across the country.

These new tougher measures come as the Trump administration is voicing strong support for anti-government protesters spreading to many Iranian cities, and from a president who continues to harshly criticize the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

‘Other issues’

“The president has been very clear that many aspects of the Iran deal need to be changed,” US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a recent interview. “There are many activities outside of the Iran deal, whether it be ballistic missiles, whether it be other issues, that we will continue to sanction, that are outside the JCPOA — human rights violations — we couldn’t be more focused.”

“We have as many sanctions on Iran today as we have on any other country in the process, and we will continue to look at things,” Mnuchin told VOA. Iran’s domestic crackdown is now an issue parallel to its regional aggression and nuclear/ballistic missile proliferation. The international community is now focusing on this new aspect of Iran’s belligerence, despite the regime’s long effort of maintaining a lid on this issue.

In Iran the JCPOA is dubbed as “Barjam” and there is talk of “Barjam 2, 3 and 4,” referring to the regime’s concerns of possible negotiations – and resulting setbacks – to discuss its Middle East meddling, ballistic missile ambitions and now, the gross human rights violations that have maintained a very restive society under the regime’s iron fist grip.

Iran is continuously seeking to drive a rift between the US and Europe on the JCPOA, emphasizing all non-nuclear related issues must remain outside these discussions.

Trump’s latest decision is defusing Iran’s plot by allowing Congress and Washington’s European partners a last chance to upgrade the nuclear deal. Iran is facing an enormous uphill battle, knowing its nuclear and ballistic missile programs may now considered “inseparable,” all sites can become targets of immediate inspections, and “sunset provisions” may no longer be acceptable.

Despite all the stonewalling, Europe no longer has any excuses up its sleeves, especially considering the fact that Tehran’s human rights dossier is now demands immediate attention.

Economic isolation

“Iran has no true economic ally” is the title of a recent article read in the semi-official “Jahan-e San’at” (Industry World) daily. Chinese bank, long considered a sanctuary for Tehran, are no longer agreeing to cooperate with Iranian entities similar to the past.

US is increasing economic sanctions against Tehran on a daily basis, while Turkey, a long partner of Iran, is also holding back, recalling the troubling Halkbank scenario.

Iran’s currency, the rial, is plunging without any operational solution in the near future. The ruling regime is becoming unable to fund power stations providing electricity, and this is enormously embarrassing, and very telling, for a country sitting on the world’s second largest natural gas and fourth largest crude oil reserves.

Considering the fact that the rial has been a very shaky currency in the past 40 years, analysts are forecasting an enormous and compelling economic crisis in the making for Tehran’s rulers.

This brews major concerns for this regime’s near future, especially since the latest unrest sparked with an economic focus and quickly avalanched into a huge political challenge endangering the entire regime establishment. This is a simmering fire with enormous potential, and Iran’s rulers understand this better than all other parties.

Changing balance of power

It is quite obvious that Iranian officials remain concerned about Washington’s possible exiting from the JCPOA and the resulting crippling economic impact for their regime. With protests continuing across the country, however, Tehran’s concerns multiply and senior officials are facing a devastating impasse.

The US’ objective is to place Iran under the center of international attention, increase global pressure and having partners board ship in the new White House approach vis-à-vis Tehran. This policy can and should witness Washington continuing to express support for the Iranian people and their demand for regime change.

Discussing Iran’s human rights violations and the new episode of crackdown measures against protesters will act as a major obstacle in the face of Iran’s foreign ambitions. In contrast to the JCPOA, in this regard Tehran understands vividly it cannot rely on Europe to create a divide in the West’s stance.

The new Iran uprising is changing the balance of power against the ruling regime’s favor both inside the country and abroad, with more voices raising against Tehran across the board. Looking forward, the JCPOA and all others subjects will increasingly haunt Iran’s regime in the near future.

The grassroots nature of these protests also underscore the undeniable fact that when the inevitable transformation begins to realize in Iran, the Iranian populace, without any unnecessary foreign intervention, will determine their future.

U.S. Drastic Measures On Iran Have Just Begun

The new US strategy vis-à-vis Iran began to unravel this week.

Making headlines has been the CIA’s latest trove of nearly half a million documents indicating deep ties between Iran and the al-Qaeda terrorist network. Experts have been busy analyzing the data, especially showing how Iran offered al-Qaeda operatives “everything they needed,” including “money, arms” and “training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in exchange for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf,” according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracy’s Long War Journal.

On October 31st the U.S. Treasury Department officially implemented the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), described by officials in Iran as the “mother of all sanctions” targeting Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

New sanctions are leveled against IRGC commanders and affiliates involved in domestic crackdown, plundering the population’s wealth, exporting the regime’s terrorism, and advancing Tehran’s nuclear proliferation and ballistic missile program.

Also described as a “black hole,” CAATSA will be placing the very pillars of the Iranian regime in its crosshairs. The IRGC’s Khatam al-Anbiya Headquarters, known to pursue massive construction projects, has around 5,000 companies under its umbrella involved in building dams, power plants and refineries. The IRGC in its entirety reportedly controls over 40% of Iran’s economy.

Furthering Tehran’s troubles is a new push by 13 prominent U.S. senators in a letter calling on the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. With Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) leading the initiative, this demands a rigorous new international inspections regime to be imposed on Iran’s nuclear program.

The main objectives include gaining vital access to Iran’s military sites, up to now considered off-limits by Tehran, and escalating transparency into the regime’s uranium enrichment drive.

Iran is suspected of taking advantage of military sites to continue nuclear activities banned under a nuclear agreement considered landmark by some, while highly flawed by others. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors have been banned or forced to endure a bureaucracy of 54 days to obtain access to disputed sites.

This, of course, provides Tehran enough time destroy all trace of illicit activities, as seen when the highly controversial Lavizan-Shian site was razed to the ground in late 2003 and early 2004. Iran went the limits to cover up undeclared nuclear activities, according to Western diplomats.

Aerial image of Lavizan-Shian after extensive razing. (Courtesy: getty images)

The new initiative from U.S. senators, highlighting “shortcomings in the inspection and verification regime,” is said to enjoy the Trump administration’s full backing, as the White House seeks to resolve outstanding issues over Iran’s compliance with the deal and patch outstanding loopholes providing the regime dangerous opportunity to obtain nuclear weapons.

Aiming to garner further international support, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin headed to the Middle East, visiting Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Mnuchin focused his efforts on ratcheting up pressure on Iran by placing special focus on terror financing across the region.

Under this escalating pressure, Tehran scrambled a senior military commander to level new threats of launching ballistic missile attacks against U.S. forces stationed across the Middle East. This followed reports of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei “limiting” the range of his forces’ ballistic missiles to nearly 1,300 miles, or 2,000 kilometers.

While this does encompass all regional U.S. bases, we must understand that Tehran’s forces are no match against the U.S. military. And rest assured, this regime enjoys no public support. Considering the weight of Washington’s Iran policy shift, Tehran is desperately resorting to such measures to save face at home and prevent any sign of weakness before an increasingly restive society.

Iran’s growing international isolation today is all due to initial revelations back in August 2002 when the Iranian opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) blew the whistle on the Natanz uranium enrichment site and Arak heave water production plant.

Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, Iran. (Courtesy: Cryptome)

Ever since the NCRI has played a leading role in alerting the world of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, especially the clandestine network of military complexes.

Back in July 2003 the NCRI provided information on the secret Kolahdouz military complex located west of Tehran, home to a uranium enrichment testing facility.

At a Washington press conference in June the NCRI provided vital information on dozens of sensitive IRGC missile sites, including twelve previously unknown and one specifically linked to its controversial nuclear program.

The NCRI’s recent 52-page investigative publication, “Iran’s Nuclear Core: Uninspected Military Sites,” came as a bombshell. More than two years into a nuclear deal supposedly aimed to prevent block Tehran’s path to nuclear weapons, this report is a wake-up call showing how Iran’s A-bomb drive is in fact up and running.

Iran’s civilian nuclear program, where regime officials eagerly escort inspectors, is providing the necessary cover for the military branch to pursue their lethal objectives.

For nearly two decades the IRGC unit tasked to advance Iran’s nuclear bomb drive is the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (Sazman-e Pazhouheshhaye Novin-e Defa’i), known by its Persian acronym SPND.

The Center for Research and Expansion of Technologies for Explosion and Impact (Markaz-e Tahghighat va Tose’e Fanavari-e Enfejar va Zarbeh), known by its acronym METFAZ, is focused on research and building the nuclear weapon trigger.

Iran has scattered the facilities involved in this regard throughout several sprawling military houses that include dozens of silos and tunnels. This provides Tehran the ability to relocate necessary centers and projects, making pinpointing more difficult for IAEA inspectors, and thus reducing the exposure possibility.

The NCRI has identified four chief sites mainly pursuing the nuclear weapons drive:

  1. Pazhouheshkadeh, inside the Parchin military complex 30 miles southeast of Tehran, which has recently become the main center for METFAZ’s tests.
  2. The Nouri Industrial site, located at the maximum security Khojir military complex southeast of Tehran and spanning 75 square miles. The Hemmat Missile Industries Group, stationed in Khojir, focuses on nuclear warheads production.
  3. The Hafte Tir site, under the authority of Iran’s Defense Ministry, is located inside a military base found in a mountainous region near the town of Mobarakeh between the major cities of Isfahan and Shiraz. SPND has supervised the construction of underground tunnels at this site.
  4. The Sanjarian site, located on the banks of Jajrood River east of Tehran. Until recently this center was considered the main METFAZ testing facility and a subdivision of SPND.

The very fact that these key nuclear sites have gone uninspected by the IAEA, and how the IRGC is directing this effort, makes the new U.S. senators’ initiative and Treasury Department sanctions all the more essential.

Such measures are recommended to expand to all individuals, entities, institutions and companies affiliated to or involved in deals with the IRGC. Sanctioning each IRGC proxy abroad and all 31 provincial commanders inside Iran will significantly curb the regime’s warmongering and domestic crackdown capability.

Bold measures are needed to bring an end to Iran’s lethal belligerence across the region, implemented through the IRGC. This is key for any hope of terminating Middle East wars and bloodshed.

The U.S. has launched the policy needed to reach these objectives. Needed now is for the European Union to also blacklist the IRGC and end Iran’s use of this rift in international policy to its benefit in supporting terrorism.

Unpacking Trump’s Iran Policy Transition

We have surpassed a roller coaster month of intense developments over the Iran nuclear deal. Discussions in Washington, and talks between Europe and the United States catapulted us all into a simple conclusion:

A major global policy change was in the making. U.S. President Donald J. Trump followed suit and delivered his landmark speech last Friday.

It was the first time in over 30 years that a U.S. president completely devoted a speech to announcing his policy in regards to Iran. Trump delivered America’s new comprehensive strategy vis-à-vis Iran, following months of anticipation and talks.

The issue at hand is not a discussion about personal differences between George W. Bush, Barack Obama or Donald Trump. Policies have reached a dead end and long term interests have left America no choice but to adopt new policies.

What makes this transition even more important is the fact that an intense war on both sides of the Atlantic has been ongoing over this policy transition. This is not limited to the pro-Iran lobby camp. Major interests are at risk here, covering issues far more important than Washington’s Iran policy.

In this 19-minute speech never did Trump deliver a neutral stance regarding Iran. The entire text was focused on placing his crosshairs on the Iranian regime. He began with the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover in Tehran, continuing with the bombings in Beirut, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Tanzania and Iraq against America and its allies.

The objective was not to deliver new tactics or mere mechanisms on how America will approach Iran. The very foundations of U.S. policy on Iran has undergone major alterations.

One very interesting fact was how Trump focused on using the terms the “Iranian regime” and/or the “Iranian dictatorship”. Even if he preferred not to use the phrase of “Islamic Republic,” Trump had the option of resorting to “Iran.” Yet his decision to rely on the “Iranian regime” can be considered a non-recognition of this regime in its entirety.

President Trump using the terms “dictatorship” and “regime” indicates the ultimate objective of US policy is regime change in Iran, according to Richard Haass, President of the Council of Foreign Relations, as cited by various state websites in Iran.

In the first minute of his speech the U.S. president described Iran as an aggressive, radical and fanatic regime, and he refused to use the term “government.”

Trump’s speech focused on two subjects: the Iran nuclear deal and this regime’s regional belligerence and meddling through the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

Prior to his remarks, Trump was under fierce pressure from Europe to certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear accord, technically known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). America’s European allies even took one step back in asking Trump that in the case of decertifying the JCPOA, at least call on Congress not to re-impose pre-JCPOA sanctions on Iran.

Trump, however, stood against all pressures and his specific orders sent a message to the U.S. Congress and Europe: either fix the JCPOA or else the entire pact will come to an end.

The Europeans, seeking to maintain the JCPOA intact at all costs, found themselves before a fork in the road. The price of safeguarding the JCPOA is to place pressure on Tehran to resolve the existing loopholes.

This will be completely against Tehran’s interests, targeting the “sunset” clauses, Iran’s ballistic missile program and access to military sites for rigorous inspections.

“The notion that [Iran’s] entry into the JCPOA would curtail Iranian adventurism, the terror threat, or their malignant behavior has proven to be fundamentally false,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo said at a recent session held by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Another very important aspect of Trump’s speech is recognizing Tehran as a threat, and in other words, America’s enemy number one. This, again, marks a strategic shift and not a mere tactical alteration.

“Over the last decade and a half, United States policy has also consistently prioritized the immediate threat of Sunni extremist organizations over the longer-term threat of Iranian-backed militancy,” a White House press release read prior to Trump’s speech.

This is the epicenter of America’s strategic shift regarding Iran and the Middle East. Following the 9/11 attacks, the flawed U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 played into Iran’s hands. These developments provided the necessary grounds for Tehran to spread its influence in the shadows of Sunni extremists and fundamentalists.

To add insult to injury, the Obama years gave birth to a policy hinging on recognizing a role for Tehran in regional developments. This period witnessed America distancing from its Sunni allies.

“The Trump Administration will not repeat these mistakes,” the press release adds. Once again the Iranian regime has become the main enemy in the region, as we have witnessed in the developments of the past few months following the historic Riyadh conference back in April.

The IRGC also became another major target of Trump’s harsh and unprecedented remarks targeting the Iranian regime’s top authority.

“The Revolutionary Guard is the Iranian Supreme Leader’s corrupt personal terror force and militia… I am authorizing the Treasury Department to further sanction the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for its support for terrorism and to apply sanctions to its officials, agents, and affiliates,” he said.

The U.S. Treasury Department followed suit and blacklisted the IRGC as a terrorist entity.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei responded Wednesday to Trump’s remarks by merely saying Tehran would not walk out of the JCPOA, indicating his regime’s desperate dependence to the pact’s reliefs.

This makes it even more interesting how Germany’s Der Tagesspiegel recently wrote, “Iran has [according to German security sources] clearly not given up its long-term goal to become an nuclear power that can mount nuclear weapons on rockets.”

Equally important is how Trump in his remarks specifically separated the Iranian people from the ruling regime, and made his intention crystal clear.

“Iran is under the control of a fanatical regime that seized power in 1979 and forced a proud people to submit to its extremist rule… In this effort, we stand in total solidarity with the Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims: its own people,” he specified.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in an interview with CNN on Sunday raised the stakes further for Tehran.

“… the hope that one day the Iranian people will retake the government of Iran,” he said.

Of course, we can argue that Trump’s speech fell short of shedding important light on Iran’s flagrant human rights violations and the Iranian people’s demand for change.

While this is worthy of a lengthy debate, what is important now is that a major revolution in U.S. policy in the face of the Iranian regime spells disaster for Tehran’s rulers, and opportunity for the Iranian people.