ANALYSIS: Adopting a different approach on Iran

Signaling a major buzz topic in Washington these days, with the international community waiting anxiously, the new US administration is on the verge of implementing a significant Iran policy overhaul.

America nearly lost all of its influence in the Middle East as a result of a devastating engagement policy captained by the Obama-Kerry team, all in a desperate effort to obtain Tehran’s consent in completing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The impact of the support by the Obama Administration of the Arab Spring did the rest, as main Arab allies came under immense pressure.

US President Barack Obama delivers remarks on nuclear deal with Iran at American University in Washington August 5, 2015. (File photo: Reuters)

Considering Obama’s yearning to seal the JCPOA as the foreign policy hallmark of his legacy, he was seen succumbing to literally any and all demands made by the Iranians. Tehran understood and used this leverage to issue threats of walking away from the deal.

While President Trump has not torn up the deal as candidate Trump pledged, his administration has taken the lead to strongly criticize Iran’s current behavior in the Middle East that poses a major threat to America’s strategic position and the security of regional allies.

The Trump administration, unlike its fledgling predecessor, is weighing on how to bring Iran’s mischievous behavior under control and have it completely halted.

Selling a false deal

The pro-JCPOA camp sold the deal to the international community by claiming Iran’s mullahs’ would become more moderate and begin acting reasonably.

Let’s review the facts on the ground:

– The Middle East is in carnage, with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and proxies launching deadly killings in Syria in support of Assad, massacring Sunnis and other minorities in Iraq, supporting Houthi militants in Yemen, and the Lebanese Hezbollah, just to name a few.

– Tehran is continuing its ballistic missile program full speed ahead, preparing to couple the project with an ongoing secret nuclear weapons drive, as exposed recently by the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

– Military confrontations between US-Arab allies and Iranian forces continue, as shown in the Gulf and the Bab Al Mandab.

– Flagrant human rights violations and increasing domestic crackdown. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, now seeking a second term, has presided over 3,000 executions.

We were reminded recently by US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley ,when she referred to existing Security Council resolutions banning Iran from importing or exporting arms, and end all ballistic missile testing.

Haley clearly indicated Trump will not allow such measures slide, as we witnessed far too often under the Obama watch.

“The United States will work closely with our partners to document and address any actions that violate these resolutions,” Haley said. “We must take a stand against Iran and Hezbollah’s illegal and dangerous behavior.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also raised eyebrows in remarks unseen from America’s top diplomat for many years. Iran continues to enjoy the top ranking of the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. The nature of sanctions being vital to the national and security interests of America, and its regional allies in particular, will be a major topic of a new JCPOA review.

Fresh sanctions

Meanwhile, a new bill seeking to slap fresh sanctions against Tehran for continuing its illicit missile program is in the preparation process in the House of Representatives.

Sanctions and economic pressures are a major leverage the US enjoys against Tehran. Blocking access to the global banking system and compelling companies and various institutions to choose between America’s $19 trillion economy and Iran’s half a trillion should not make the decision any harder.

Irony lies in the fact that Obama initially boosted US sanctions against Iran, only to ignore Iran’s highly belligerent proliferation activities and support for terrorism.

A recent Politico report highlighted how the Obama administration even released Iranian arms dealers apprehended by US authorities and dropped international arrest warrants seeking others. To this end, Obama literally risked US national security for the sake of appeasing Tehran’s mullahs.

The Trump administration is set to draw a major line in the sand. Beefing up sanctions could be a major policy change adopted by the new White House. To take steps further, Washington should seriously consider designating the mullahs’ Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organization for its role in Iran’s meddling and supporting terrorism, extremism and Islamic fundamentalism across the Middle East, Tehran’s ongoing military development programs -especially the ballistic missile drives – and horrific human rights violations across the country.

Missed opportunity

In 2009 Obama missed the opportunity to support the Iranian people’s cry for freedom and democracy, and now the new US administration cannot stand again on the sidelines. Supporting the Iranian people and their organized opposition, currently openly represented by liberal movements such as the NCRI, seeking a democratic, secular and non-nuclear Iran, living in harmony with its regional neighbors and returning to the international community as a responsible member, could be a starting point.

If Washington would be able to address these options in full, not falling into the trap of removing the Iranian regime under the umbrella of “bringing democracy”, but supporting a growing liberal democratic opposition, a better future for Iran is possible. This will take time, during which economic and political pressure should be increased on the regime. Appeasing the mullahs will not reap any positive rewards, Tehran will not see any need to change at all.

– Dr. Cyril Widdershoven is the co-writer of this article.

How Obama’s Iranian nuclear deal enabled tragedy in Aleppo

In his year-end press conference, President Obama reflected on the tragedy that has befallen Aleppo, Syria, where Iranian-backed militias and Russian warplanes helped Syrian dictator Bashar Assad reclaim the city and conduct a crime against humanity rivaling Rwanda and Srebrenica. Continue reading “How Obama’s Iranian nuclear deal enabled tragedy in Aleppo”

Time for a principled approach on Iran

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By Heshmat Alavi – December 21, 2016
The time has come to reassess, readdress, and readjust the course of action in Western foreign policy in respect with Iran.
Last year’s nuclear deal between the international community and Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has proven flawed on the global position over human rights and worldwide security. Continue reading “Time for a principled approach on Iran”

Trump and U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis Iran

00By Shahriar Kia

The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States has wreaked havoc among the regime in Iran. Iran’s lobbying groups in Washington are going the distance to influence Trump’s foreign policy vis-à-vis the mullahs in Tehran. Continue reading “Trump and U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis Iran”

Why We Shouldn’t Worry About Giuliani’s Ties to an Iranian Resistance Group

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Former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani

November 28, 2016

Last week, Politico published an article critiquing the Mujahidin e-Khalq, or MEK, an Iranian resistance group, and the U.S. politicians who support it, especially former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. As a former Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and someone familiar with the MEK and Giuliani’s work on the organization’s behalf, I can say unequivocally that Benjamin’s assertions are outrageous—so outrageous that I must respond.

First, I want to be clear about one thing: This isn’t about Rudy Giuliani. Arguably the broadest and most impressive bipartisan coalition in a generation has supported the MEK in its campaign for regime change in Iran. This includes two former chairmen of the joint chiefs, two former CIA directors, a former attorney general and the former chairs of both political parties. The ideological range includes everyone from Howard Dean and Patrick Kennedy to Newt Gingrich and John Bolton. From this perspective, the outlier isn’t Rudy Giuliani; it’s Daniel Benjamin.

Let’s review a little history: The MEK was part of the coalition opposing the shah of Iran in the late 1970s, where it resisted the regime through political and military action. Its leadership was devastated by the shah’s secret police both by execution and imprisonment. The vacuum of leadership was briefly filled by a Marxist group that was rejected by the incarcerated MEK leaders. Many of these Marxist leaders were killed by the shah or by the mullahs after their ascent to power in 1979, and the MEK eventually regained its original leadership. As soon as it became clear that the mullah’s ambition for Iran was a theocracy, the MEK became an opposition group and fled into exile in Paris and Iraq.

 

Throughout this time, the MEK did take part in legitimate political and military action against the Iranian regime, but I have seen no evidence to support the assertion Benjamin makes that it took part in terrorist activities against Iranians or Americans.

The refugee camps of the MEK in Iraq in the 1980s were, by necessity, under the protection of the government of Iraq. MEK fighters were aligned with Iraqi Army during Iran/Iraq War. But Benjamin’s claims that they assisted in Saddam Hussein’s repression of the Kurds have been denied by both MEK and U.S. Army leaders in Iraq. Upon the arrival of U.S. forces in 2003, the MEK willingly handed over its weapons, accepted U.S. protection and actively exposed the Iranian regime and its proxies’ terrorist activities. This included saving American lives by identifying IED locations. This, more than anything, explains the group’s support by former U.S. military personnel, including the former army anti-terror officer and the U.S. military police general assigned to the camp.

This is where the American foreign policy establishment begins to divide. The MEK provided critical intel on the Iranian nuclear program that was invaluable in countering Tehran’s efforts to develop atomic weapons. The leader of the movement, Maryam Rajavi, committed herself publicly to a democratic, non-nuclear, secular Iran at peace with its neighbors with gender equality and a ban on capital punishment. By organizing thousands in the Iranian diaspora and building political support in Congress and parliaments across Europe, it became the most organized and disciplined of the Iranian opposition groups.

Some current and former State Department employees, including Mr. Benjamin, have a different concept. They remain committed to the idea that the MEK was a terrorist organization—a notion, I believe, which stems from an illusion of American reconciliation with the mullahs. In 1997, a group at State succeeded in convincing President Bill Clinton to place the MEK on the State Department list of terrorist organizations. Some claimed at the time that this decision was mainly intended as a goodwill gesture to Iran. The State Department gave as its reasons the MEK’s long record of violence, but I can tell you that as a member of the Foreign Relation Committee, I reviewed the State Department file on the MEK and found no evidence, no testimony and no reason for the designation except placating Tehran.

Thousands of Iranian-Americans and literally hundreds of members of Congress protested. In 2011, as a private attorney, I led a team of lawyers in a State Department inquiry to resolve the issue. After four hours of testimony, we yielded to the State Department to present their contradictory evidence. They had nothing.

With no evidence and the threat of an order by the U.S. District Court, Secretary Hillary Clinton removed the MEK from the State Department list of terrorist organizations in 2012.

Defeat came hard for the Iran apologists within the department. Mr. Benjamin isn’t the first to argue that the broad coalition of former U.S. intelligence, military, diplomatic and congressional leaders can’t be believed because some accepted speaking fees to attend MEK meetings around the world. The fact that these people faced combat for or dedicated their entire careers to our country, and are among our most respected leaders seems to be of no consequence. It’s an argument that requires no rebuttal except to note that by this standard the views of Thomas Paine, Elie Wiesel and Winston Churchill—all of whom accepted speaking fees from various international organizations—would have been silenced as well.

Not the least of those who spoke out was Rudy Giuliani. In 2012, the 3,000 MEK refugees settled along the Iran/Iraq border were under imminent threat. The tension was complicating Iraqi relations with the United States. Secretary Clinton requested that I assemble a persuasive group of distinguished Americans to travel to Europe and persuade Mrs. Rajavi to relocate the refugees to a former U.S. military base near Baghdad. I appealed to Louis Freeh, Ed Rendell, Michael Mukasey and Rudy Giuliani. Each accepted, canceled commitments, paid his own transportation to Paris and argued persuasively that the MEK assist the United States by relocating.

Like any broad coalition in a large diverse country like ours, the perspectives of the Americans in this coalition vary. Some believe that in the political vacuum following an economic or political collapse in Tehran, a determined and well-funded political opposition like the MEK could seize power. Others believe that the MEK might simply be part of a broader coalition, a simple pressure point or just a source of continuing intelligence. The rationale for support might differ, but this diverse group of Americans is united in two ways: All believe that the MEK is a genuine democratic force and that regime change in Tehran is the best option to keep the peace, avoid a nuclear Iran and advance American interests.

This leaves us with the central theme of Mr. Benjamin’s argument: Rudy Giuliani’s participation in this coalition disqualifies him for consideration as secretary of state.

Experience and participation in public policy issues was once a condition for high government service. It’s now a complication, because a record of advocacy creates controversy. But the selection of secretary of state needs to be different. Among the most likely crises facing the new president is an escalation in the struggle with the fundamentalist Islamic Republic of Iran. Rudy Giuliani has lived that struggle for a decade. Mr. Benjamin may quarrel with his efforts but it’s important to note that voices in the American foreign policy establishment as diverse as Senator McCain, Secretary Clinton, Deputy Secretary Blinken and John Kerry’s own personal representative on the MEK, Jonathan Weiner disagree. Each has thanked Rudy Giuliani and the other Americans involved in these efforts.

The president-elect may or may not choose Mr. Giuliani as secretary of state. What shouldn’t happen is for countering Tehran and assisting our country to be seen as anything other than a valuable contribution to his consideration.

Originally published in the Politico

Iran regime jails may force woman to commit suicide

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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is serving five years in prison in Tehran (Picture: Change.org)

A British-Iranian mother is currently jailed by the mullahs’ regime in Iran and her family is seriously concerned about both her deteriorating health and the risk of her committing suicide.

37-year-old Nazanin Zaghar Ratcliffe lived in northwest London and was sentenced by Iran’s so-called judiciary system to two years behind bars back in May. While attempting to board a flight returning to the UK back in April she was suddenly arrested by the regime’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and even separated from Gabriella, her two-year old daughter. The IRGC has gone as far as confiscating Gabriella’s British passport, making her unable to leave Iran.

Continue reading “Iran regime jails may force woman to commit suicide”

Iran: How Tehran’s terrorism can be stopped

 

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Lebanese Hezbollah

Originally published in Ground Report

Iran was one of the topics discussed in the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. In the past 38 years, Iran has always been one of the hot topics of the U.S. presidential elections.

The nuclear deal and troubles caused by small Iranian boats in the Persian Gulf were the specific issues that were brought up in last Monday’s debate, but the main issue about Iran, meaning violation of Human rights was not discussed by either of the candidates.  Overlooking the egregious violation of Human rights of Tehran’s regime is a repetition of the same foreign policy mistake different U.S. administrations have made in respect of Iran for the last 38 years. Continue reading “Iran: How Tehran’s terrorism can be stopped”