U.S. Drastic Measures On Iran Have Just Begun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Iran Is More Dangerous Than North Korea

 

Iran’s nuclear program even without a bomb as we speak, enjoys the potential of becoming more dangerous than today’s North Korea after a recent hydrogen bomb testing – with new reports showing the blast delivering a far more powerful yield than presumed – and its increasing row with the international community.

True is the fact that North Korea’s nuclear program is more advanced than that of Iran. True is the fact that Pyongyang has also provided ballistic missile hardware and technology to Tehran for decades now.

Iran’s nuclear program, however, elevates to a higher level when we come to fully comprehend the nature of Tehran’s ambitions in pursuing objectives through treacherous measures. This is a regime that has yet to be punished for its malevolent actions throughout the past decades, and this needs to change.

The clerics in Tehran rule a state fully acknowledging the fact that its very survival hinges on the ability to literally adopt an aggressive approach that is germane to causing mayhem abroad.

Taking advantage of the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, launching terrorist attacks and assassinations throughout the 90s, and in the new millennium enjoying the devastating 9/11 aftermath in the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, leading onto Syria and Yemen today.

While there is no intention to justify North Korea obtaining nuclear weapons, it is crystal clear that Pyongyang has gone the limits in procuring its nuclear arsenal for defensive purposes and to be legitimately recognized and respect.

Iran’s regime, however, has far more hostile goals in its crosshairs. As the Islamic State terror group is being defeated in Iraq and Syria, an increasing concern is focused on Tehran’s intention of establishing a land-bridge to the Mediterranean.  This would provide Iran the capability to send boots, arms, finances and other necessities for its proxy forces checkered across these lands to establish a long-lasting foothold.

Coupling a nuclear arsenal with Iran’s other assets escalates the threat even further. Iran is sitting on a sea of oil, possessing the world’s fourth largest crude oil reserves. If that were not enough, Iran also enjoys the luxury of owning the world’s second largest natural gas reserves.

North Korea lacks any such natural resources. Again, this does not legitimize in any way Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, especially how its population continues to struggle with poverty and starvation.

Speaking of people, Iran’s over 80 million is the second largest population in the region, providing it with a very large and capable workforce. Whereas North Korea has a population of 25.4 million and is forced to send tens of thousands of workers abroad to send money back home for their careworn families.

Another very distinct difference between the two states is the fact that Iran is significantly religious, taking advantage and provoking sectarian strife in the Middle East. Iran becoming a nuclear power will elevate the stakes in this flashpoint region and most certainly launch a nuclear arms race of disastrous prospects.

North Korea, however, is surrounded by South Korea and Japan, two major US allies, and tens of thousands US boots stationed in various bases and ships.

China, most likely North Korea’s only key ally, and Russia most certainly will not side by Pyongyang in the case of a substantial conflict with the international community. This has been proven as the United Nations Security Council on Monday slapped the harshest sanctions to date on North Korea, capping fuel deliveries and banning all its profitable textile exports.

Pyongyang understands very well it can quite easily lose the support of Beijing, especially with new threats from Washington, and Moscow is no party to count on.

Reports indicate the Trump administration is busy weighing a more aggressive strategy on Iran. This should include inspecting the regime’s military sites, especially after a senior advisor of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei rejected any such measures by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Interesting is the fact how former IAEA deputy director general Dr. Olli Heinonen described the agency’s Iran inspections program as “less comprehensive and less intrusive since the implementation of the JCPOA.”

There will most definitely be a chorus of warnings by Iran apologists claiming such a stance will only render negative results. Unfortunately, as a result of such lobbying, the West and the international community as a whole has to this day embraced engagement with Iran, refraining to take necessary actions.

Furthermore, this is not a call for another unnecessary war in the Middle East, as many Iran apologists would quickly paint it so.

Considering the process we have witnessed with Iran to this day, the vital steps ahead are actually quite straightforward:

  • Launching rigorous inspections of Iran’s military sites, beginning with the controversial Parchin complex, located southeast of Tehran, to resolve outstanding questions over “possible military dimension” issues.
  • Adopting a UN Security Council resolution demanding Iran halt all ballistic missile tests, through which Tehran seeks perfecting this know-how to deliver nuclear payloads.
  • Taking action to end Iran’s support for terrorism; meddling in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and other countries; and this regime’s ignoble history of human rights violations at home.
  • Adopting sanctions targeting Iran’s belligerence across the region. The House of Representatives has taken a step in the right direction by voting in favor of measures aimed at blocking commercial aircraft sales to Iran. The US Treasury Department also imposed new sanctions on 11 firms and individuals involved in Tehran’s ballistic missile program, cyberattacks and support for terrorism.
  • Support the Iranian people’s legitimate pursuit of replacing the current theocracy with a state based on equality, freedom and true democracy. JCPOA-opponents have proposed such measures to Trump, calling for “strengthened ties with pro-democratic groups in Iran.”

Iran And The Nuclear Deal’s Future

It has been over a week since a new round of tension has initiated over the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This string of developments were kick-started with a meeting between Nikki Haley, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, and Yukio Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The fact that Washington suddenly sought a meeting with the chief of the UN nuclear watchdog and launched an emphasis on inspections of Iran’s military sites has raised eyebrows.

In retaliation, Iran vowed no access to its military sites, prompting Haley’s reaction in saying such an approach by Tehran will severely jeopardize its future compliance with the JCPOA. And despite the IAEA issuing a quarterly report confirming Iran’s compliance with the deal terms, Amano on Thursday “rejected Tehran’s claim that its military sites were off-limits to inspection…,” according to the Associated Press.

The Trump administration has been in office for over 7 months now and this issue coming under limelight is quite significant, to say the least.

The US President is obligated to provide a report to Congress every 90 days on Iran’s compliance or non-compliance with the JCPOA. It is known by now that President Trump agreed, grudgingly, to find Iran in compliance back July. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal he went as far as to say he had actually sought to find Iran in non-compliance in the first such report under his watch, let alone in July.

Mid October is the next set timing for Trump’s future report to Congress. If he finds Iran in compliance, we will witness a continuation of the status quo, despite Trump’s belief that Tehran has violated the JCPOA spirit and that this is the worst deal possible.

As a result, documents, evidence and a strong argument is obviously needed to prove Iran has violated the pact. Only under such a scenario will the Europeans and other parties be convinced to board ship.

This can be analyzed as the very purpose of Haley’s meeting with Amano and other IAEA officials. Washington needs assurance that the IAEA, as a technical oversight entity, is actually surveilling Iran’s nuclear program and that all JCPOA articles are truly implemented. And more importantly, is Iran cooperating and complying or not?

From the JCPOA signing to this day the IAEA has issued seven verification reports confirming Iran’s compliance. In two reports the IAEA confirmed Iran exceeding its heavy water limits, resulting in Tehran taking immediate action to send the excessive amount to Oman. Various analysts viewed this as a sign of Iran’s desperate need to the JCPOA, despite recent threats of relaunching nuclear efforts.

It would be difficult for the Trump administration to issue a report finding Iran in non-compliance when the IAEA says otherwise. This will provoke criticism across the board, such as claims of Trump’s measures being politically motivated. Others have made similarities to the Iraq scenario where claims that led to war were never proven. And the rest is history.

Does this mean the Trump administration has its hands tied and is forced to continuously find Iran in compliance with the pact?

Certainly not.

There is no doubt that Trump’s predecessor provided Iran with significant concessions. The list is quite lengthy and shameful in fact.

The Obama White House deliberately neglected the possible military dimension of Iran’s highly controversial nuclear program. Negotiations were launched and sanctions were lifted without any such concerns being resolved.

Iran was also provided another loophole in regards to inspections, permitted time to eliminate evidence of any wrongdoing. The IAEA, going against norms, has been obligated to inform Tehran beforehand of which site its inspectors intend to visit and for what particular reason. This is tantamount to informing a burglar of when and where the police will be patrolling. This certainly dissolves the inspections regime of any legitimacy.

More interesting is the fact that these articles are not an actual branch of the JCPOA, but added to by the Obama administration as sideline agreements with Tehran. The JCPOA itself has emphasized on the implementation of the Additional Protocol, meaning IAEA inspectors enjoying 24/7 access to military sites with specific mechanisms to prevent any gaps for Iran to take advantage of. There is no differentiation between military and non-military sites in the Additional Protocol.

As a result, one can come to the conclusion that the Trump administration has placed its crosshairs on a very necessary matter. And this is exactly why senior Iranian officials have launched a chorus of brouhaha in their reactions.

Interesting is how officials of the IAEA and Europe have remained silent in regards to recent US actions and Haley’s meeting with Amano regarding the inspection of military sites. This is a candid approval by their part, especially since Haley described her three-hour meeting with the IAEA chief as constructive.

Why the subject of inspecting Iran’s military sites has been raised at this timing is truly of significant importance. Of course, the Trump administration’s reservations in this regard is anyone’s guess.

However, there is undeniable evidence proving Iran is busy with major nuclear activities in its military sites, resulting in a major JCPOA violation.

As explained in a recent Washington Examiner piece by Alireza Jafarzadeh, “In June, the National Council of Resistance of Iran revealed details of the escalation of the Iranian missile program, proving the nuclear threat to be real. The opposition coalition identified more than 40 sites for missile development, manufacturing, and testing, all of which were under the control of the IRGC. What’s more, at least one of those sites was known to be collaborating with the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, known by its Farsi acronym SPND, the institution tasked with weaponization activities related to the Iranian nuclear weapons program.”

Jafarzadeh is Deputy Director of the NCRI Washington office and credited with blowing the whistle on Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002 that triggered IAEA inspections in Iran.

Former IAEA inspector David Albright recently said buildings in Iran seen in satellite imagery match the sketches of facilities used to test strong explosions. He believes the IAEA should press to gain access to these sites.

Former IAEA deputy Olli Heinonen, who has visited Iran more than 20 times on different missions, also emphasized how the facilities referred to by Albright are protected by berms and specifically distanced from one another. This is similar to the blueprints used for sites testing high explosives, he said, adding this raises serious questions that Iran must answer and the IAEA should enjoy access to this site.

White House National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton said the administration is evaluating the NCRI’s recent package of information very closely and has placed it against the very best intelligence reports and analysis available to the United States.

Speaking of grave concerns over Iran’s nuclear activities, the al-Shabab terrorist group in Somalia, a known al-Qaeda affiliated, has gained control of African uranium mines and has its eye on supplying the material to Tehran. This is according to a letter seen recently by Fox News from Somalian Ambassador to the U.S. Ahmed Awad to his counterpart, U.S. Ambassador to Somalian Stephen Schwartz. The letter was dated August 11th.

Maybe the best early conclusion was for Haley to pay a visit to Vienna and seek IAEA’s intelligence access to Iran’s military sites, including the all controversial Parchin complex located southeast of Tehran.

Upon her return Haley emphasized:

  • Iran has secret, unannounced and illegal sites that have yet to be inspected.
  • Iran has publicly announced there will be no access granted to its military sites while the JCPOA recognizes no difference between military and non-military facilities.
  • Iran’s regime has a clear history of lies and pursuing clandestine nuclear program. Therefore, Washington encourages the IAEA to practice its full authority and pursue all of the IAEA’s angles, knowing they enjoy complete US support in this regard.
  • The IAEA can only carry out its duties to a certain extent, as its access to Iran’s facilities are limited.

Back in December 2015 Iran’s official news agency wired a report on the IAEA chief voicing how Iran carried out activities in relations with developing a nuclear explosion device. This intelligence also indicate that prior to 2003, these measures were very institutionalized and some may continue as we speak.

Now the all-important question is what are the consequences if come October it is proven Iran has failed to comply with the JCPOA and, in effect, violated the agreement?

This can signal the end of the entire accord as we know it and bring a disastrous finale to the years of investments made by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Sanctions will return on Iran as six UN Security Council resolutions will be reinstated.

In case of a violation by Iran, each member of the P5+1 has the authority to call on the Security Council to vote on the continuation of sanctions reliefs. No permanent member of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States) has veto right and all relieved resolutions and sanctions will be re-imposed. This authority is based on UN Security Council Resolution 2231.

It is also interesting to know that 10 articles of the new resolution are based on Chapter 7, Article 41 of the UN Charter, and international law, providing authority to use force and the military option to implement their demanded actions.

Under Article 41, the Security Council resolution is binding for all countries for a period of ten years.

All said and done, with the Trump administration signaling intentions to dent the JCPOA, and the IAEA reporting Iran has stuck to the deal, the path forward can be quite a complicated matter.

There is also the possibility of Trump declaring Iran in non-compliance, without actually pulling out of the JCPOA, to pave the path for addressing Tehran’s nefarious activities in the Middle East.

Here the interest of the Iranian people are paramount. Considering how the ruling regime in Tehran is plundering the country’s wealth in support of terrorism, warmongering, and pursuits of an unnecessary nuclear program and ballistic missiles, restricting and limiting the outreach of the main force behind all this belligerency is crucial.

Iran’s IRGC controls 40% of the country’s economy and supervises all the above mentioned troubles. As a result, the recent US sanctions blacklisting the IRGC as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group is a step in the right direction. Washington should not hesitate in implementing these sanctions immediately and without any loopholes.

Restricting the IRGC is in the Iranian people’s full interests and will support their effort in establishing freedom and democracy after four decades of utter crackdown.

How Trump Can Correctly Approach Iran’s Nuclear Deal

In line with the ongoing evaluation of Iran’s compliance or non-compliance with a pact aimed at curbing its nuclear ambitions, and as the administration of US President Donald Trump continues to weigh its comprehensive Iran policy, Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the United Nations visited Vienna on Wednesday to meet with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials on a fact finding mission to shed more light on this entire dossier.

As past decades have proven, the appeasement policy adopted by the international community vis-à-vis Iran has failed to halt Tehran’s nuclear approach. Iran’s nuclear ambitions continue despite the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Just recently, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said it is not a matter of months or weeks, but a matter of days for Iran’s nuclear program to be back on track. Ali Akbar Salehi, chief of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization and a vice president of Rouhani, raised the stakes even further by saying Tehran only needs 5 days to return to 20% uranium enrichment.

Haley had talks with IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano and technical experts monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities governed by the JCPOA.

Following her meeting with Amano, the U.S. United Nations delegation released a statement saying Haley had stressed “concerns about ensuring Iran strictly adheres to its obligations.” One of Haley’s main missions is to ensure Iran abide to those obligations, and to highlight its violations to the international community.

As Haley emphasized the importance of the IAEA having broad access to Iranian facilities, Tehran’s officials, however, responded that the meeting challenged “the independence and credibility” of the inspectors and went as far as describing Haley’s visit to Vienna as the “destructive approach of the US Administration.”

The Trump administration has certified Iran’s technical obedience with the JCPOA, but objected missile test launches and “unprofessional” confrontations provoked by Iranian forces against the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf.

Iran’s support for terrorism and continued meddling, parallel to increasing human rights violations, provide further reason to believe Iran has no intention to salvage the JCPOA spirit.

The Iranian regime understands fully well it will be the single losing party if the reliefs provided by the Obama administration under the JCPOA framework, allowing it to rebound, come to an end. It is only logical that in the highly unlikely scenario of Iran petering out of the JCPOA all parties would prefer to continue their business transactions with America’s $19 trillion economy in comparison to Iran’s $400 billion. This would entail the risk of ruffling US Treasury Department and souring relations with Washington in general.

With this in mind the Trump administration can adopt and navigate the following countering roadmap:

1)    Demand Tehran unconditionally open all military and non-military sites to IAEA inspectors “anytime, anywhere” as promised,

2)    Come October find Iran in non-compliance with the JCPOA spirit, yet refrain from completely tearing up the text,

3)    Begin implementing all articles of the nuclear deal and extend sunset provisions to prevent Iran from taking advantage of any temporary aspects,

4)    Immediately impose the recent Iran sanctions bill without any loopholes, especially on the IRGC as the main element behind Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile drives, support for terrorism and Middle East meddling, and gross human rights violations at home.

As US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said back in April, “In deed and in propaganda, Iran foments discord… The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran.”

In the meantime, heated discussions continue on both sides of the Atlantic over Trump’s upcoming decision about the fate of the JCPOA.

Iran’s report card provides a disturbing past of covert measures regarding its highly controversial nuclear program focused on zones described as military sites. This comprises of even universities, including the Imam Hossein University in Tehran, known to be associated directly to the regime’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

Yet come October, there is virtually no need for President Trump to completely tear up the JCPOA. Despite its flaws, if fully and correctly implemented with no room for loopholes and zero tolerance for bending rules or dodging possibilities, the deal actually does enjoy the capability of restricting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Washington can lead the global community to rightfully demand Tehran open all its sites, military and non-military, to IAEA inspectors. And as explained recently by The Washington Post Editorial Board, “The principal weakness of the nuclear accord is its temporary nature. Most of its provisions will expire in eight to 13 years, leaving Iran free to stockpile an unlimited quantity of nuclear materials.”

Thus, the challenge before the Trump administration is “how to extend its restrictions into the future.” Congress has taken the lead in this regard through adopting a series of sanctions against Iran, and most specifically blacklisting the IRGC as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity. This delivers a significant blow to Iran’s economy considering the fact that the IRGC has usurped control over 40% of the entire apparatus.

The international community should also not fall for remarks such as those made by Salehi or Rouhani himself. Considering the drastic economic situation Iran was experiencing due to sanctions prior to the nuclear deal, and despite the restrictions imposed, Tehran actually needs the JCPOA to remain intact, far more than European companies or any other correspondent in this regard.

Yet if implemented correctly, Iran can be both restricted and provided only reliefs on conditions of spending the rendered capital to improve the average Iranians’ living standards, and not allocate billions to support terrorism and further pursue nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions.

Iran honestly abiding by nuclear deal or terrified of changing times?

Yukiya Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, recently issued his latest report to the agency’s Board of Governors. At a first glance the text leaves you thinking Iran is honoring the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA.

However, considering the rapid pace of international developments, and US President Donald Trump’s harsh remarks against the nuclear deal, we are seeing Iran going the limits to maintain the JCPOA intact. This is a staunchly different approach from the Obama era.

The latest IAEA report contains very important technical aspects, showing how weak Iran has become. Despite all the threats of abandoning the JCPOA ship altogether, Iran’s recent measures proves it needs the JCPOA more than any other party.

By the statistics

On November 8th, 2016 the IAEA verified Iran’s heavy water reserves reached 130.1 metric tons. Iran also informed the IAEA about sending 11 metric tons of heavy water outside of its borders on November 6th and 19th, also verified by the IAEA.

After this transfer Iran has not dared to exceed the 130 metric ton limit, and on February 14th the IAEA verified Iran’s reserves have decreased to 124.2 metric tons, meaning even 6 metric tons less than the JCPOA specified amount.

During the Obama administration Iran had twice exceeded the 130 metric ton limit, and yet rushed to send the excess amount to Oman prior to Donald Trump taking the helm at the White House.

Natanz

Under the JCPOA Iran is permitted to maintain more than 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges in 30 cascades in the Natanz enrichment site. Again, terrified of the incoming Trump administration, reports indicate Iran has significantly lowered the number of such centrifuges.

Iran is continuing to enrich UF6 uranium at Natanz, yet not daring to enrich any uranium above the 3.67 percent standard set for nuclear fuel production. Iran has also not exceeded the 300-kilogram amount of 3.67 percent uranium 235, equal to 202.8 kilograms of uranium.

By February 18th Iran had stored 101.7 kilograms of 3.67 percent uranium, showing the regime has not only abided, but even halved their stocks. This is another sign of Iran’s concerns of the change in guards in Washington.

Ferdow

The controversial Ferdow uranium enrichment, with a capacity of 3,000 centrifuges, currently has 1,044 IR-1 centrifuges, where 1,042 are placed in six cascades, and two such centrifuges are set aside for research purposes.

During the past three months (especially following the November 8th US elections) Iran has suspended all of Ferdow’s uranium enrichment and R & D activities.

Surveillance

All stocked centrifuges, along with their components, are under constant IAEA surveillance. The IAEA enjoys orderly access to related facilities in Natanz, including daily inspections based on IAEA inspectors’ requests.

Iran continues to allow the IAEA use electronic surveillance devices and online seals on its uranium enrichment facilities to provide continuous monitoring. Iran has also agreed to provide for the presence of a larger number IAEA monitors.

Iran has agreed to abide by the Additional Protocol, once considered a red line for the regime, allowing the IAEA monitor a large number of sites and other facilities affiliated to Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran’s enriched uranium in Oman

Another sign of Iran giving in to major setbacks is the regime’s agreement to stock their enriched uranium in Oman, and seek its sale to foreign buyers from there. This also includes stocks of excessive heavy water. And yet, Iran is also concerned about the fate of its money in Oman banks, as expressed by a number of parliament members.

The irony

In the meantime, one cannot say for certain that the mullahs have actually relented their nuclear weapons drive. It is in the mullahs’ nature to continue their pursuit for terrorism, nuclear weapons and domestic crackdown. These are the Iranian regime’s three main pillars.

It is common knowledge that the mullahs enjoy no social base, and this is seen in remarks made by Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency chief saying in most of his interviews how Tehran intends to relaunch the nuclear program once the JCPOA time limit ends.

Despite all this, the mullahs very well understand the language of force. Iran only succumbed to the nuclear talks once international sanctions began crippling their economy.

During the Obama years Iran understood very well his administration would take no serious actions against their aggressive nature, as seen in the West’s relative silence in the face of more than a dozen missile test launches.

To this end, Iran’s recent compliance by JCPOA articles should only be perceived as a result of its deep fear in the new US administration’s possible policies.

Investments

After Obama left office foreign investment in Iran has also witnessed a nosedive, adding to the mullahs’ growing concerns. Tehran curbed a portion of its nuclear program, yet receiving nothing in return and continuously being described as the main state supporter of terrorism, instability and insecurity.

Iran’s unfrozen money has been transferred to Oman, and yet the government says it cannot release the assets to Tehran. Iran has at least $18 billion blocked in China, with no means to gain access to.

British Petroleum also had double thoughts following Trump’s entrance into the White House. This major international oil company has currently taken a major step back from participating in Iran’s oil projects.

Total in France, seeking to develop the major gas fields south of Iran, has also taken similar measures, suspending its activities until the summer of this year to allow Trump to clarify his JCPOA policy.

Foreign banks and companies

Why are French companies unable to invest in Iran? This country’s largest banks are holding back on any cooperation with Tehran, blocking any major investment by large French companies in this country. In addition to Total, Renault, AirBus and others are unable to invest in Iran without the support of major French banks such as Societe Generale.

These banks, however, are very concerned of unilateral punishing measures by the US against foreign entities investing in Iran. For example, the BNP Paribas was slapped with an $8.9 billion fine by Washington for bypassing US sanctions against Iran.

Airline restrictions

Japan’s Mitsubishi ended its negotiations to sell planes to Iran, citing concerns of the new US administration’s possible future sanctions and policies.

Despite Tehran seeking to expand its airlines and reach abroad following the nuclear deal, New Delhi delivered yet another blow by suspending its flights to Iran.

“Air India Express, the low-cost unit of the South Asian nation’s flag carrier, has put on hold a plan to fly to Tehran amid renewed tensions between the US and Iran after President Donald Trump imposed fresh sanctions on the Persian Gulf country,” according to a Bloomberg report.

Money laundry warnings

The Financial Action Task Force, the international body assigned to fight back against money laundering, issued a stark warning to Tehran to live up to its obligations or else face serious actions.

The FATF recently issued a strong reminder saying “in June 2016, the FATF suspended counter-measures for twelve months in order to monitor Iran’s progress in implementing the Action Plan. If the FATF determines that Iran has not demonstrated sufficient progress in implementing the Action Plan at the end of that period, FATF’s call for counter-measures will be re-imposed.”

Conclusion

More than a year after the JCPOA implementation, and with Washington adopting a completely new mentality and overhauling any pro-appeasement policies vis-à-vis Iran, the mullahs in Tehran have realized the global balance of power has shifted completely against their interests.

To this end, their recent measures to curtail their nuclear stocks should not be considered a coming to mind by Tehran. Not at all. The mullahs understand the language of force, just as President Ronald Reagan came to office in 1981 the fledgling mullahs’ regime rushed to release all American hostages after a 444 ordeal.

Now, Tehran is once again comprehending a significant shift in international politics, and it is taking measures accordingly to limit all possible damages. And rest assured they will jump to the occasion if they sense any weakness or hesitation.

As a result, Iran must be held at the ropes and the next necessary step in this regard is the long overdue designation of its Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organization. This will begin to limit its ability to wreak havoc across the Middle East and limit its human rights atrocities.

This is in the interest of all nations.

Originally posted in Al Arabiya English

Iran in 2016: Exploiting Obama’s appeasement policy

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By Shahriar Kia

As we wind down the highly turbulent year of 2016, a look back at Iran’s record in these 12 months is quite necessary. And rest assured there is nothing to brag about.

The approach Iran adopted domestically and abroad, especially following the nuclear deal, provides the necessary navigation needed to confront this regime and how to realize peace and security not only in the Middle East but across the globe.

The slate involves continuous human rights violations, expanding policies terrorism and sectarianism focusing on regional intervention, boosting efforts to gain Middle East hegemony, and neglecting numerous United Nations resolutions and the highly boosted Iran nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between the representatives of the international community and Iran.

From a human rights perspective, 2016 was the stage where Iran resorted to some of the worst atrocities from 1979 to this day. Tehran, with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, increased group executions of minorities while imposing a much heavier crackdown against rights and political advocates, as reported by Human Rights Watch. Iran remains the world’s leading executioner per capita and tops the ranks in juvenile executions, according to Amnesty International.

As unveiled in a sound file of the late Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, in line to lead the regime following founder Ruhollah Khomeini, perpetrators behind the summer 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners–mostly members and supporters of the opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK)–are currently enjoying senior regime posts in the Rouhani cabinet.

The U.S. State Department once again designated Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Across the region, Tehran enjoyed JCPOA-provided revenue to purchase new weaponry and gained a heavily armed status.

This rendered increasing meddling and lethal military intervention in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and beyond, including the recent horrific scenes of Aleppo. Tehran also supported the Bashar Assad regime through intensified advisory, financial, intelligence and weapons support to notorious Shiite militias and what was left of the crumbling Assad army.

Iran took advantage of 2016 to supposedly expand and strengthen its so-called Shiite empire, all the while seeking to safeguard its very existence. Like it or not, these heavily undermined efforts to establish peace, security, and democracy, as millions of people across the Middle East have risen for. Failure to act appropriately may plunge the region into the abyss of instability for decades to come.

The JCPOA, blessed and nurtured by U.S. President Barack Obama as his foreign policy legacy, provided desperately needed billions for Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). Despite arguments made by the pro-Iran engagement camp in the West, Tehran did not budge at all to transform into a moderate, let alone a rational state. The Obama administration could not even prevent Iran from refraining from violating the JCPOA.

In July 2016 the German domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution stepped forward–and not the U.S. intelligence community–in reporting Iran’s first violation. Known as the BfV, the agency unveiled how the Iranian regime sought a secret method to obtain “a quantitatively high level” of illicit nuclear technology and hardware from companies across Germany. Iran was criticized by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, yet no further measures were adopted.

Iran is obligated, under the nuclear deal, to seek U.N. Security Council permission for any purchase of direct nuclear use goods. Of course, Tehran did not oblige, indicated clearly in a report filed by the Institute for Science and International Security, which unfortunately only raised eyebrows.

Iran “made an attempt to purchase tons of controlled carbon fiber from a country,” creating concerns over how such a purchase would be “providing an advantage that would allow [Iran] to quickly build an advanced centrifuge enrichment plant if it chose to leave or disregard the JCPOA during the next few years,” the report reads.

Iran once again violated the JCPOA in February 2016 by exceeding its heavy water threshold, a very sensitive subject as the substance can be used to produce nuclear weapons. As the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, reported in November 2016, Iran once again breached JCPOA regulations by stockpiling heavy water above the permitted level. On both counts, Iran walked free without suffering any consequences.

Iran again violated U.N. resolutions by escalating its ballistic missile production efforts, sounding alarm bells across an already flashpoint Middle East region. In 2016 Iran also test-launched at least eight different ballistic nuclear-capable missiles, caring less how such measures violated the JCPOA and U.N. resolutions 1929 and 2231.

The JCPOA specifically calls on Iran to refrain from undertaking any activities related to ballistic missiles for a period of eight years after the JCPOA signing. Iran refused to abide despite the concession nature in this JCPOA article provided by Obama and his administration.

One can hardly argue against the fact that Iran enjoyed eight years of appeasement from the Obama administration, providing much needed financial relief for Tehran. Despite all this, the regime also needed to continue to portray an anti-American image for its dwindling domestic base. Accounts continued throughout 2016 of Iranian forces harassing U.S. Navy ships, detaining American sailors and even kidnapping numerous American citizens under bogus charges.

The international community must end its silence and inaction over Iran’s crimes inside the country and throughout the Middle East, as advocated by Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella group of numerous organizations seeking peaceful regime change in Iran.

The policies adopted in 2016 by the West, and especially Washington, provided Iran the money and opportunity to pursue its domestic and foreign policies. The international community should take the opportunity of a new U.S. administration in 2017 to launch a new and principled approach vis-à-vis Iran. This will pave the path to resolve humanitarian and political crises engulfing the Middle East, bring an end to Iran’s meddling and support the Iranian people.

Kia is a political analyst and member of the Iranian opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI, also known as MEK). He graduated from North Texas University.

Originally posted in The Hill

Righting the Wrongs of U.S.-Iran Policy

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President-elect Donald Trump at the White House with President Barack Obama

Originally posted in the American Thinker

The world begins to digest the major development of business tycoon Donald Trump defeating former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Among the many questions regarding this unexpected election result is the new administration’s approach vis-à-vis Iran. Considering the Iran nuclear deal, viewed by President Barack Obama as his foreign policy crown jewel, there are inarguable mistakes that need urgent remedies. Iran considered the Obama presidency as a golden era. It is now on the shoulders of Donald Trump and the new Republican-controlled Congress to patch various wounds inflicted by eight years of mistaken Iran appeasement policy. Continue reading “Righting the Wrongs of U.S.-Iran Policy”