Iran Feeling The Heat From Trump On Nuclear Deal

“Once the deal is decertified, and Congress appears to be on the brink of reapplying sanctions, that could change not only Iran’s calculus but also the European allies’ calculus,” said James Phillips, a Middle Eastern affairs expert at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation tank in an interview with CNBC.

The Trump Administration is raising the tempo on decertifying Iran over the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), envisaging a temporary relief of various sanctions imposed on Iran in return for a curb of this regime’s nuclear program.

According to Politico, Trump’s national security team has urged him unanimously to decertify the JCPOA prior to the October 15th deadline, while National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster is brewing an inclusive Iran strategy, due October 31st, on escalating pressure against the regime.

Reports also indicate the White House has scheduled a major Iran speech by Trump on October 12th. This goes parallel to a Thursday night meeting with his military brass focusing on Iran and North Korea, where Trump spoke of “calm before the storm.”

Tough actions are also on schedule Friday against the Iran-offspring Lebanese Hezbollah, as part of a broader effort to make Tehran further feel the heat.

In response to Trump’s United Nations General Assembly speech, Tehran first attempted to lash back with strong remarks through its so-called “reformist” President Hassan Rouhani.

Iran “will not be the first country to violate the agreement, but it will respond decisively and resolutely to its violation by any party,” Rouhani said at his UNGA speech on September 20th.

Yet witnessing no backing down from Washington’s part, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has been seeking to calm tensions, resorting to all but begging the European Union for support.

“If Europe and Japan and Russia and China decided to go along with the U.S., then I think that will be the end of the deal. Europe should lead,” he said in an interview with Financial Times.

Following his New York tour and a series of media interviews, Zarif reportedly rushed to Oman asking the Sultanate to relay to Washington a new series of proposals blueprinted to avoid a faceoff over the JCPOA’s future.

Trump’s running concerns regarding the deal include:

  • “sunset clauses” that portray all Iran sanctions coming to an end in 10 to 30 years,
  • Tehran’s refusal to ratify and implement the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty’s Additional Protocol, allowing the regime to possibly maintain all options available to quickly boost the military aspect of its nuclear ambitions,
  • the exclusion of Iran’s ballistic missile program and other belligerences from the JCPOA.

Iran has been carefully following the signs received from the Trump Administration in regards to its wide variety of bellicosities, and how the White House is not budging in the face of North Korea’s threats.

Realizing the going is getting tough, Tehran is reportedly loosening the rope and providing incentives previously thought to be red lines for the regime.

  • Seeking to continue various aspects of its nuclear program while offering guarantees not to design its ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warhead payloads.
  • Tehran has continuously kicked the can down the road on ratifying the Additional Protocol. This provides the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, “further inspection authority,” and enables the organization’s “inspectorate to provide assurance about both declared and possible undeclared activities…”
  • Tehran also seeks to suggest cooperating in the war against the so-called Islamic State and is seeking to separate Iran’s regional policies from its nuclear dossier. The West should be very aware in this regard and consider the issue as a leverage Iran is pursuing for its future Middle East endeavors.

All the while, key members of the Trump Administration are unifying their position on the JCPOA’s future. As mentioned above about the unanimous vote to decertify the deal before the October 15th deadline, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is reportedly seeking a new outlined approach enabling the US to remain in the deal while avoiding a recertification process every 90 days. This can allow the administration to begin allocating necessary focus and resources on Iran’s assets used to pursue its devastating policies.

“The Trump administration is already … imposing sanctions on companies linked to Iran’s ballistic missile program, its cyberattacks, and its terrorist-sponsoring Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). There is much more to be done on the targeted sanctions front, including designating the IRGC a terrorist organization. But there are also important steps that Trump can take on the ground in Syria and Iraq,” as explained in a recent Foreign Policy article.

This is specifically vital for Iran as the Guards have through the past four decades also usurped control over 40% of the country’s economy.

In regards to Iran’s economy, Europe is a major party and considered crucial for Tehran’s ruling elite. The new approach sought by the Trump Administration, however, has the potential of maintaining the Europeans, anxious to safeguard the JCPOA, in line with Washington’s efforts to confront Tehran’s destabilizing actions.

Following the JCPOA implementation Iran has signed numerous economic contracts with France’s Airbus, Renault and Total.

And yet, French President Emmanuel Macron has specifically mentioned his readiness to discuss future sanctions in response to Iran’s ballistic missile tests, the regime’s expanding reach across the Middle East and amending the JCPOA to improve conditions after its expiration in 2025.

“Just because we want to keep the JCPOA doesn’t mean we want to ignore the other concerns,” one European diplomat said to CNN.

Iran’s Raja News website wrote recently, “The European Union will never sacrifice economic ties with the US for relations with Iran.”

It is completely understandable how the JCPOA’s future has political impacts for Iran. There are times, however, that numbers transmit powerful messages.

No party in their right mind, including European states, Russia, China, India and all others involved in economic transactions with Tehran are willing to sacrifice their ties with the US’ $19 trillion economy for Iran’s $400 billion.

ANALYSIS: Is Iran’s intransigence whiplashing onto its population?

Iran’s aggressions across the Middle East and its support for terrorist and fundamentalist organizations have raised strong remarks from senior regional officials and their American counterparts. And the impact is whiplashing back into Iran’s population.

Iran is ramping up its illicit activities across the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq, and threatens free navigation in international waters, according to the US military’s top officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, as he explained his concerns to the Senate Armed Forces Committee at a recent hearing.

Last month’s United Nations General Assembly in New York was the scene of many foreign ministers and other senior officials making strong remarks criticizing Iran’s meddling in regional countries and its unbridled backing of proxy groups checkered throughout the Middle East.

“The Iranian government masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy,” said US President Donald Trump during his first UNGA speech. Tehran’s regime is a “rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos,” he added.

Iranian soldiers attend the swearing-in ceremony for Iranian president Hassan Rouhani for a further term, at the parliament in Tehran, Iran, August 5, 2017. (Reuters)

A regional voice

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir condemned Tehran’s belligerence and accused this regime of providing financial support for sectarian proxy groups in Syria and Iraq.

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan said Iran is disrespecting others’ rights with its expansionist policies and plays a very important role in destabilizing the region through its meddling.

Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa accused Iran of supporting terrorist organizations, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, and emphasized any normalization in relations with Tehran hinges on this regime ending its support of terrorism. Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi said the Iran-backed Houthi militias are executing Iran’s interventionist agendas in the region.

Kuwait’s envoy in the UNGA called on Tehran to bring an end to its measures threatening regional security. he Cairo-based Arab League closed their September 12th session issuing a statement condemning Iran’s “meddling in Arabic countries.”

“We call on Iran to end its hostile remarks, provocative measures and media attacks against Arabic countries as such actions are considered flagrant meddling in the internal affairs of these Arab states. We condemn Iran’s meddling in the internal affairs of Bahrain and the Syria crisis. These interventions can render dangerous results for Syria’s future, security, sovereignty, stability and national unity.”

Maryam Rajavi, (C) founder of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) and president of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) speaks on June 27, 2014 in Villepinte. (AFP)

As concerns also circle over Iran’s recruiting of fighters from as far as Pakistan and Afghanistan for the Syria war, a new Human Rights Watch report indicates how this campaign has involved Tehran’s conscripting of even Afghan children.

This is parallel to US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis accusing Iran and Russia of continuing to provide armed support to the Afghan Taliban, media reports said on Saturday

Slate of challenges

The stances adopted by these countries provide no other conclusion that one of Iran’s red lines and main pillars, being its regional ambitions and initiatives, is clearly threatened.

Many countries, especially the Gulf states, are realizing more than ever before that the Middle East will not experience a single day of stability or security as long as Iran continues to support terrorist groups and prolongs its fundamentalist measures.

Iran’s state-affiliated Arman daily ran a piece on September 14th titled, “Iran’s regional and international challenges,” describing this regime’s foreign ministry facing two super-challenges across the region and abroad.

Holding states hostage

Despite all these setbacks in the region and across the globe, and considering all this hatred targeting Tehran, this regime has no choice other than continuing its destructive meddling and support for terrorism throughout the Middle East.

It is obvious that Iran’s objective is to literally hold these states hostage and to protect its “strategic depth,” mainly referring to their foothold and influence in Syria.

As senior Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei have said time and again, if their “strategic depth” is threatened this regime will have to face its domestic dilemmas. This means a powder keg populace and the Iranian opposition movement in the very streets of Iranian cities.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during Friday prayers in Tehran September 14, 2007. (Reuters)

“Had the ill-wishers and plotters not been prevented from their evil deeds in Syria we would have to prevent them in the Iranian provinces of Tehran, Fars, Khorasan and Isfahan, so it is better we do it there,” Khamenei said back in June. This would be a recipe for disaster and brews a crisis far more dangerous than regional and international isolation.

Iran is known to use its war machine of terrorism and meddling in other countries as means to cloak its domestic crackdown and predicaments. Interesting is the fact that the Iranian people are realizing how Tehran’s regime is becoming weaker by the day. This is seen in their growing number of rallies and the political nature of their demands.

Matters become far worse as Iran enjoys an organized opposition movement seen in the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) able to motivate and guide protest movements to an extent causing major concerns for Tehran.

The semi-official Fars news agency, affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards, even wired a piece warning the entire regime: “… fear the millions, young and old… all waiting for just a spark to set fire to everything… Have fear, and know that when the storm arrives, there will be nowhere to hide. All paths will be closed… you won’t even reach the airplane’s steps as the Shah was able to…” referring to when the Shah of Iran fled only weeks prior to the 1979 revolution.

Is Iran’s enhanced ballistic missile capability a calculated move?

As the North Korea nuclear standoff and the future of Iran’s nuclear deal has absorbed an all-too enormous amount of international attention, a more important prism on Iran’s regional hostility must not go neglected.

During the United Nations General Assembly the controversial nuclear pact, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), took center stage once again. All the while Tehran has throughout the years overtly and covertly pursued a massive campaign hinging on meddling and extending its lethal ideology of Islamic fundamentalism across the Middle East.

The rendered atrocities can be witnessed across the region, especially in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. This threatens the very fabric of the Middle East populace and bears the potential of plunging this flashpoint region into an abyss of proxy wars resulting in nothing but infernos of carnage.

Broken promises

As the Obama administration sought to sell the JCPOA to the American people, US allies and the international community, they claimed a different Iran would emerge as a responsible member of the global neighborhood and the Middle East would be the first region to enjoy the boasted outcome. Some even claimed Iran would become this region’s Japan.

“Regrettably, since the agreement was confirmed, we have seen anything but a more peaceful, stable region,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on the sidelines of his UNGA meetings. While Iran has enjoyed a rift between Europe and the US, Berlin made remarks sinking deep into the minds of those sitting on the throne in Tehran.

“The Americans are right: Iran is still not playing a constructive role in the Middle East, be it in Yemen or Lebanon,” said German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel in a statement. The Green Continent has also welcomed the idea of cooperating with Washington with the aim of containing Iran’s Middle East thirst, especially considering growing concerns over Iran’s dangerous role in Damascus, Baghdad, Sanaa and Beirut.

This train of thought also bears backing amongst Middle East states. “Two years have passed since Iran’s nuclear agreement with no sign of change in its hostile behavior; it continues to develop its nuclear program and violates the letter and spirit of that agreement,” UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahayan said during his UN General Assembly speech.

Yemen: The strategic state

Despite being a very poor country, the geostrategic importance of Yemen is undeniable. This is the very reason why al-Qaeda sought to establish a major foothold in Saudi Arabia’s back yard and now Iran vehemently continues its support of the Houthis in destabilizing this country and the vital international waters adjacent to its shores.

Tehran is continuing its efforts of smuggling illicit weapons and technology to prolong the Houthis’ campaign, according to Vice Admiral Kevin M. Donegan, the top US Navy commander in the Middle East. These measures stoke civil strife in Yemen and enable the Houthis to launch more precise and longer ranged missiles into its northern neighbor.

The Houthis are also receiving an “increasingly potent arsenal of anti-ship and ballistic missiles, deadly sea mines and even explosive boats that have attacked allied ships in the Red Sea or Saudi territory across Yemen’s northern border,” reported The New York Times citing Donegan’s remarks.

While there has been significant success in the initiative against Iran’s meddling in Yemen, the continuing crisis resembles the lethal potential of Tehran’s influence across the Middle East and its current focus on strategic junctures, such as this country’s influence over imperative shipping lines.

A ballistic missile is launched and tested in an undisclosed location, Iran, March 9, 2016. (Reuters)

Iran’s growing reach

Further grounds of Iran not changing habits following the JCPOA signing are found in its violation of a related accord, the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, by continuing to test launch a range of ballistic missiles.

As recently as Friday Iran unveiled a new ballistic missile as Rouhani increased his rhetoric against Washington through repeating the claim of this regime only seeking its defensive interests. In an even more provocative measure, the medium-range Khorramshahr missile was successfully test launched on Saturday. As claimed by the semiofficial Tasnim news agency, this new weapon has a range of 2,000 kilometers (nearly 1,250 miles) and enjoys the capability of carrying multiple warheads.

This raised strong responses across the board, including US President Donald Trump questioning the JCPOA altogether and accusing Tehran of colluding with Pyongyang. In line with such concerns, Francealso called on the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to deliver a full report on the recent missile test.

Rouhani’s emphasis on seeking to boost Iran’s ballistic missile capability is a completely calculated move. All the while it needs understanding that such rhetoric from senior Iranian officials are aimed at maintaining a straight face back home, and not appearing to give in to pressures raised by the international community.

Iran is also busy exporting weapons to the Lebanese Hezbollah and a slate of other terrorist and proxy groups. This conglomerate of violations reached the point of Team Obama alumni Samantha Power, former US envoy to the UN, felt obligated to highlight the cases. This is probably Rouhani’s definition of being a “moderate.”

Electing vetted candidates

Of course, this is the same individual who back in May, after reaching a second term through a process dubbed as an “election” carried out amongst vetted candidates said, “We are proud of our armed forces, the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), the Basij and the security forces.”

The IRGC is the godfather of Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile drive, in charge of quelling all forms of domestic dissent, and exporting the regime’s so-called “Islamic Revolution” abroad. For this very purpose, Iran has for decades fostered the rise of proxy offspring armies including the likes of the Lebanese Hezbollah.

Obama’s JCPOA and windfall of billions also provided Iran the opportunity to continue fueling terrorist groups across the region and even marshalling foot-soldiers from as far as Afghanistan and Pakistan to Syria to help maintain Syrian dictator Bashar Assad remain on his throne.

As a train of thought has remained intact from Obama’s flawed policies, there are voices who have gone as far as describing Iran being a “major diplomatic, military, and economic player throughout the Middle East and even into Central and Southwest Asia.” Unfortunately, this plays into Tehran’s hands and upgrades the dogma practiced vis-à-vis Tehran for the past four decades, rendering nothing but escalating death and destruction.

If Iran enjoys “considerable influence” in countries across the region it is not due to its righteous cause. Tehran, in fact, owes a great deal of gratitude to West for its tireless policy of rapprochement. Iran must be isolated, and this is not tantamount to a call for a new Middle East war. Imagining this regime can be a party to be constructively reckoned with is in fact naïve.

Broken promises

It has become crystal clear that the JCPOA has not lived up to its promises. The Middle East has evolved into a mess due to Iran’s meddling, leading to Europe leaning toward US’ position of pressuring Tehran to bring an end to its regional carnage.

For far too long Iran has taken advantage of its nuclear program and ambitions to advance its Middle East influence. This must come to an end, parallel to increasing international pressures on its nuclear/ballistic missile drive, support for terrorism and human rights violations at home.

For nearly four decades Tehran has utilized the engagement approach by the West based on the mistaken perspective on playing “nice” with Iran to encourage change. This has resulted in a Middle East engulfed in war, death and destruction, cloaked by the international brouhaha Iran has launched through its nuclear program.

All of the Iranian regime’s animosities deserve due attention in parallel fashion. Its regional meddling and support for terrorism should be top priority. One such solution was recently provided by Walid Phares, former Trump foreign policy advisor, for Washington to use the Arab coalition and Iranian opposition as means against Tehran.

Iran: A Testimony Of Change

On Tuesday the world witnessed US President Donald Trump defining his utmost contrasted difference from that of his predecessor. In his landmark first speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Trump sided with the Iranian people in affirming that the people of Iran are not only far separate from the ruling clerics of Tehran, but also are the main victims and threat to this regime’s survival.

Although long overdue, this is a highly welcomed U-turn in US policy vis-à-vis Iran and a very significant strategic decision to stand alongside the Iranian people. Obama missed his opportunity in 2009 when hundreds of thousands of brave Iranians took to the streets and rattled the regime’s very foundations. What followed afterwards has been more than 8 years of human rights violations at home, and a slate of belligerence abroad.

This can deliver a positive message from the US to the Iranian people in the face of the oppression imposed by Tehran’s regime throughout the past four decades.

Iran is ruled by a “corrupt dictatorship” hell-bent on spreading death and destruction across the Middle East, Trump explained. By demanding Iran cease its support for terrorism, he affirmed how his administration continues to weigh its Iran policy, said to be announced at the end of the month, and is extremely concerned over Tehran’s backing of proxy groups in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and across the region.

Trump’s senior diplomat also voiced his strong viewpoints against the Obama-blueprinted Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“We can almost start the countdown as to when they will resume the nuclear weapons capability,” State Secretary Rex Tillerson said, indicating how Iran has sought the ability to obtain a nuclear arsenal.

Tillerson went on to highlight that the JCPOA must undergo significant alterations and enhancements for Washington to remain loyal to the pact. This is viewed as an initial indication of how key “sunset” limitations on Iran’s controversial nuclear program must be extended.

The Iranian opposition welcomed Trump’s speech and underlined the most significant aspect of his words.

“The remarks by President Trump was the first time a US President attested to the need for regime change in Iran by the Iranian people,” said opposition leader Maryam Rajavi.

Rajavi’s supporters and a large gathering of the Iranian Diaspora responded to a call made by the Organization of Iranian American Communities for a New York rally protesting the presence of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the UN General Assembly. The demonstrators made their presence felt, voicing how they do not consider neither Rouhani nor the regime in Tehran as their representatives, and demanding he be expelled from the UN.

Prominent US dignitaries from both sides of the aisle joined the rally and voiced their support for the demonstration’s cause.

Senator Joseph Lieberman, Chairman of the United Against Nuclear Iran, highlighted on the necessity for a collective effort to change the Tehran regime.

While emphasizing Iran’s clerics must not celebrate their 40th anniversary in February and if Rouhani is allowed into the United Nations, Ambassador John Bolton emphasized so should a representative of the Iranian opposition group National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

Congressman Eliot Engel, a long-standing supporter of the Iranian people’s struggle, also voiced his backing for the rally’s cause.

“I say to the Iranian regime and the mullahs that the people must have freedom to choose whoever they want for their government, and that would not be the current dictators,” he said.

Former Italian foreign minister Giulio Terzi shed light on a perilous humanitarian plight regarding the summer 1988 massacre of more than 30,000 political prisoners in Iran, stressing the international community must hold Tehran accountable.

UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran Asma Jahangir recently issued an unprecedented report recognizing the atrocious carnage and seeking actions on this highly sensitive subject.

For many years the United Nations General has been condemning Iran’s human rights violations. Considering Jahangir’s significant reporting, efforts should elevate to the level of seeking an international inquiry aimed at bringing the perpetrators of the 1988 massacre to justice.

Tehran, however, wasn’t too pleased of these recent developments, responding angrily in an undiplomatic fashion.

“Trump’s ignorant hate speech belongs in medieval times – not the 21st Century UN – unworthy of a reply,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif through Twitter.

Speaking a day after Trump, Rouhani resorted to merely emphasizing Tehran will not be departing the JCPOA. This proves how the regime is in fact desperately needs the nuclear agreement and will seek to keep it intact. Rouhani knows Tehran will be the main, and maybe sole party to see its interests hampered severely in such a scenario.

Despite previous with his American counterpart, French President Emmanuel Macron shed further concerns over Iran’s growing belligerence across the region and explaining the JCPOA’s limits in this regard. This most definitely will not sit well with Tehran.

The bold tone adopted by the Trump administration will most likely launch a new chorus of Iran apologists threatening how any action against the JCPOA will lead the US into war with Iran.

Such a flawed line of thought would neglect how appeasement vis-à-vis Iran has led to decades of war, destruction and terrorism from the very first days of this regime’s rule.

Washington’s comprehensive Iran policy will shed more light on what the future holds. Certain, however, is the fact that Iran’s “golden era” of the West’s appeasement policy is over and the road ahead looks promising for the Iranian people in realizing their demands for freedom, democracy and human rights for all.