ANALYSIS: Iran and the Financial Action Task Force impasse

Al Arabiya

What is the FATF and why are we hearing such conflicting remarks from inside the Iranian regime in this regard?

The Financial Action Task Force is a non-governmental organization established by the G7 back in 1979 to tackle money-laundering. In 2001, the initiative was expanded to also target terrorism financing.

The FATF secretariat is based in the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, located in Paris. In 2012, the task of confronting financing any terrorism-promoting activities was added to the FATF’s responsibilities.

FATF, in charge of supervising financial cross-border transactions, provided an October deadline to the Iranian regime to join two international conventions and reform two domestic laws. This body is holding its plenary meeting in Paris this week to discuss “a range of important issues to protect the integrity of the financial system and contribute to global safety and security.”

In response, the cabinet of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani presented four bills to the regime’s Majlis (parliament):
– The Anti-Money Laundering Law Reform Bill
– The Anti-Terrorism Financing Law Reform Bill
– The International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism Supplementary Bill
– The Convention against Transnational Organized Crime Supplementary Bill

History

Following a four month-long delay, the Iranian regime parliament finally approved a bill agreeing to adopt the Combating the Financing of Terrorism standards. This is considered the most important step for Tehran in the path of eventually joining the FATF.

Many voices from inside the Iranian regime launched a major brouhaha after these developments. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described it a historical decision.

Hamid Aboutalebi, an advisor to Rouhani, praised the parliament and said members showed the country’s national security and the Iranian people’s interests are their primary priorities.

Khamenei opposition

The CFT approval, however, came despite the fact that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had specifically said he opposes this law. Meeting members of parliament back in June, Khamenei specifically voiced his opposition to joining any international conventions.

“These accords are actually cooked up in one specific place… If an independent government is found somewhere, such as the Islamic republic, who for example says we don’t accept these conventions and international accords… They attack them with harsh rhetoric demanding they join… That’s what these conventions are all about. Now, what do we do?… I said the parliament should pass a law. For example, on the issue of combating terrorism or money-laundering… the members should sit down and pass their own law,” he said.

Khamenei had described the FATF as an “endless pit” in his social media page. And at a recent state-launched rally in Tehran’s Azadi Stadium, Khamenei delivered a speech covering a variety of subjects.

“As long as I’m alive I will not allow the country to surrender,” he said. However, word inside Iran indicates that all parties are awaiting his signal to do exactly that.

It is common knowledge that whenever Khamenei emphasizes on standing firm, he is signaling to the regime’s depleting social base he will be heading the opposite route.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the parliament in Tehran on October 7, 2018, during a meeting over the a bill to counter terrorist financing. (AFP)

 

A step back

Parliament speaker Ali Larijani made everything clear reading Khamenei’s letter to Majlis members.

“What I said during our meeting with the members in regards to the four bills and conventions was related to the very principle of these conventions, and not a particular convention. Therefore, I have no objection with these bills being evaluated in the parliament, in order to follow through with the legal procedures,” the letter read in part.

Through such remarks Khamenei took back his own words and threw the ball into the parliament’s court.

Why the predicament?

Why can’t anyone in the Iranian regime, even Khamenei himself, put their foot down and finalize the issue. The answer can be found in Zarif’s remarks to the Majlis members.

“China’s international policies are very similar to that of the Islamic republic. China is our strategic partner. We are also strategic partners with Russia. However, the Russian Central Bank chief told Dr. Hemmati [his Iranian counterpart) we will not be able to conduct business without the FATF. The Chinese had also made similar remarks time and again,” he explained.

“Neither I, nor the president, we cannot guarantee all our problems will be resolved by joining the FATF. However, we can guarantee that by not joining this bill the US will find a very important pretext to increase its pressures against us,” Zarif added.

The Iranian regime has been weighing this issue since 2011, enjoying the appeasement approach practiced by the Obama administration to buy time.

Shooting in the foot

Tehran is also very concerned, understanding the severe consequences of joining the FATF. The clerical regime will no longer be able to funnel money to terrorist groups such as the Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, Shiite proxies in Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen. This means shooting yourself in the foot for Tehran.

All the while, if the Iranian regime fails to approve the FATF conventions, its banking transactions with Europe, Russia and China will face extreme difficulties. This gains significant proportions when we take into consideration the November 5th return of US sanctions targeting Iran’s oil/banking/shipping sectors. This will have a crippling impact on the Iranian regime, to say the least, especially considering the increasing protests and strikes across the country.

The current circumstances were best explained by the Iranian regime’s own members of parliament: committing suicide in fear of death. This is the very telling indication and interpretation of a regime facing a critical impasse.

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Warmongering Iran and its mounting regional and international isolation

Al Arabiya

The international and regional isolation against Iran is once again becoming a concern for the regime.

Global condemnations over a recent attack on Iraq-based Kurdish dissident groups and the executions of three Kurdish political prisoners resulted in a variety of rebukes concerning Tehran’s warmongering policies in the Middle East and their terrorism in the West.

As a result, the clerical regime is becoming weaker on the international stage like never before. Important now is how to evolve and raise the level to benefit the Iranian people.

Regional troubles

Last Monday, US Vice President Mike Pence condemned Iran’s missile attack in Iraqi Kurdistan. One day later, US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert added to this condemnation by describing the Iranian regime as a disrupting element in the region and a bad actor across the globe.

On that note, Iran’s malign influence in Syria came under fire in the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday as members warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in Idlib, the last area where Syrian opposition forces and millions of displaced civilians are located.

France, the Netherlands, Kuwait and Turkey called for a complete halt to military attacks by the Iran-backed Bashar Assad regime and Russia. US Ambassador Nikki Haley upped the tone against Russia, Iran and Assad, accusing these parties of not showing any interesting in reaching a political solution. Iran’s role in Assad’s bloody attacks will not go unnoticed, she warned.

Europe threatened

The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) shed new light on the regime’s terror apparatus. At a press conference held in London on Wednesday, the NCRI provided new details over Tehran’s terrorist activities in the Green Continent, calling on European countries to close the Iranian regime’s embassies, as they are being used by Tehran as nests for their spies, and expel Iranian regime operatives from their soil.

Members of the British Houses of Lords and Commons took part in this press conference, emphasizing on the necessity to have Iran’s Vienna-based diplomat and other elements, arrested for their role in plotting to bomb the June 30th Iranian opposition convention in Paris, face justice. One MP presented a plan to the British Parliament condemning Iran’s terrorist activities in Europe.

Arab action

The Arab League also pitched in by condemning the Iranian regime’s meddling in regional countries. The 150th Arab League session ended this week with the Foreign Ministers Committee issuing a statement expressing grave concerns over Tehran’s provoking religions sectarianism in the Middle East.

The statement also condemned the Iranian regime’s support for Yemen’s Houthi militias and their launching of ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia.

Interesting are the incoherent remarks heard form Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi, denying Tehran’s meddling and claiming this regime has “constantly called for a neighborly policy based on trust!”

Unprecedented tone

After enjoying eight years of unbridled appeasement from the United States under the Obama administration, eyebrows began raising in Tehran again after Washington held this regime responsible for any attack by its proxies in Iraq against U.S. interests.

The Trump White House issued a statement warning it will “respond swiftly and decisively” to any such attacks that render injury to Americans or damage to US facilities. The statement by the White House press secretary raised bold accusations against Iran of not preventing recent attacks targeting the US Consulate in Basra and the American Embassy compound in Baghdad.

A view of the Arab League headquarters during a meeting in Cairo on November 19, 2017. (AFP)

 

“Iran did not act to stop these attacks by its proxies in Iraq, which it has supported with funding, training, and weapons,” the statement reads.

“The United States will hold the regime in Tehran accountable for any attack that results in injury to our personnel or damage to United States Government facilities. America will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of American lives,” the statement adds.

On Thursday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian went a step further by emphasizing on Iraq’s sovereignty, and expressing grave concerns about Tehran’s missile program development and the transfer of these weapons across the region.

To add insult to injury and despite the Iranian regime’s claims of being able to confront US sanctions, the regime’s OPEC envoy is heard complaining over how Saudi Arabia and Russia are increasing their oil production.

This will eventually balance the oil market and make up for the loss of Iranian oil following the November 4 sanctions Washington has in schedule for Tehran. More insulting is how Russia is treating the Iranian regime even after Tehran’s rulers literally sold-out the Caspian Sea to Moscow.

Final thoughts

The status quo is quite telling about the Iranian regime’s isolation and impasse in the Middle East, and across the globe. This, coupled with nationwide protests and a social unrest inside Iran, provides a very expressive canvas of Tehran’s current balance of power.

Recent remarks by Hossein Alaei, former Revolutionary Guards chief of staff, refers to the Iranian regime’s challenging times.
“Today’s political and economic circumstances in Iran are inappropriate… the people are angry and the state must make important decisions,” he explained.

It goes without saying that the Iranian regime’s domestic crises, facing a powder keg society seeking to bring an end to the clerics’ rule, are of the utmost priority for those on the throne in Tehran.

As a result, regional and global isolation should evolve into the international community as a whole standing shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian people’s struggle for freedom and democracy.

ANALYSIS: How Iran’s regime views the internet

Al Arabiya

For a short while Iran’s cyber security threats and its use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter came under the spotlight. This is good, but more is needed.

Iran runs a cyber-army and what has been unearthed recently is just the tip of the iceberg. According to Facebook, an important portion of this network was linked to an internet organization associated to the regime’s state-run TV/radio apparatus.

Reuters reports how this network is active in 11 languages across the globe, busy spreading fake news and pro-Iran political propaganda on the web. This grid, however, is only a small portion of the Iranian regime’s cyber-army, mostly directed by the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and Bassij paramilitary force.

Dual approach

In recent years, the IRGC has also launched numerous cyber attacks targeting various banks, scientific centers, economic and industrial facilities in the United States, hacking their internet networks in the process. US officials have in response sanctioned individuals associated to this network.

Interesting is how the Iranian regime has a double standard approach in regards to the internet, considering it both an opportunity and a threat. Tehran takes advantage of the internet as a medium to promote its reactionary mentality, “export revolution” (read extremism) and also post fake news about its dissidents.

On the other hand, it’s quite interesting how the regime deprives the Iranian people of free access to the internet and its officials describe the internet as a threat for the regime in its entirety, going the distance to limit access.

A closer look

The Iranian regime’s cyber army is mainly controlled by the IRGC, centrally based in Tehran and commanded by an IRGC division stationed in the capital.

Ghasam.ir is the main website of this entity and more than 2,500 other sites are actively controlled through this medium, according to senior IRGC cyber-army officials.

Tehran’s IRGC cyber-army battalions are designed based on the regime’s needs in cyber-warfare and responses to cultural issues. At least one cyber-army battalion is established for each section of the large Iranian capital.

According to the regime’s terminology, these websites are responsible for launching “currents” on international, cultural and economic issues. IRGC Bassij members involved in social media and creating “currents” are literally creating fake news and/or behind special propaganda campaigns involving complete lies. A large number of the personnel active in this field of work are official reporters of the Bassij Press network.

Bassij cyber-army battalions have throughout the years expanded in various cities across Iran. The IRGC and Bassij have also embedded cyber-army units in all government and state entities, most importantly the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).

The technical and communications means available in this entity allow the IRGC cyber-army to expand its activities across the globe.

The IRIB cyber unit consists of seven such battalions and 1,200 personnel, according to the IRGC-associated Youth Journalists Club. The IRIB has also launched other cyber units to confront “the enemy’s soft war” against the regime and “present to the world the objectives and goals sought through the Islamic revolution,” according to Iranian officials talking to state media.

Iran has also established cyber units in a variety of other sectors, including the country’s important colleges and universities, religious schools and even the “Cyber Hizbullah,” in charge of organizing the cyber activities of IRGC Bassij and other such units.

A religious scholar sporting rings and holding his worry beads types on a computer at a school in Qom on 18 February 2000. (AFP)

 

Controlling the internet

The Iranian regime also uses all means provided by the internet to limit the Iranian people’s access to the world wide web. Tehran’s clerics understand very well that with the free flow of information the entire crackdown apparatus imposed on the Iranian people will begin to fissure.

As a result, the regime’s ideological pillars will weaken and Iranians across the country will gain knowledge of this regime’s corruption and economic bankruptcy. This literally represents an existential threat for the mullahs’ regime.

Iran’s 2009 and the recent Dec/Jan uprisings showed how protesters use social media networks such as Twitter, Telegram and Instagram to organize anti-regime demonstrations. In response, the Iranian regime has a tendency to block or limit the people’s access to the internet and social media platforms at times of crises.

Tehran’s clerics are also known to pursue plans to launch a “national internet network” aimed at completely blocking off the Iranian people from the internet and social medial networks. This, however, has become an impossible hurdle due to the regime’s technological and financial weaknesses.

The Iranian regime’s concerns about Telegram, a popular messaging app used by over 40 million people inside Iran, is a very clear indication.

“In a discussion with [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani we emphasized if Telegram’s vocal service is launched we will not be able to control anything,” said Hossein Nejat, deputy of the IRGC Intelligence Organization and in charge of the crackdown and arrest of cyber activists.

The Iranian regime has also failed to completely block Telegram. Senior regime officials have continuously encouraged people to use Iran-made messaging apps, only to prove a failure. The Iranian people simply don’t trust any indigenous software, knowing their information will be at the Iranian regime’s disposal immediately.

Iran’s concerns of people fully accessing the internet indicates the clerical regime’s political and intellectual failure and inability in confronting the modern world and the Iranian people’s protest movement against their reactionary apparatus.

The international community can easily stand shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian people by both sanctioning Iran’s IRIB and providing free and unhindered internet access to the Iranian people.

ANALYSIS: The reasoning behind Iran’s recent nuclear, military measures

Al Arabiya

The Iranian regime has recently moved up its fall military exercises, due to the re-imposition of US sanctions as they say, and test fired a short-range ballistic missile. This launching comes after a pause of more than a year.

On Monday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei placed what may be a nail in the coffin for any possible negotiations between his regime and the Trump administration.

Parallel to this, while making much lesser noise in the media, is the second return of ten batches of 20 percent enriched uranium that Iran sent to Russia under the 2015 nuclear accord. Iran claims this highly sensitive nuclear material is needed to fuel Tehran’s Research Reactor and threatens to restart the 20 percent uranium enrichment cycle if the deal goes south.

All the while, Iran’s ultraconservative Guardian Council, answering only to Khamenei, has signed measures to bring the regime a step closer to international anti-money-laundering standards. What is the reasoning behind these two threats and one concession?

Missile and military threats

Having the final call on all on all state matters in Iran, especially national security and foreign policy, Khamenei silenced any talk for negotiations with the U.S. From his remarks it is obvious that the Iranian regime is hoping to somehow live through US President Donald Trump’s first term and hope for him to not be reelected.

Back home, with a recent short-range ballistic missile test launch Iran is obviously sending a message to Washington regarding the sanctions. Iran test-fired a missile immediately after Trump came into office. This prompted the famous “on notice” remarks from former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and the Trump administration slapping sanctions against the Iranian regime, signaling the new White House would not tolerate such behavior.

Tehran is returning to such practices as US sanctions bear down hard, parallel to protests across the country gaining momentum. Even weekend football matches are turning into scenes where people are chanting “Death to the dictator” in reference to Khamenei, as seen vividly in Ahvaz and Tehran in the past few days.

US sanctions re-installed last week are taking Iran out of the US dollar market, shutting down their access to gold and other precious metals such as aluminum, steel and graphite, automobiles and etc.

Extreme sanctions against the Iranian regime’s energy and banking sectors are set to return in November, with the high potential of an already severely struggling economy completely crumbling. As we speak the country’s currency, the rial, is becoming valueless and all businesses are turning to the black market.

Feeling cornered, will the Iranian regime live up to its threat of blocking the Strait of Hormuz where nearly one-third of the world’s seaborne oil trade passes through? After its first 18 months the Trump administration has shown it will consider such measures as an act of war.

“If the block the Strait of Hormuz we would literally take out all their military on the Strait of Hormuz,” said Ret. Gen. Jack Keane to Fox News recently.

Rest assured the Iranian regime does not wish to instigate a conflict with the US For nearly 40 years now Iran has constantly used proxy forces to attack the US and its regional allies, specifically avoiding direct confrontation through their military.

Interesting reminders

Iran, under growing threats, is known to resort to face-saving measures. As international pressures escalate and facing a restless nation, the Iranian regime desperately needs to maintain a strong posture.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the regime’s Atomic Energy organization, reported recently the returning of a second batch of 20 percent enriched uranium sent to Russia under the 2015 nuclear accord inked by the Obama administration and nixed by Trump back in May as promised during his presidential campaign.

“If the nuclear deal remains alive, the other sides should sell us the fuel and if the nuclear deal dies, then we would feel unimpeded to produce the 20% fuel ourselves,” Kamalvandi threatened, according to the semi-official Fars news agency, known to be associated to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

He continued his threatening remarks of Iran being entitled to resume production of 20 percent enriched uranium in 2030. Furthermore, Iran has reopened a nuclear plant recently after remaining idle for nine years.

What shouldn’t go missing is the Iranian regime’s necessity to make such threats being very telling in and of itself. These are signs of a regime in crisis mode and needing to maintain a poker face, knowing their hand has nothing to offer while rivals are breathing down their neck with a full house.

Facing reality

It is, however, crystal clear for the Iranian regime that such a trend of ongoing threats cannot continue. Long gone are the Obama years when Tehran open-handedly imposed its will and continued to wreak havoc across the Middle East while advancing its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, all aligned with a ruthlessly repressive domestic crackdown machine.

For example, Iran is now heavily investing on deepening an Atlantic rift between the US and Europe. And with the European Union demanding Iran comply with anti-money-laundering standards specified by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a senior body linked directly to Khamenei is approving measures to place the regime more in line with the globally recognized norms.

Iran is now in desperate need of foreign investments as US sanctions begin to such dry the regime’s access to the global financial market. The FATF, considered the world’s financial-crime watchdog, had in June provided the Iranian regime until October to impose reforms or face drastic consequences.

The main definition of FATF restrictions for the Iranian regime is defined into the hampering of Tehran’s financial support for terror groups, including the Lebanese Hezbollah and others. This has the potential of severely crippling the regime’s influence throughout the Middle East.

Back in June Khamenei called for domestic laws to tackle money laundering inside the country, in an attempt to safeguard the flow of financial support to its proxies abroad. Recent development go to show how dire circumstances are leaving Khamenei no choice but succumbing to such humiliating terms. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

We are only one week into the return of US sanctions and protests across Iran have been gaining continuous momentum ever since the Dec/Jan uprising. Tehran on Saturday and Sunday witnessed the shoe market going on strike as store-owners were protesting high prices and the scarcity of raw material.

The impact of new sanctions will continue to sink in deep, weakening the regime in the face of expanding protests. Prior to November the Iranian regime will be on its knees.

Why Washington’s willingness to listen to Iranians is nightmare for the regime

Al Arabiya

The speech delivered by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday evening at the Reagan Library in Los Angeles can be described as yet another nail in the Iranian regime’s coffin.

It is hard to recall the last time the leaders of a regime were compared to the “mafia,” as Pompeo did in his description of the clerics sitting on the throne in Tehran. It is only fair to say Pompeo has escalated his Iran ante suggestively after his May speech where he outlined the Trump administration’s new strategy vis-à-vis the Iranian regime and summarized it in 12 conditions Tehran must adhere to.

With the rial plummeting further against the US dollar, water and electricity shortages rendering further public dissent, and a new round of truck drivers’ strike launching on Monday, Iran’s domestic calamites are dangerously coupling with its escalating foreign isolation.

A disaster is in the making for the regime.

‘Polished front men’

After decades of enjoying full-fledged appeasement from various administrations in the United States and the West in general, Iran’s regime is facing a White House like none other.

Officials in Iran described the Obama years as the “golden era.” Nowadays, the circumstances are in deep contrast to what Tehran desires and needs to continue its domestic crackdown and foreign adventures.

“Despite the regime’s clear record of discretion, America and other countries have spent years straining to identify a political moderate; it’s like an Iranian unicorn! The regime’s revolutionary goals and willingness to commit violent acts haven’t produced anyone to lead Iran that can be remotely called a moderate, or a statesman,” he said.

This was a severe blow to Iran apologists continuing to claim reform from within this regime is possible.

Pompeo resorted to the term of “merely polished front men for the ayatollahs’ international con artistry” when dismissing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

‘Mafia’

With protesters across the country continuing to voice their dissent regarding the ruling regime and complaining about severe economic hardships, Pompeo voiced strong words in saying Iran “is run by something that resembles the mafia more than a government.”

“40 years of fruit from Iran’s Islamic Revolution has been bitter. 40 years of kleptocracy. 40 years of the people’s wealth squandered on terrorism. 40 years of Iranians jailed for expressing their rights,” he explained.

The “mafia” ruling Iran is also known for its horrific practice of supporting terrorism and sponsoring extremist groups to fuel sectarian strife across the Middle East and export crises across the globe, including Europe.

As we speak Iran is going the distance to have a Vienna-based “diplomat” – arrested recently in connection to a bomb plot targeting the Iranian opposition “Free Iran 2018” convention in Paris – returned to Vienna. Pompeo referred to this case in his speech and made an interesting conclusion about the regime.

Unexpected

In May, US President Donald Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear pact, supposedly aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. Trump had always described it as the worst deal in the world and lived up to his campaign promise of tearing up the accord.

Ever since US sanctions have been returning and an armada of foreign companies, including the likes of Total, Siemens and Boeing, to name a few, are ending their business with the Iranian regime.

Seeing its lifeline of oil exports threatened, Rouhani and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made a series of retaliatory threats in response to imminent US embargoes. What they received was unexpected, to say the least.

Placing this alongside Pompeo’s strong speech on the same day once again bring us to this conclusion that Iran’s regime understands only a firm language.

The Trump administration has been implementing such a viewpoint, especially through meaningful sanctions that promise to make Tehran think twice about how to trek forward.

Historic

The Trump administration says its Iran policy is not specifically “regime change.”

A look at Pompeo’s recent speech, the 12-conditions he placed before Tehran in May, and how the stakes are escalating following Trump’s response to the Iranian regime’s threats, it is safe to say the changes we are witnessing and the road ahead are of historic proportion.

“While it is ultimately up to the Iranian people to determine the direction of their country, the United States … will support the long-ignored voice of the Iranian people,” Pompeo said.

Obama turned his back on the Iranian people back in 2009 and the rendered results continue to plague us globally.

Trump is not making that mistake. The sheer fact that Washington has decided to listen to the Iranian people inside the country and abroad is a nightmare turning into reality for Tehran’s rulers.

Iran: Changes in Revolutionary Guards’ senior command?

IRGC chief Mohammad Ali Jafari & Quds Force chief may be sacked

The following report is from sources inside Iran and has yet to be confirmed.

At a family event on July 18th, Seyed Massoud Khamenei, the son of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has told Sadeq Kharazi, his brother in law, that Khamanei has been unhappy with the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) recently, especially considering the major setbacks Iran has suffered in Syria.

Changes in the senior IRGC ranks are in the making, Massoud Khamenei said, and Deputy IRGC chief Hossein Salami will be replacing IRGC chief Mohammad Ali Jafari.

Image result for hossein salami
Deputy IRGC chief Hossein Salami

IRGC Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani is also said to be sacked, yet his replacement has yet to be specified.

Massoud Khamenei has told Sadeq Kharazi, who enjoys close relations with Suleimani, that the Quds Force chief has twice recently requested to meet with the Supreme Leader, only to be turned down on both occasions.

Image result for khamenei IRGC
IRGC Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani

Sadeq Kharazi has said the Supreme Leader sought to keep a lid on the information about changes in the IRGC ranks. However, information has leaked out of Khamenei’s home and office.

In a move intended to prevent already decreasing morale among IRGC personnel, Khamenei recently ordered officials to deny any rumors of changes among senior IRGC officials.

In line, Brigadier General Mohammad Shiraz, head of Khamenei’s Military Office, on Saturday denied rumors claiming Jafari’s replacement.

Opposition convention provides ‘the alternative’ solutions for Iran

Al Arabiya

The Iranian Diaspora held a massive rally on Saturday in Paris where a long slate of international political figures from both sides of the Atlantic, the Middle East and beyond joined a huge crowd to voice their support for regime change in Iran.

The rally was spearheaded by the Iranian opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its pillar member, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavidelivered a speech highlighting how the Iranian regime is engulfed in unprecedented internal crises with protests mushrooming out of control across Iran.

On the very day of this convention, videos on social media showed intense clashes and skirmishes between protesters demanding drinking water and authorities opening fire on demonstrators in the city of Khorramshahr in southwest Iran. Up to four protesters were reportedly killed.

On an international scale, the clerics are witnessing an end to the appeasement policy in the US with Barack Obama no longer in office. This has left the Iranian regime vulnerable without their safeguard shield, especially after US President Donald Trump pulled his country out of the Iran nuclear deal and sanctions are returning at a pace very alarming for Tehran.

“The overthrow of this regime inevitably requires the willingness to pay the price, requires honesty and sacrifice; requires an organization and a strong political alternative, and requires resistance units and a liberation army,” Rajavi said, emphasizing on the unique characteristic her movement enjoys, and others claiming to support regime change lack.

Global voice

“This government is about to collapse, and this is the time to turn on the pressure,” said Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Trump advisor and attorney, at the rally.

He went on to express his support of Trump reinstalling sanctions on Iran and emphasize, “Trump doesn’t turn his back on freedom fighters.” This sending a clear message to the brave protesters inside Iran seeking to realize regime change.

Saturday’s podium also witnessed former US House Speaker and informal Trump adviser Newt Gingrich, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, former US ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, five British MPs, a former French prime minister and former foreign minister.

Speculations are growing of Trump seeking to force the Iranian regime into a new round of negotiations based on his terms, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo placing 12 highly costing demands before Tehran. Speakers on Saturday were also heard voicing different opinions.

Maryam Rajavi delivers a speech during their gathering in Villepinte on June 30, 2018. (Reuters)

 

“Our goal is very simple. It’s not to start negotiating. Our goal is to have a free and democratic Iran that respects the rights of every individual,” Gingrich said.

“Today, you have an administration which understand reality, which is determined to stop the dictatorship, which is increasing the sanctions, and which I predict every single month will get tougher and tougher,” he added.

Former Senator Robert Torricelli, an influential voice from the Democratic Party, indicated how the position on Iran’s regime is a completely bipartisan matter in the US.

Salman al-Ansari, founder and President of the Saudi American Public Relations Committee, also voiced his support for the Iranian people’s struggle.

Looking forward

With Iran suffering from escalating poverty, unemployment, shanty dwelling, severe water shortage and environmental crises, the regime’s future seems further bleak under this mountain of calamities.

As internal political disputes increase and with knowledge regarding this regime’s nature of plundering the country’s wealth, it has become quite obvious the days of these clerical rulers are numbered.

The Iranian people have the right to regain their sovereignty after this current regime hijacked the 1979 revolution and open the gates of hell to this country, and the entire Middle East throughout the past 40 years.

Adding insult to injury for the Iranian people, this regime has benefitted from decades of appeasement by western governments seeking their own economic interests. The Iranian opposition have alongside the people of this country been the main victims of this policy.

Today, however, with the Iranian people rising for their rights throughout the country, and the mullahs no longer having the support they enjoyed during the Obama years, the end of their rule, and freedom and democracy being established in this country is becoming an ever more realistic scenario.

Following the regime’s inevitable downfall, the first order of duty will be transferring power to the people. NCRI President Maryam Rajavi, known for her well-supported ten-point plan for Iran’s future, underscored yet again on this necessity for a free and democratic Iran of tomorrow.

ANALYSIS: How to cripple the Iranian regime and help its people

Al Arabiya

The US administration taking significant measures to re-impose sanctions on Iran’s regime aims to reach a variety of objectives. Crippling sanctions are being implemented on Tehran and there are methods to pinpoint these efforts against the regime and in fact support the Iranian people’s strive for freedom and democracy.

One very effective initiative is severing all access for Iranian banks to SWIFT, or the Society for the Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication.

These actions have the potential of exerting crippling economic and financial pressure Tehran, including exerting unprecedented damages to the regime’s trade relations and import/export process.

Iran deal finale

Numerous outlets are running a variety of reports and articles discussing the impact of US President Donald Trump exiting the Iran nuclear deal and the future of relations between Iranian banks and SWIFT.

If Tehran’s rulers see their apparatus cut off from SWIFT, the regime Central Bank, Bank Melli, Bank Sepah and Bank Saderat (Exports) will no longer enjoy the highly important facilities provided by the Belgian firm.

A handout picture provided by the office of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on June 4, 2018 shows him greeting the crowd in Tehran. (AFP)

What is SWIFT?

This Brussels-based company is quite large in size and is mainly involved in facilitating transactions. Simply put, SWIFT lubricates the wheels of financial relations across the globe.

Placing this subject into better perspective, financial transactions were carried out through telex messages, taking a few days to arrive at the destination. These transactions are accelerated to a matter of minutes under SWIFT services.

Today, SWIFT is known to manage around 11,000 banks and financial institutions across 209 countries, facilitating around six billion financial messages annually.

Remaining neutral?

SWIFT opened eyes into this world back in May 1973 with a very noteworthy characteristic of refraining any involvement in political disputes. Launched with the support of a number of countries, this institution aims to accelerate money and financial transactions for trade across the globe.

While SWIFT officials strive to distance their entity from politics, the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York had the US, a major SWIFT member, demanding further control over financial transactions across the globe. This included American authorities seeking increasing access to personal information of individuals using SWIFT.

Despite initial opposition by SWIFT authorities, the European Union agreed to U.S. demands of establishing methods of controlling and monitoring trade and banking transactions.

In July, the United States imposed sanctions on Iran over its missile program. (Shutterstock)

Iran, SWIFT & US sanctions

Iran joined the SWIFT in 1992, linking its Central Bank, Banks Melli, Sepah and Saderat (Export), alongside other Iranian regime banks to the world’s financial network.

In 2012, under pressure from the US and major sanctions against Tehran’s nuclear program, the links between Iranian regime banks and SWIFT, and effectively the global financial network, were severed.

Following the 2015 Iran nuclear deal signing and initial measures implemented by Iran, SWIFT lifted its restrictions on Iranian banks in 2016. This goes alongside the $1.7 billion in cash provided to Tehran by the Obama administration and the $150 billion in assets unfrozen.

Despite pledges provided by senior Iranian officials, not a single dollar of this huge amount went to provide the Iranian population’s necessities. While over 50 million people across the country are living in poverty, Tehran continues to fuel its terrorist proxies across the Middle East, an unnecessary nuclear program and ballistic missile drive.

New measures

On June 4th the three countries of France, Germany and the United Kingdom issued a letter to US Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin asking for new American sanctions to not include the SWIFT apparatus.

Following the developments of the recent G7 meeting in Canada, there are no signs of Washington taking the European request into consideration. If so, the Green Continent will be significantly limited in continuing its economic cooperation with Iran.

The sanctions that are scheduled to be back on line come November 4 are set to include financial and banking collaboration. Any entity refusing to abide by these regulations, already seen very unlikely, will be the target of US punishment. This comprises their US-based assets being frozen, officials banned to enter US soil and their activities limited in the US.

Iran’s domestic crackdown organs and its foreign belligerence are all funded through state banks and financial institutions. All actions taken against these entities and limiting their power will benefit the Iranian people in their daily protests and long struggle to establish freedom and democracy in their country.

Following the Dec/Jan nationwide protests, described by many as an uprising, there is no longer any doubt that the Iranian people want this regime gone. As a result, any measures against Tehran’s interests will support this nation’s quest to achieve their objectives.

A look at the current trend leads to this conclusion that the months leading to November will be of grave importance for the future of Iran’s regime, knowing the continuation of today’s actions will cripple its entire apparatus very soon.

Has Khamenei signaled dead-end for Iranian regime’s adventures?

The United States’ important policy shift against Iran’s growing ambitions, spelled out in a 12-article speech delivered by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is leaving Tehran’s clerical rulers facing quite a difficult challenge.

Iran experts believe these changes are based on two domestic and international pillars, acknowledging the reality of Tehran’s regime as a main threat in regards to its nuclear program, ballistic missile drive, exporting terrorism and fundamentalism, and a domestic crackdown machine on full throttle.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei understands how such dangerous circumstances are rendering severe setbacks for his forces both inside the country and militia proxies abroad.

Reports indicate the Afghan “Liwa Fatemiyoun” militias, hired to fight in Syria, are deserting their units, and Tehran is apparently ordering Houthi militia units in Yemen to withdraw from the country’s western coastline and surrender their most strategic port in al-Hudaydah.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif arrives for a meeting of the foreign ministers from Britain, France and Germany and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, at the Europa building in Brussels on May 15, 2018. (AP)

 

Six conditions

In a desperate effort to counter this offensive, Khamenei has placed six conditions before the European Union to issue resolutions against the US in the United Nations Security Council, not raise the issue of Iran’s ballistic missile program and Middle East influence, guarantee trade through European banks, assure Iran’s ability to fully sell its oil, compensate pledges the EU has not lived up to (according to Khamenei) and take a stand against US sanctions.

As preposterous as Khamenei’s words sound, we need to understand that he has no choice but to resort to such remarks. And of course, the words of French President Emmanuel Macron sink deep in the minds of Tehran’s senior officials. French firms have to decide on continuing their activities in Iran and assessing the risks imposed by US sanctions, he said in recent remarks. The French President cannot ask companies such as Total to pull out of their business in the US, Macron said.

As many European companies continue to rush out of Iran, Stadler of Switzerland has been the latest to jump on the train, halting a $1.1 billion contract to provide and build 960 wagons for the Tehran-Karaj metro, citing the return of US sanctions as the reason.

Iran’s own political figures are losing hope. “How do we expect the Europeans to forgo their $700 billion exports to the US for the sake of $20 billion exports to Iran?” recently said Sadegh Zibakalam, a Tehran professor University with ties to the Iranian regime’s so-called reformist camp.

Although Khamenei has taken what seems to the naked eye a strong position by placing demands before Europe, he is also seeking new negotiations with the Green Continent. This proves that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s visits to China and Russia, and a recent drive of Iran seeking eastern shift in policy, failed miserably.

From day one after Washington pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, the reality about the Iranian regime’s destructive policies became clear. Neither the European Union, Russia nor China are willing to provide any guarantees to Tehran. This explains why Khamenei, desperately seeking a lifeline, sees the only path forward as establishing a rift in the international community to somehow find breathing room for his regime.

Iranian and US banknotes are on display at a currency exchange shop in downtown Tehran. (AP)

Dark future

One must also recognize the severe setbacks Iran will be suffering from Washington’s drastic change in policy, in comparison to the Obama years. This has not only brought a complete end to all the dreams of those advocating appeasement vis-à-vis Iran, but also the dark future awaiting Tehran if it chooses to continue its nuclear program, ballistic missile ambitions, regional influence and domestic crackdown.

The Iranian regime is coming to learn the days of mass arrests, torture in prisons and executions without paying the price are coming to the end. Tehran is feeling the heat across the region, understanding its missile launches, exporting terrorism and meddling in neighboring countries come with a major price tag.

All of the Revolutionary Guards’ vastly expanded bases throughout the region, parallel to networks of terrorism in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen, alongside the nuclear program and not providing the promised “anytime, anywhere” inspections of its civil and military sites, are now targets of a variety of punitive measures by the US and its allies.

All this Iranian belligerence received a major $150 billion as a result of a highly flawed nuclear deal. Money that could have provided for the over 50 million Iranians living in poverty. Ironically, it is the Iranian regime’s own semi-official outlets that are providing such drastic statistics.

The above have resulted in a growing volume of dissent inside Iran, as analysts now consider this country a powder keg ready to explode at any moment. What makes the status quo even more dangerous for the Iranian regime is the fact that the Iranian people’s thirst for regime change is symbolized in their support for the main Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

While there may be a long dispute about the issue of regime change in Iran, the current circumstances are quite telling for the Iranian regime itself. “[National Security Advisor John] Bolton makes the same remarks today as he did in a PMOI/MEK event,” according to an editorial in the semi-official Mardom Salari daily.

According to former Iranian parliament deputy chairman Mohammad Reza Bahonar, “The US administration receive their analysis from the PMOI/MEK… the strategy of behavior change is no different from regime change.”

Understanding the US policy on Iran in light of Pompeo speech

Dedicating his first foreign policy speech to the grave subject of Iran, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outlined the Trump administration’s new strategy vis-à-vis Iran on Monday, coming shortly after President Trump announced the US would withdraw from the Obama-era nuclear deal.

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., Secretary Pompeo vividly explained how the US administrations is standing alongside the Iranian people and their aspirations for freedom and democracy, especially the ongoing protests across the country.

The new strategy encompasses “a new security architecture” extending beyond Tehran’s nuclear program to also include its missile technology, support for terrorism and actions in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon, amongst other countries.

A long slate of conditions were set forth by America’s top diplomat, demanding the Iranian regime to fall in line regarding concerns shared by the international community:

– The regime must come clean of all previous nuclear activities and disclose full account of the military dimensions of its nuclear program. It must also abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions in perpetuity.

– The regime must stop uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing. It must also close its heavy water reactor at Arak.

– The Iranian regime must provide the IAEA full access to all its sites throughout the country.

– Tehran must stop its ballistic missile development and the launching of ballistic missiles.

– The release of all foreign citizens held hostage by the regime.

– The Iranian regime must end its support for terrorist groups in the Middle East.

– Respect for the sovereignty of Iraq and the disbanding of its proxy militia in the country.

– End of support for the Houthi militias.

– The regime must withdraw all forces under its command from Syria.

– End of support for Taliban and other terrorists in the region. The regime must also cease providing shelter to the leaders of al-Qaeda.

– The regime must end the IRGC Quds forces support for terrorism across the globe.

– The regime must end its threatening behavior against its neighbors.

Mike Pompeo and Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir during a press conference in Riyadh on April 29, 2018. (AP)

 

As Pompeo explained himself, this list is actually quite longer and the Iranian regime has only itself to blame. The way measures are forecasting, Tehran will never again enjoy a carte blanche to terrorize the Middle East.

Pompeo’s comments come as the as Iran is scrambling diplomats across the globe after Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal, in an effort to somehow preserve what they can of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), how the deal is formally known.

All the while, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has described the JCPOA as a “dying patient,” adding there is no guarantee if Europe can actually stand in the face of US sanctions.

Zarif has specifically added European support isn’t enough to safeguard the Iran nuclear deal. This notion was given a very strong shock as Pompeo said in his speech, “We will apply unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime.”

As actions begin to bite and an increasing number of foreign companies are abandoning their endeavors inside Iran, Tehran is comprehending how this is just the beginning of a very strong sanctions tsunami, described as Pompeo of eventually becoming the strongest sanctions in history.

The sting of sanctions will be painful if the regime doesn’t change its course, Pompeo added. With an already ailing economy and its currency, the rial, nosediving, the Iranian regime will be in an uphill battle to prevent its economy from a highly possible episode of complete collapse.

Arguably the strongest aspect of Pompeo’s speech came in his emphasis on Washington’s stance alongside the Iranian people, underscoring how the US administration intends to advocate tirelessly for the Iranian people.

America’s top diplomat referred how the protests of the past show the Iranian people are deeply frustrated with the regime. Workers and others across the society aren’t getting paid. Strikes and protest rallies are a daily scene. Unemployment is skyrocketing, with the youth being at least 25 percent.

At a short Q&A after his speech, Secretary Pompeo was asked to deliver a possible timeline on how Washington intends to fulfill these measures against the Iranian regime.

“At the end of the day the Iranian people will decide the timeline,” Pompeo said interestingly. As far as Tehran is concerned, reactions to Pompeo’s speech are very telling.

The Youth Journalists Club, known for its affiliation to the faction close to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, described Pompeo’s remarks as “baseless.”

The semi-official Tasnim news agency, however, associated to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, went as far as using this title for its post-Pompeo speech take:

“The US Secretary of State and his regime change speech.”