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.

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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?

Storm brewing in Iran over nuclear deal, terror ties and domestic unrest

Recent developments are indicating a tough road ahead for Iran in what is promising to be a tumultuous summer.

U.S. President Donald Trump sacked his top diplomat, Rex Tillerson, on March 13, citing specifically differences regarding the Iran nuclear deal.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo, nominated to lead the State Department, favors a firm approach confronting Tehran’s regional policy and is a major critic of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the Iran accord is formally known.

Former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, a strong critic of Tehran, is now Trump’s National Security Advisor.

Prior to this, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited Iran on March 5, expressing concerns over Tehran’s ballistic missile program and Middle East belligerence. This portrayed the JCPOA’s fragile nature and Tehran’s failure to use Europe as a shield against the Trump administration.

Couple all this with escalating Iranian protests across the country, and the regime’s recent intention of filtering Telegram, a popular messaging app used by over 40 million people, and you have a recipe for disaster from Tehran’s perspective.

Prelude

Paving the path for Iran’s miseries, the Financial Action Task Force issued its latest report in February placing a June ultimatum for Tehran to input significant changes in its banking system and end financial relations with terrorist groups through nine specific procedures.

As Iran remains blacklisted in the financial market, investors are very hesitant over launching any meaningful project with the clerical regime.

Iran’s economic bankruptcy, parallel to widespread protests by people from all walks of life that continue as we speak, provide a very clear understanding about Tehran’s chief crises.

Double impact

The groundworks of such circumstances are vivid in two very specific JCPOA weak points, from Iran’s perspective. While Europe lifted many sanctions, similar steps imposed by the U.S. remained considering how Congress disagreed with the Obama administration’s engagement with Tehran.

Obama used his executive authority to suspend nuclear sanctions, while non-nuclear sanctions imposed by the U.S., blocking America’s financial system to Iran. As a result, European banks are unable to get involved in dollar transactions with Iran.

This, again, leaves the JCPOA very fragile and allows Trump to annul the entire accord while financial & non-nuclear sanctions remain intact.

Underestimation

Failing to comprehend the impact, Iran was boasting about Western companies lining up for business. This honeymoon ended quickly as Tehran came to understand its grave underestimation.

Former U.S. secretary of state John Kerry began receiving calls from his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, seeking measures to set aside banking sanctions.

In March 2016, Mohammad Nahavandian, then chief of staff of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, travelled to London warning of unaccountable results if the JCPOA fails to resolve Tehran’s economic dilemmas. Maybe he was referring to the Iranian uprising where the poor flooded the streets and raised demands for regime change.

Sweeping changes

Iran’s economic predicaments continue as we speak, especially with the Obama years ending and the Trump administration executing sweeping changes in U.S. policy vis-à-vis Iran. Banks and companies across the globe, especially Europe, are showing cold feet in engaging with this regime.

Speaking at London’s Chatham House back in February, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi vividly voiced his regime’s concerns, complaining how Tehran is not fully benefiting from the JCPOA and describing the atmosphere as “destructive” resulting from Washington’s “confusion” regarding the nuclear pact’s future.

Iran also miscalculated the JCPOA as a green light by the international community to deploy the Lebanese Hezbollah and dozens of other Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force-linked militia to not only massacre the Syrian people, but enjoy military presence in Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.

From 2015 onward Tehran is significantly developing its ballistic missile arsenal, providing such an inventory to the Houthis in Yemen to target Saudi Arabia. All the while, Iranian officials continue boasting about Hezbollah’s missile capabilities.

In response, the U.S. Congress is continuously adopting sanctions targeting the Iranian regime’s belligerence, especially blacklisting the IRGC.

Another expressively sweeping change that proved Iran’s calculations completely came as Europe began distancing from Tehran. Iran’s JCPOA dream story is culminating, realizing Europe will never choose business with this regime over its strategic economic relations with the U.S.

European officials went to great lengths to have Iran curb its ballistic missile program and regional meddling in the face of Trump’s threat to exit the JCPOA.

This resulted in Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other senior officials adopting strong positions against France, expressing their discontent of Europe siding with the U.S.

“If we have maintained our missile range to 2,000 kilometers, it is not due to technological limitations… we will increase our missile reach to the extent which we feel threatened,” said IRGC deputy Hossein Salami in a state TV interview on November 26.

Ultimate concern

While international isolation creates mounting quandaries for Iran, domestic unrest has forever been Tehran’s ultimate concern. To add insult to injury, Iran’s ongoing protests and uprising is under the navigation of the opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). This coalition has for four decades been the main target of the Iranian regime’s onslaught.

Professor Ivan Sascha Sheehan in his recent article in The Hill says:

“Tehran’s violent reaction to peaceful protests demonstrates that the language of strength is the only language the regime understands. Even under current president Hassan Rouhani’s so-called ‘moderate’ leadership, the Islamic Republic continues its illicit activities to every extent it is permitted to do so.”

This is not a call to war. Quite the contrary. The world should acknowledge Iran’s current wars in Syria and Yemen, conveniently gone neglected by mainstream media and appeasement supporters.

The international community can best support the Iranian people’s uprising by crippling the regime’s entities, such as the Central Bank and IRGC. This goes analogous to recognizing the Iranian people’s organized resistance for regime change, symbolized in the PMOI/MEK.

An Iranian expression translate into “April showers bring May flowers.”

This spring is already promising a stormy summer for the Iranian regime and a year of historical developments for the Iranian people.

Why is Iran’s currency nosediving?

From late July of last year Iran’s currency, the rial, has lost 40 percent of its value against the United States dollar. This is considered a national catastrophe by many analysts.

What is the reason and roots of this significant crisis?

We are hearing a variety of answers these days, including:

  • Unknown fate of the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
  • S. President Donald Trump appointing former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton as his new National Security Advisor after sacking General H.R. McMaster
  • Deliberate increasing of the U.S. dollar value by the government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to provide for a portion of the regime’s budget deficit
  • Banks going bankrupt as people are losing their trust

All these are correct. A closer look, however, leads us to this conclusion that these developments have formulated during the past two years. All the while, the rial’s nosedive began immediately after the mullahs’ regime took the reigns of power in 1979.

1980 – U.S. dollar = 100 rials

1986 – U.S. dollar = 610 rials

1995 – U.S. dollar = 2630 rials

November 2011 – U.S. dollar = 10,600 rials

February 2012 – U.S. dollar = 26,050 rials

Conclusion: The events of the past two years cannot be the root cause of the rial’s nosedive.

Iran’s corrupt infrastructure and economic foundations are the main origin of this epidemy. A country’s economic structure is based on a specific infrastructure.

For example:

Germany – Heavy industry

Turkey – Tourism and industry (in 2005 Turkey was listed as among the world’s 20 industrial countries)

Japan – Electronics and auto manufacturing

South Korea – Auto manufacturing and …

What is the Iranian regime’s economy founded upon?

Industry? Tourism? Auto manufacturing? Agriculture? …

None of the above. The Iranian regime’s economic foundation is extremely corrupt, heavily based on massive smuggling and large-scale imports. This is blocking “all paths for any efforts to heal Iran’s economy,” according to Radio France Internationale.

One side-effect of an ill-founded economic infrastructure resembles in the price of a country’s currency against the U.S. dollar. For the past 39 years of the mullahs’ rule in Iran, we are continuously witnessing the rial nosediving, people losing their purchasing power, increasing poverty and …

Of course, political developments, such as the unknown future of the JCPOA and … will render spontaneous falls in the rial’s value. However, we must keep in mind the root reason, being Iran’s deeply corrupt economic structure (or lack thereof).

The Iranian regime, in nature, belongs to a time-period dating back to the Middle Ages, leaving it without any capacity to generate necessary changes.

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.”

What Comes After French FM’s Iran Visit

Monday’s Tehran visit by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is startling a wide variety of responses, especially from inside Iran.

Kayhan daily, known as the mouthpiece of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, ran a piece titled “French Foreign Minister heading to Tehran with a JCPOA-2 hat,” using the acronym for the Iran nuclear deal, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, while describing Paris’ efforts to impose further setbacks upon Iran’s regime.

The semi-official Ruydad 24 website in Iran writes, “The JCPOA, ballistic missile program and Iran’s role in the region are of the most important challenges before Iran, Europe, the United States and Middle East countries.”

This is what concerns Tehran the most, being crystal clear the Europeans would never side with Iran over the U.S.

Seeking to raise the stakes prior Le Drian’s visit, Tehran on Monday announced it enjoys the capability of producing higher enriched uranium within two days if Washington’s abandons ship on the 2015 nuclear deal between.

“If America pulls out of the deal … Iran could resume its 20 percent uranium enrichment in less than 48 hours,” Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told al-Alam TV.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said Le Drian will be merely involved in discussions and there are no negotiations involved. France’s official position says otherwise.

“Iran’s ballistic missile program, with a range of a few thousand kilometers, is definitely non-consistent with United Nations Security Council resolutions and goes beyond Iran’s need to defend its borders,” Le Drian said in an interview with the French daily Le Journal du Dimanche.

“If this dilemma is not resolved directly, Iran will be facing the threat of new sanctions,” he added.

France is leading Europe in talks with Iran and it is very likely Le Drian discussed with Iran’s officials the conditions raised by U.S. President Donald Trump.

“The U.S. has asked France to lay Trump’s conditions before Iran. European countries have confirmed these conditions,” according to the semi-officials Fars news agency, said to be linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

In his meeting with Le Drian, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s remarks vividly displayed Tehran’s deep concerns about the JCPOA’s future.

“The JCPOA is a litmus test for all parties and its dismantling will bring disappointment for everyone,” Rouhani said.

We must also take into consideration the timing of Le Drian’s visit, coming prior to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, in which Iran was the main issue of talks.

Two weeks later Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman to Washington where Iran’s regional meddling will most likely be discussed. Tehran’s role in Syria has raised major concerns.

“…if we don’t push Iran out and come up with an agreement in Geneva that gives Syria back to the Syrians. This war never ends. So, Mr. President it’s just not about defeating ISIL. If you leave Syria in the hands of Russia and the Iranians this war never ends,” said Senator Lindsey Graham in a recent interview.

Finally, Trump will be hosting his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, as the leader of Europe in regards to the JCPOA.

As a result, the objective of Le Drian’s visit to Iran can be described as placing Trump’s significant pressures and imposing his conditions. Tehran will most definitely be concerned, knowing all meetings will evolve in Trump’s talks with Macron in Washington. Two weeks later Trump will announce his decision on the JCPOA.

This leaves Tehran before a particular dilemma. Succumbing to the new conditions set to preserve the JCPOA will deliver a strategic setback, being, to say the least, significantly curbing its ballistic missile program and Middle East influence. Iran considers these two pillars its pride and regional strategy depth.

Choosing to reject Washington’s conditions, however, will most certainly lead to the return of crippling sanctions for Tehran.

Add to this dilemma the ongoing protest staged by Iranians across the country. This goes alongside calls for further nationwide protests next Tuesday, marking the country’s annual “Fire Festivities” held on the last Tuesday night of the Iranian calendar before inviting in the new year.

Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) has issued a call for a nationwide uprising to mark this celebration. Senior Iranian officials have acknowledged how the PMOI/MEK organized the recent flare of protests across the country.

Tehran’s troubles are only beginning.

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.

How Iran Is Losing Europe

As the United States adopts new strategy vis-à-vis Iran, senior officials in Tehran are desperately seeking a new life-rope. With Obama and his appeasement gone, Iran is also sensing how Europe is distancing.

Tehran is also witnessing how developments across the Middle East and the international spectrum are cornering its regime, detecting how all parties will choose to side with its rivals.

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson made a call to Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman condemning the Iran-backed Houthis’ missile launch against Riyadh.

In her recent trip to Washington, European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini expressed confidence the Iran nuclear deal, decertified by U.S. President Donald Trump, would not be killed.

Sources in Congress, however, are saying senior Republicans emphasized the deal’s deficiencies and stressed how financial and economic relations established with Iran are endangered, reports indicate.

Iran has feared such an outcome.

“The Europeans must stand against the U.S. government, including its violations of the Iran nuclear deal by imposing sanctions…,” Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said on October 18th.

Prior to this Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sought to take advantage of the rift between Washington and Brussels to lure Europe into economic deals.

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French President Emmanuel Macron gives a press conference in Dubai on November 9, 2017. Macron announced he will visit Saudi Arabia on November 9 at night for a meeting with the kingdom’s powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, during his debut visit to the Middle East. / LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images

Iranian media outlets have described recent remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron, the French Foreign Ministry spokesperson, and the French oil giant Total announcing its complete compliance with U.S. sanctions as further signs of Europe taking the high hills on the Iranian regime.

Macron said on Wednesday he sought to remain firm with Iran over its ballistic missile program and Middle East influence. The semi-official Siasat daily on November 4th had lashed at Macron and called on senior Iranian regime officials to end being “naïve.”

This pro-Khamenei faction daily quoted the French Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s remarks against Iran’s ballistic missile activities as:

“Iran’s ballistic missile policy is not in-line with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231… The French President has discussed this matter with his counterpart, Mr. Rouhani. We are in close relations with our European partners and members of the [Gulf] Cooperation Council. We are concerned about the recent remarks made by Iranian officials.”

Furthermore, France’s Foreign Ministry more recently indicated it is taking seriously accusations raised by Washington over Tehran violating two U.N. Security Council resolutions, urging Iran to observe with all its international commitments.

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US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley / TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley accused Tehran on Tuesday of supplying Yemen’s Houthi rebels with a missile fired into Saudi Arabia back in July, called for the U.N. to hold Tehran accountable.

Europe has to this day taken its share of advantages rendered from the Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Yet this will never result in the Green Continent threatening its long-term and strategic relations with the U.S. in favor of Iran trade deals.

Iran’s official Kayhan daily, described as Khamenei’s mouthpiece, published a piece on November 5th referring to a “Joint U.S.-Europe project aimed at ending Iran’s authority,” describing the regime as “enchained” by the West.

Senior Iranian clerics are also voicing major doubts and concerns.

“We consider European countries with the U.S. as our enemies… their suggestions may seem decent at first, but we must focus on the inside. Their prepositions of peace may even aim to catch us off guard,” Movahedi Kermani, one of Tehran’s acting Friday prayer leaders, said on November 3rd during a sermon.

The future of Iran’s $4.8 billion deal with France’s Total has also become a topic of immense anxiety.

“The senior financial director in Total has said until the beginning of 2018 as Washington’s new Iran policy is materializing, this company will sign no contracts with Iranian companies regarding the South Pars phase 11 gas development project,” according to the semi-official Fars news agency. “As emphasized in their 2015 Iran strategy, they will completely synchronize with the U.S. considering their cooperation with Iran,” the piece adds.

This daily in another piece dated November 5th titled “Total opens office in U.S. against Iran” writes: “During the deal’s signing a few months ago in Tehran, Total’s chairman emphasized we need not U.S. permission to be present in Iran. However, this company has just recently established an office in Washington for further cooperation with U.S. sanctions policies against Iran.”

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Chairman and CEO of French energy company Total, Patrick Pouyanne / STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

Iran’s efforts to invest in establishing a rift between Europe and the U.S. is nothing but a mirage. Important are companies’ economic interests, and not necessarily the political positions adopted by this or that individual.

It is quite obvious that European firms are not willing to risk violating U.S. sanctions violations and the consequential fines for the sake of maintaining relations with Iran.

BNP Paribas was slapped a whopping $8.9 billion fine due to its transactions with Iran. Tehran understands this even better. Europe will never endanger its stake in U.S.’ $19 trillion economy for Iran’s $400 billion economy.

Iran must be brought to this comprehension that both sides of the Atlantic consider it the main element behind Middle East crisis. The West should unify in clipping Iran’s wings of terror, in particular targeting the Revolutionary Guards with terrorist designations.

Unpacking Trump’s Iran Policy Transition

We have surpassed a roller coaster month of intense developments over the Iran nuclear deal. Discussions in Washington, and talks between Europe and the United States catapulted us all into a simple conclusion:

A major global policy change was in the making. U.S. President Donald J. Trump followed suit and delivered his landmark speech last Friday.

It was the first time in over 30 years that a U.S. president completely devoted a speech to announcing his policy in regards to Iran. Trump delivered America’s new comprehensive strategy vis-à-vis Iran, following months of anticipation and talks.

The issue at hand is not a discussion about personal differences between George W. Bush, Barack Obama or Donald Trump. Policies have reached a dead end and long term interests have left America no choice but to adopt new policies.

What makes this transition even more important is the fact that an intense war on both sides of the Atlantic has been ongoing over this policy transition. This is not limited to the pro-Iran lobby camp. Major interests are at risk here, covering issues far more important than Washington’s Iran policy.

In this 19-minute speech never did Trump deliver a neutral stance regarding Iran. The entire text was focused on placing his crosshairs on the Iranian regime. He began with the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover in Tehran, continuing with the bombings in Beirut, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Tanzania and Iraq against America and its allies.

The objective was not to deliver new tactics or mere mechanisms on how America will approach Iran. The very foundations of U.S. policy on Iran has undergone major alterations.

One very interesting fact was how Trump focused on using the terms the “Iranian regime” and/or the “Iranian dictatorship”. Even if he preferred not to use the phrase of “Islamic Republic,” Trump had the option of resorting to “Iran.” Yet his decision to rely on the “Iranian regime” can be considered a non-recognition of this regime in its entirety.

President Trump using the terms “dictatorship” and “regime” indicates the ultimate objective of US policy is regime change in Iran, according to Richard Haass, President of the Council of Foreign Relations, as cited by various state websites in Iran.

In the first minute of his speech the U.S. president described Iran as an aggressive, radical and fanatic regime, and he refused to use the term “government.”

Trump’s speech focused on two subjects: the Iran nuclear deal and this regime’s regional belligerence and meddling through the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

Prior to his remarks, Trump was under fierce pressure from Europe to certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear accord, technically known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). America’s European allies even took one step back in asking Trump that in the case of decertifying the JCPOA, at least call on Congress not to re-impose pre-JCPOA sanctions on Iran.

Trump, however, stood against all pressures and his specific orders sent a message to the U.S. Congress and Europe: either fix the JCPOA or else the entire pact will come to an end.

The Europeans, seeking to maintain the JCPOA intact at all costs, found themselves before a fork in the road. The price of safeguarding the JCPOA is to place pressure on Tehran to resolve the existing loopholes.

This will be completely against Tehran’s interests, targeting the “sunset” clauses, Iran’s ballistic missile program and access to military sites for rigorous inspections.

“The notion that [Iran’s] entry into the JCPOA would curtail Iranian adventurism, the terror threat, or their malignant behavior has proven to be fundamentally false,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo said at a recent session held by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Another very important aspect of Trump’s speech is recognizing Tehran as a threat, and in other words, America’s enemy number one. This, again, marks a strategic shift and not a mere tactical alteration.

“Over the last decade and a half, United States policy has also consistently prioritized the immediate threat of Sunni extremist organizations over the longer-term threat of Iranian-backed militancy,” a White House press release read prior to Trump’s speech.

This is the epicenter of America’s strategic shift regarding Iran and the Middle East. Following the 9/11 attacks, the flawed U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 played into Iran’s hands. These developments provided the necessary grounds for Tehran to spread its influence in the shadows of Sunni extremists and fundamentalists.

To add insult to injury, the Obama years gave birth to a policy hinging on recognizing a role for Tehran in regional developments. This period witnessed America distancing from its Sunni allies.

“The Trump Administration will not repeat these mistakes,” the press release adds. Once again the Iranian regime has become the main enemy in the region, as we have witnessed in the developments of the past few months following the historic Riyadh conference back in April.

The IRGC also became another major target of Trump’s harsh and unprecedented remarks targeting the Iranian regime’s top authority.

“The Revolutionary Guard is the Iranian Supreme Leader’s corrupt personal terror force and militia… I am authorizing the Treasury Department to further sanction the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for its support for terrorism and to apply sanctions to its officials, agents, and affiliates,” he said.

The U.S. Treasury Department followed suit and blacklisted the IRGC as a terrorist entity.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei responded Wednesday to Trump’s remarks by merely saying Tehran would not walk out of the JCPOA, indicating his regime’s desperate dependence to the pact’s reliefs.

This makes it even more interesting how Germany’s Der Tagesspiegel recently wrote, “Iran has [according to German security sources] clearly not given up its long-term goal to become an nuclear power that can mount nuclear weapons on rockets.”

Equally important is how Trump in his remarks specifically separated the Iranian people from the ruling regime, and made his intention crystal clear.

“Iran is under the control of a fanatical regime that seized power in 1979 and forced a proud people to submit to its extremist rule… In this effort, we stand in total solidarity with the Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims: its own people,” he specified.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in an interview with CNN on Sunday raised the stakes further for Tehran.

“… the hope that one day the Iranian people will retake the government of Iran,” he said.

Of course, we can argue that Trump’s speech fell short of shedding important light on Iran’s flagrant human rights violations and the Iranian people’s demand for change.

While this is worthy of a lengthy debate, what is important now is that a major revolution in U.S. policy in the face of the Iranian regime spells disaster for Tehran’s rulers, and opportunity for the Iranian people.

Trump Decertified The Iran Nuclear Deal. Now What?

After describing it as the “worst deal ever” and threatening to scrap the entire accord, U.S. President Donald Trump has decertified the Iran nuclear deal, describing it as against U.S. national security interests, and outlined significant measures targeting the regime in its entirety. Trump took a major step in ordering the Treasury Department to fully sanction Iran’s notorious Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), describing the entity as Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s “corrupt terror personal terror force and militia.”

This is a major U.S. policy shift vis-a-vis Iran dating back to the early 1950s since Eisenhower turned against the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh.

The U.S. Treasury Department followed suit by designating the IRGC “pursuant to the global terrorism Executive Order (E.O.) 13224 and consistent with the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.” Such a move against the Guards will have major implications in Iran and the region.

In an expression of his deep disregard of the Iran nuclear deal Trump said, “In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies in regards to Iran, then the agreement will be terminated.”

While always harsh on Trump, the Weekly Standard provided good reasoning for his recent decision.

“It is unassailably obvious that the Iranian regime has not complied with the agreement. The Iranians have not given international inspectors unfettered access to nuclear and military facilities, as the agreement requires. They have attempted to acquire banned nuclear and missile technology. They have exceeded the agreement’s limits on advanced centrifuges and heavy-water production. They continue, moreover, to sponsor terrorism around the world and abet the brutalities of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.”

 The U.S. House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee approved a new law imposing more sanctions on Iran for its Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Program on Thursday. A legislation, set to come under consideration in the House, will require Tehran to accept harsh new conditions on the JCPOA or face a “tidal wave of sanctions.”

The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the first to blow the whistle on Iran’s nuclear program back in 2002, welcomed Trump’s decision.

NCRI President Maryam Rajavi said previous “U.S. administrations’ policies of turning a blind eye on flagrant human rights violations in Iran, the regime’s deadly meddling in the region and concessions made to it in the course of the JCPOA have been disastrous, and for which the people of Iran and region have paid heavily,” according to a statement.

This comes after the NCRI’s Wednesday conference releasing a 52-page report titled “Iran’s Nuclear Core: Uninspected Military Sites,” shedding light on the regime continuing its nuclear weapons ambitions through secret military sites. Back in April this coalition also provided extensive information on over forty different missiles sites checkered across the country.

Voices opposing Trump’s decision, however, argued Iran continued to abide by the JCPOA.

“The Trump administration is right that Iranian behavior destabilizes the region, but wrong when it says that such behavior contradicts the ‘spirit’ of the agreement,” former U.S. diplomat Wendy Sherman argued in a recent New York Times piece.

The JCPOA text itself begs to differ.

“The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action states the anticipation of JCPOA participants that ‘full implementation of this JCPOA will positively contribute to regional and international peace and security,’” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “However, Iran’s other malign activities are serving to undercut whatever ‘positive contributions’ to regional and international peace and security were intended to emerge from the JCPOA.”

One wonders how Sherman would respond to a new intelligence report citing the German intelligence service.

“Iran tried to obtain illicit technology that could be used for military nuclear and ballistic missile programs, raising questions about a possible violation of the 2015 agreement intended to stop Tehran’s drive to become an atomic armed power…”

The Iran nuclear deal is comprised of key botches:

  • The JCPOA fails to confirm Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, delivers no agreed-upon punishments for Tehran’s violations and actually paves the path to nuclear weapons,
  • provides a very opaque inspections regime, especially on military sites,
  • permanently benefits Iran in return for “sunset” nuclear restrictions,
  • sets no limits on Tehran’s ballistic missile program,
  • and Iran, known as the leading state sponsor of terrorism, is emboldened to expand its influence and escalate its destabilizing activities.

The ball is now in Congress’ court to decide on the future of the accord.

Having passed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act in 2015, Congress now has 60 days to launch legislation based on accelerated procedures bearing the potential of snapping back nuclear sanctions on Iran and take even further action against the IRGC.

All states considering establishing economic ties with Iran will also have to think twice. The IRGC has tentacles spread to at least 40% of Iran’s economy through front companies. This includes key oil, gas, telecommunications and construction sectors.

Foreign firms seeking relations with Iranian firms will risk violating US sanctions. BNP Paribas learned this the hard way in 2015 after being slapped a record $8.9 billion fine for violating Iran sanctions.

The Trump administration will most likely seek further non-nuclear sanctions against the Iranian regime. This would need at least 60 votes in the Senate, meaning eight Democrats have to jump aboard.

Considering the existing consensus on Capitol Hill over Tehran’s Middle East meddling especially in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, supporting proxy groups such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and domestic human rights violations, this doesn’t seem an uphill battle.

The measures needed from this day forward are:

  1. Closing JCPOA loopholes and aiming to permanently prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
  2. Bringing a definitive end to Iran’s ballistic missile program, regional aggression and sponsorship of terrorism, and flagrant human rights violations.
  3. Dismantling Iran’s weaponization program through airtight control mechanisms covering all aspects of the regime’s nuclear program.
  4. Gaining true “anytime, anywhere” access to sites, civil and military, and interviewing nuclear scientists and experts. This is needed to clarify outstanding issues in relation to possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson provided the case against the IRGC.

“Iran supports the Assad regime, even as it commits atrocities against its own people, including with chemical weapons. Iran provides arms, financing, and training, and funnels foreign fighters into Syria. It has also sent members of the Iran Revolutionary Guard to take part in direct combat operations.”

Senior Iranian officials even prior to Trump’s speech had resorted to known rhetoric and threats.

“If the news is correct about the stupidity of the American government. . . then the Revolutionary Guards will consider the American army to be like Islamic State,” IRGC chief Gen. Mohammed Ali Jafari said.

Former Iranian diplomat Hossein Mousavian wrote Trump’s decision returns “US-Iran relations to a state of overt hostility.” Interesting is that Mousavian has conveniently forgotten how Iran’s IRGC has a history of killing Americans, beginning with the 1983 Beirut bombing that left over 240 US military personnel killed.

The international community has no problems with the Iranian people who are rightfully proud of their thousands of years of heritage. It is the Iranian regime that wrongfully hijacked the 1979 revolution, unjustly claims to represent this nation and continues to create mayhem domestically, across the Middle East and beyond.

Trump’s strategic US policy revision for regime change in Iran is indispensable to ending and rectifying Washington’s disastrous past strategy vis-a-vis the Iranian people.

President Trump underscored, “In this effort we stand in total solidarity with the Iranian regime’s longest suffering victims: Its own people.”