ANALYSIS: Why Iran returned empty-handed from Vienna

Al Arabiya

The Joint Commission tasked to review the Iran nuclear deal ended Friday with no tangible results, Europe providing a low-temperature package to Tehran, and the regime’s mission returning him disappointed.

The joint statement issued afterwards presents nearly nothing new on the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif became a no-show for the concluding press conference.

These are signs of the rules of play changing, leaving the Iranian regime facing a very stiff uphill battle of stalling to kick back the inevitable.

The meeting

Prior to leaving for Vienna, French Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian specifically warned Tehran should stop issuing threats to violate its JCPOA commitments. Iran must end these remarks aimed at preventing us from finding a solution, he added, going on to say he doubts any economic package can be provided to Tehran prior to November.

The Vienna session was chaired by European Union foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini and the foreign ministers of the United Kingdom, China, France, Germany and Russia took part in talks with Zarif.

Considering the fact that details regarding the issues discussed inside the session are obviously unavailable, signs from the meeting participants outside of their talks are quite telling.

All Mogherini could deliver at the finale press conference were pledges of further talks to cover economic issues and that all parties should seek methods to save the deal. Further sessions between the foreign ministers will be held if deemed necessary, she added, showing signs of futility.

Adding to Zarif not attending this press conference, the fact that Mogherini only read a written statement and refused to answer any questions from reporters are also quite notable.

Compiling Iran’s miseries even further is how the Vienna talks were overshadowed by the arrest of an Iranian-Belgian couple reportedly dispatched by Tehran to bomb the June 30th Iranian opposition convention near Paris.

Iran’s complaints

As the Joint Commission came to an end, Zarif was seen resorting to a known tactic of the Iranian regime.

“Up to now no one has been able to resolve the U.S. exiting the JCPOA and this issue remains unsettled. Therefore, we have the right to take action,” he said.

This may seem a significant threat to the naked eye and those not familiar with Tehran’s playbook. To provide further understanding, quite considerable are his follow-up remarks making a U-turn from Tehran’s previous position of Europe’s suggestions not fitting Iran’s demands.

“The European package appears practical. We have postponed our measures in respect to requests placed by other JCPOA members, in order to become certain that our interests are preserved. We have always remained loyal to our commitments and we are so now,” he added.

Back in Iran, however, the Tasnim news agency, known to be affiliated to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force, published Zarif’s remarks, delivering an interesting twist to this scenario.

“Zarif had specifically said prior to the Joint Commission meeting that we expect European countries to provide verifiable and applicable commitments, instead of confusing and deceiving pledges,” the piece read in part.

Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani gives a speech in the city of Tabriz in the northwestern East-Azerbaijan province. (AFP)

Wake-up call

It is understanding that all parties enter talks seeking their own interests. The final statements, however, and how senior officials express their thoughts are the source of supplemental discussions and analysis.

During the negotiations Iranian President Hassan Rouhani described the European package as “disappointing.” This is a very telling insignia of how Tehran is further understanding the times have changed completely.

Unlike eights years of Obama’s full-fledged appeasement, allowing all parties take advantage and leaving the Iranian people to suffer, the firm blueprint now adopted by Washington is making Europe think twice and leaving the Iranian regime standing in the rain.

Rouhani’s own words explain it all. “Unfortunately, the proposed package lacked any operational solution and specific method to continue our collaboration. This was merely a series of general commitments in the ranks of previous European Union statements… Following the US’ JCPOA exit, we have been experiencing economic, banking and oil dilemmas, alongside various companies becoming doubtful regarding their investments in Iran and continuing their activities with our country,” he said.

US sanctions

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is also known to have said her government will not be able to fully compensate for the impact of US sanctions.

And when German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas says “we are facing difficult circumstances,” how can we assume any country would risk their economic connections with the United States for the sake of Iran during such circumstances?

The Europeans are understanding how serious Washington is in its intention of escalating this economic war against the Iranian regime, especially with the objective of zeroing Tehran’s oil exports.

Furthermore, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo emphasizing sanctions on North Korea will continue until Pyongyang’s denuclearization is completely verified, rest assured Iran and all its counterparts are getting the message.

The road ahead will only become steeper for Tehran and domestically, the Iranian people will most definitely increase their demands and nationwide protests for democratic regime change.

ANALYSIS: Why Iran can’t take a decision similar to North Korea

Al Arabiya

The historic meeting between the leaders of the United States and North Korea, and the resulting Korean Peninsula denuclearizing deal, has the potential of resolving a decades-old international crisis.

This very important development will most definitely have its impact on another flashpoint in today’s world, being the Middle East, and most importantly, Iran.

Comprehensive document

The meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is the first of its kind following the end of the Korean War back in 1953.

The signed document is currently dubbed as a “Comprehensive Document,” sending a signal to the signatory parties of the 2015 “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” over the Iran nuclear program.

This agreement can is a cornerstone to include nuclear disarmament and halting its ballistic missile program by North Korea, and the US lifting its sanctions.

Prior to this signing, the Iranian Foreign Ministry claimed to agree with and welcome any peaceful measure. Following the signing, however, Tehran’s tone changed drastically.

“The North Korean government should be on high alert in this regard,” said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi.

“North Korea should be on alert that the US President is not loyal to his signature,” said Iranian government spokesman Mohammad Reza Nobakht.

Aside from these remarks, senior Iranian officials are concerned of North Korea sharing secrets of their nuclear and missile collaborations with the US and possibly other international community members.

Iranian protesters burn a representation of the US flag at a rally in Tehran on June 8, 2018. (AP)

Different viewpoints

A variety of reactions have been heard from Iran’s perspective.

There are those who believe the US/North Korea deal was made possible due to Pyongyong’s ability to obtain nuclear weapons. As a result, this camp argues flatly against any thought of destroying Tehran’s nuclear program or closing down its nuclear sites, let alone destroying them.

“Some experts have different viewpoints on this matter, claiming North Korea destroyed its nuclear sites due to its excessive age and being worn out,” according to a piece in Iran’s Vatane Emrooz daily.

“Despite sanctions and global threats, for years North Korean officials continued their nuclear and ballistic missile tests to now enjoy this capability of safeguarding their country,” the piece adds.

Others in the Iranian regime are also voicing concerns of Washington having more dangerous intentions. “Trump seeks to force Iran into a new round of negotiations,” according to the Hemayat daily.

Impact on Iran

There’s no doubt the Trump/Kim summit will increase pressure on the Iranian regime domestically and internationally. Signs indicate a growing number of parties will be demanding Tehran to finalize its decision between:

a) Entering new talks with Washington after succumbing to the 12 conditions raised by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

b) Standing firm on a 40-year long position and continuing their belligerence across the board.

Neglected in the past four decades is the fact that Iran has kicked the can down the road on this issue and taken advantage of surrounding developments to prolong its very existence.

The important factor here is the difference between North Korea and the Iranian regime. Despite the variety of claims heard about the result of the Trump/Kim agreement, North Korea’s capacity made such a change in policy and strategy possible. The Iranian regime, on the other hand, lacks any such aptitude, proven in the past four decades.

People protest in Tehran, Iran December 30, 2017 in in this picture obtained from social media. (Reuters)

Tehran is not Pyongyang

Another issue gone neglected is the fact that North Korea has never faced resistance from within or an organized opposition movement. While such a factor has plagued the Iranian regime ever since day one back in 1979.

This goes to prove that the deciding factor in Iran are the people and their opposition movement, symbolized in the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). This movement has encouraged and organized protests and uprisings for the past 40 years, especially since the Dec/Jan nationwide protests that swept 142 cities across Iran.

This phenomenon is Tehran’s main concern and Pyongyang has been free of any such dilemma. Iran’s society is a powder keg ready to explode and regime officials acknowledge the fact that their apparatus is facing 21 super challenges on a daily basis. This slate includes:

• The deep and increasing rift between the people and the ruling regime,

• The incurable trust divide as people continuously lose faith in anyone with any association to this regime,

• The people’s abhorrence of the regime being present in every part of their daily lives,

• The active presence of educated women in daily protests,

• The climaxing water shortage crisis witnessed in numerous areas of the country,

• Unemployment and skyrocketing prices,

• Brain drain and the increasing flow of billions in currency exiting the country.

It is interesting how the status quo is the psychological impact of Trump exiting the nuclear deal as the 90-day and 180-day deadlines for returning sanctions have yet to arrive.

In such circumstances, with or without sanctions, with or without negotiations, the Iranian people will relentlessly continue their struggle against this regime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Six conditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dark future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding the US policy on Iran in light of Pompeo speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– End of support for the Houthi militias.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANALYSIS: After Trump nuclear deal exit, different perspective on Iran sanctions

Al Arabiya

Following the United States’ decision to exit the Iran nuclear deal, we are witnessing the beginning of a significant series of measures against Tehran. Cascading sanctions are in the making and continuing economic relations with Iran would be tantamount to shooting yourself in the foot.

Iran’s economy is on the ropes and Washington knows quite well how to make the ruling clerics understand how their four decades of belligerence will no longer go tolerated. Interesting is how the new US sanctions are targeting the regime, its entities and senior officials, going the Iran apologists camp arguing such measures will hurt the Iranian people.

And these sanctions against Iran’s regime will continue, especially since Tehran believes any back-stepping will lead to devastating defeats in the very near future for its entire apparatus.

Quick glance

The US Treasury Department explains how all pre-JCPOA sanctions will return in two 90 and 180 day phases, while no new contracts will be permitted with Iran. The regime’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and its extraterritorial unit, the Quds Force, are in the center of Washington’s crosshairs.

The very significant nature of these sanctions lies in the fact that Washington’s latest endeavor targets Iran’s financial sources, being the root of its domestic crackdown and foreign meddling.

Trump has tweeted how Iran’s military budget has interestingly skyrocketed by 40 percent following the JCPOA, while the accord claimed to seek peace and security across the region. There has been cooperation with the US to sanction an Iran-linked currency exchange network involved in transferring millions of dollars for the IRGC Quds Force.

Such entities, linked directly or indirectly to the IRGC, result in the utmost concerns for Washington as they facilitate the Iranian regime’s measures causing havoc across the Middle East. The US is now also calling on Qatar to end its support for Iran-associated militia groups.

The fact that Middle East countries are supporting Washington’s sanctions against Iran is quite imperative to counter Tehran’s measures to establish and take advantage of financial institutions for its malign activities across the region.

Europe

The Green Continent is not happy about US President Donald Trump’s decision to exit the Iran accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Yet it doesn’t need rocket science to understand Europe would never make the strategic mistake of standing alongside the Iranian regime in the face of crippling US sanctions.

The Europeans will eventually find a method to work with their American allies, and rest assured Iran’s regime will be the party suffering from Europe distancing from its market. While there are tariff issues ongoing between Washington & Brussels, facts and numbers speak for themselves:

– US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell emphasizes, “Trump has said US sanctions will include important sections of Iran’s economy. German firms should lower their activities in Iran as soon as possible.”
– Italy’s Eni energy company announced it has no plans for new investments in Iran and from 2019 onward the firm will begin purchasing oil from other countries.
– Back in 2007, European Union/United States relations rendered $1.045 trillion in trade, while the EU’s trade with Iran reached a maximum of $15 billion. It’s not hard to do the math.

An Iranian holding US 100-dollar bills in a shopping center in Tehran on April 10, 2018. (AFP)

Iran’s view

Ahmad Khatami, this week’s Friday prayer imam in Tehran, made it clear how the Iranian regime has no hope in Europe.

“To say America no, the European Union yes goes against edification. We have to understand that the European Union has a bad track record on promises. They are no better than the US Plans were made for the EU to invest in Iran. Did they? They also cancelled a signed contract to sell us airplanes. The JCPOA didn’t save the country. In fact, sanctions upon sanctions are now imposed on us,” he said.

It is worth noting that Ahmad Khatami has very close relations to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Furthermore, the Tehran Friday prayer tribune has become a stage where Khamenei sends his representative to express his views about weekly developments. As a result, knowing Khamenei has the last word on all state matters, recent events are depicting a very dangerous slope for the Iranian regime’s future.

The next move

Knowing this enormous amount of international pressure cannot go unanswered, Iran first responded by launching around 20 rockets from IRGC-associated bases in Syria into the Golan Heights. This sparked a massive retaliation by the Israelis against a variety of IRGC targets throughout Syria, to which Tehran has remained silent on.

Tehran is now threatening to relaunch its nuclear fuel enrichment cycle and escalate military confrontation, all claims worth following to understand Iran’s future options in these troubling times. What goes less discussed are the Iranian regime’s domestic troubles. Protests by people from all walks of life continue to increase and the country’s currency, the rial, is nosediving.

On Saturday, the air travel currency cap was decreased from €10,000 to €5,000, and €2,000 for ground/sea travel.

All said and done, we will see in the coming weeks if Tehran exits the JCPOA and be bold enough to restart high level uranium enrichment. Trump has warned such steps by Iran would lead to “very severe consequences,” and history shows between bad and worse the Iranian regime will ultimately choose the bad option.

Options before Tehran trace a very gloomy future. This will play into the Iranian people’s interests in their struggle against the clerical regime’s four decades of oppression and devastation.

ANALYSIS: What lies ahead after Trump’s refusal to budge on Iran

We have recently witnessed an increasing effort by America’s European partners, specifically France and Germany, aimed at convincing US President Donald Trump to not abandon ship on the Iran nuclear deal.

Debate over the accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), there has been a neglect – playing into Tehran’s interests – of how the international community can bring the Iranian regime to its knees, benefiting the Iranian people significantly.

While pressuring Tehran over the JCPOA is necessary, the West can impose even further pressure on the oppressive regime by placing its crosshairs on the country’s political situation, its ailing economy and how to support the protesting Iranian population.

Last ditch effort

Visits payed to Washington by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have apparently made Trump all the more determined on his tough stance against Tehran.

Macron delivered a severe blow to the Iranian regime’s hopes of maybe Paris being able to convince Washington’s Trump through a slate of likely meaningless short-term concessions in order to maintain the current JCPOA framework intact.

With Macron saying he believes Trump will exit the JCPOA by his May 12th deadline, all hopes were lost in Tehran and the regime’s internal disputes flared.

This significant development left diminutive expectation from Merkel’s visit – described as cold – and may even bring an end to all speculations about a possible visit by UK Prime Minister Theresa May.

Iranian regime must be preparing for the worst in regards to the JCPOA, especially after France and the UK joined the US in a coalition to deliver a military strike – and a more important political message – in Syria to the Bashar Assad regime and his allies, Iran and Russia.

Weak bone

Iran’s regime has become an expert in boasting and exaggerating its influence across the region, all aimed at cloaking escalating crises back home.

In the past several weeks Iran’s currency, the rial, has witnessed a 25 percent value nosedive against the US dollar. Three weeks ago, Tehran fixed exchange rates at an official amount of 42,000 rials to the dollar, hoping to reign in the mayday plunge and control the market. Considering the current street value (black-market) rial price of 60,000 to the dollar, people are finding their means to purchase and the regime’s efforts are vividly failing.

Largely gone unnoticed by mainstream media is the continuous failure of one financial institution after another in Iran. Numerous such firms, all linked to the ruling regime and related entities, are refusing to return people’s savings, resulting in ongoing protests seen in cities such as Tehran, Mashhad, Ahvaz, Rasht and so forth.

The roots

Iran’s economic decline is rooted in two spectacles. Unbridled “corruption” and “mismanagement” are the groomed descriptions of plundering people’s belongings in broad daylight.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) now has a firm grip over key industries and businesses, including a long list of ports in Iran’s southern coastlines where billions of goods are imported without any taxes. This has resulted in a large number of production lines to fail.

Second, the Iranian regime’s forty year “Exporting Revolution” motto comes with a cost and the population has been paying the price. The fact that Bashar Assad remains in power in Syria, the Lebanese Hezbollah continues to wreak havoc and Houthi militias continue to make life a living hell in Yemen are all due to the financial support provided by Iran.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves to the crowd during his meeting with a group of labors in Tehran on April 30, 2018. (AP)

 

Poverty

As billions are poured out of the country, millions are bearing the burden inside Iran.

Around 50 million of Iran’s 80 million population is living under the poverty line, all due to incorrect economic policies, according to the Iranian regime’s own semi-official Tasnim news agency, affiliated to the IRGC Quds Force.

This poses a grave risk for the Iranian regime, especially considering the fact that the 2017/2018 uprising began with the lower class, having nothing to lose, revolting in over 140 cities across the country.

Signs indicate Iran has failed to remedy the causes of that uprising. With international isolation increasing – especially after a peace agreement in the Korean Peninsula – Tehran must be evaluating how the world will have high expectations from its regime to forgo its dangerous belligerences.

Failing to do so will have Iran’s poverty-stricken majority up and revolting in the not so distant future.

Damning effect

Adding insult to injury for Tehran are the Trump administration’s new wave of sanctions and the increasingly likely setting of Trump’s JCPOA departure. This initiative has the potential of reviving crippling sanctions.

The mere notion of such a development is already discouraging foreign investor from Iran and boosting uncertainty. Firms such as France’s Total and America’s Boeing will most likely think twice about investing in an insecure environment.

While Europe will obviously pursue its own interests and objectives in regards to sanctions against Iran, unilateral US sanctions are fully capable of having a damning effect on the Iranian regime and the IRGC. This would actually benefit Iran’s revolting populace.

The way forward

Should Trump live up to his promise of withdrawing from the JCPOA, the U.S. will enjoy an unprecedented opportunity to significantly escalate pressure on the Iranian regime. Considering decades of failed Western policies vis-à-vis Tehran, and the Iranian people suffering as a result, it is high time to adopt the right strategy.

Iran’s regime must be completely banned from using the global SWIFT transactions system, cripple the IRGC’s domestic crackdown and foreign war machine, and as explained in a recent Washington Postpiece, provide “political support for the regime’s opponents.”

The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) is clearly Iran’s main and only organized opposition entity advocating a firm policy against the Iranian regime for four decades. Following the recent uproar in protests, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei mentioned the PMOI/MEK, clearly saying their cases are different.

If Tehran is specifically addressing the main source of its concerns, shouldn’t the international community be investing on this very organization to bring about meaningful change benefiting the Iranian people, all nations across the Middle East and the world over?

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

Bolton’s selection is tantamount to increasing pressure on Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

JamNews website:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guardian Council spokesman Abbasali Kadkhodaie says:

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

Rouydad 24 website:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Youth Journalists Club:

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

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

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

Bazar Ariya website:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Systemized corruption”

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

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

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

Changing times

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

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

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

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

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

Dirty money

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

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

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

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

Troubling months

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

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

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

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

Iran Protests: What We Are Learning

The future of Iran’s protests is on the minds of many as the fate of this strategically important state remains in limbo. This subject gains even more importance considering U.S. President Donald Trump’s upcoming Friday decision on the controversial Iran nuclear deal.

Iran’s state media claims the protests have come to an end, a result similar to that of 2009. Yet the world is witnessing how further cities and towns are expressing their abhorrence over the ruling elite.

This status quo is a struggle between the Iranian people literally fed up with this regime and a dictatorship weakened from domestic unrest, internal rifts and international pressures.

Escalating matters far beyond previous scenes of nationwide protests in 2009 and 1999 is the clear reference made by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to the party behind these rallies.

“As well as Washington and London, Khamenei blamed the violence on Israel, exiled dissident group People’s Mujahedin of Iran and ‘a wealthy government’ in the Gulf, a probable reference to Iran’s regional rival, Saudi Arabia,” according to Reuters.

Tehran pointing fingers at Washington, London, Israel and the Saudis is nothing new. Yet Khamenei mentioning the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) is of quite significance, indicating the main source of his regime’s concerns.

This recent wave of protests is setting the grounds with new sets of rules and understandings.

1) The Iranian people no longer fear in expressing their true feelings, seen in the nationwide slogan of “Death to Khamenei.” Such a brave measure in the past would bear the potential of earning you a heavy prison term, if not a death sentence.

2) Unlike previous uprisings, these demonstrations are mushrooming across the country, reaching over 130 cities and towns, according to activists. Places less heard of before, such as Izeh, Dorud, Shahin Shahr and etc. are now seen leading the growing wave of protests. Brave demonstrators are threatening the regime’s very pillars to an extent that security forces have opened fire and killed dozens of protesters, arresting thousands, according to reports.

3) From the second day of this uprising protesters have shown their overcoming of prior fears through responding to the security forces’ attacks and quelling. State vehicles, motorcycles, makeshift police stations and other facilities are being set ablaze by protesters in response to the regime’s unbridled crackdown.

4) For years Iranian state media and its lobbies in the West have been claiming this entity enjoys vast popular support. Various campaigns, including a Twitter hashtag #بسيجي_نيستم (I’m not a Basiji), reveal the regime’s woes, as a growing number of Revolutionary Guards Basij paramilitary members are seen joining the protesters’ ranks.

5) Iran is showing a major vulnerability in its intolerance of social media platforms. The government is filtering the popular Telegram messaging app – said to have 40 million members in Iran – in yet another attempt to prevent protesters from joining force and the entire population from receiving unfiltered information from the outside world.

This makes the necessity of providing unrestricted access to the Iranian populace all the more vital.

6) In far contrast to 2009, the U.S. administration is powerfully standing alongside the Iranian people. This nation continues to suffer from the wounds of Obama extending his hand to Khamenei in their time of need. This time around, however, President Trump and senior administration officials are standing shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian people’s legitimate demands while placing Tehran on notice.

To some extent the Iranian people also enjoy the support of Canada, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. More effort is necessary in this regard, as European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is meeting today with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to discuss the fate of the Iran nuclear deal, and only discussing human rights violations in Iran and the recent protests very briefly.

7) Despite the detention of over 3,000 protesters, the Iranian people are not silent. As in Tehran, families and other protesters are seen demanding the release of political prisoners and recently detained demonstrators. On January 9th, facing escalating demands outside the notorious Evin Prison, authorities had no choice but to release four political prisoners. This has the potential of becoming a turning point in the regime’s crackdown against protesters.

8) Iran is known for four decades of human rights violations. The referral of this highly sensitive dossier to the United Nations Security Council in less than a week after the spark of these protests is a point of no return for Tehran, knowing the issue of human rights violations, restricting freedom of speech and internet access will no longer go unnoticed by the world’s highest decision making body.

9) Speaking of no return, the myth of Iran’s “reformist” and/or “moderate” currents is now considered an issue of the past. This hurdle, dating back to the presidency of Hashemi Rafsanjani and even the prime ministry of Mir Hossein Mousavi in the 1980s, has been preventing any serious discussion of regime change. The “reformist” illusion is now evaporating as protesters are heard chanting, “Reformist, principalists, end of story.”

10) Parallel to all other developments, the nature of many outlets and social media channels is surfacing, making it clear for all who is who, and their affiliations to the ruling regime. The past two weeks have been crucial in making it crystal clear for the Iranian people which outlet of any kind provides unbiased information, and which merely are beating the regime’s drums, according to activists.

11) In another reference to 2009, on December 30th of that year Tehran launched a pro-regime rally claiming of ending the “sedition”. Each year this day has been an opportunity for the regime to stage such marches and provide hand-picked images to the outside world, in its claiming of a vast social base. To this day Tehran has being failing to stage a pro-regime rally worthy of dubbing as a strong response to the nationwide protesters demanding regime change.

As a result, two weeks into the groundbreaking protests, this popular movement is proving it bears the capability of overcoming previously impossible odds. In response, the ruling regime has no solution to provide for the people’s valid demands, while lacking the will of resorting to all-out crackdown, fearing Iran’s powder-keg and a strong international response.

As a result, conditions are set for fundamental regime change in Iran. In these new circumstances, even the smallest protest rally bears the power of a massive demonstration by reigniting hope in people’s hearts and stretching the regime’s resources, making it incapable of delivering the response it needs to quell this ongoing uprising.

Change should be realized by the Iranian people. The U.S. and the international community, however, should provide unrestricted internet access to all Iranians and impose meaningful sanctions against the ruling regime, with the state radio and television IRIB network.

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.