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.

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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.”

ANALYSIS: Trump’s new policy: Solidarity with Iran’s people

US President Donald Trump decertified the Iran nuclear deal on Friday and referred the case to Congress. It remains to be seen what measures await Tehran, especially considering the highly intensive quarrel that brought us where we are today.

What is certain, however, is that this marks a major US policy shift vis-à-vis Iran, having impact across the flashpoint Middle East.

Ever since the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower back in the 1950s and since the CIA-backed the 1953 coup d’état against the democratically-elected government of Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, Washington’s policies have either directly or indirectly supported the ruling regimes in Iran and against the Iranian people’s better interests.

Trump, however, has for the second time in less than a month stated his solidarity with the Iranian people. Iran has violated the very spirit of the agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and the entire accord is against US national security interests, according to Trump.

The Arab world reacted positively, with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain promptly supporting the US landmark decision.

This is in line with April’s Riyadh conference where Trump called on the Islamic world to recognize the threat of Iran’s meddling in their countries and take the necessary action. Considering the importance of the Middle East for Iran, rest assured Tehran is receiving these messages loud and clear.

President Trump speaks about the Iran nuclear deal on October 13, 2017. (Reuters)

Opposition voice

The Iranian opposition, National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), known for its credibility after blowing the whistle on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions back in 2002, also welcomed Trump’s strategic policy shift.

The new US policy condemning flagrant human rights violations in Iran and “to deny the Iranian regime and especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) funding for its malign activities,” and opposing “IRGC activities that extort the wealth of the Iranian people,” are very necessary, according to NCRI President Maryam Rajavi.

Trump’s acknowledgment that under Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei the regime “oppresses its people, abuses their rights” and “exports violence, destabilizes its neighbors, and sponsors terrorism abroad,” is a recognition of the Iranian regime’s illegitimacy, she added.

The Trump administration has executed a widespread strategic alteration, ending years of appeasement and rapprochement that provided Tehran with unjustified concessions. This includes the 1997 designation of the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) at the Iranian regime’s behest. Following a 15-year legal battle the PMOI successfully obtained a US federal court ruling ordering the Obama administration to end its unjust terrorist designation.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks about the Iran nuclear deal at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, on September 5, 2017. (Reuters)

Undiplomatic, to say the least

Iran’s lobbies and appeasement advocates have gone the limits to restrain the Trump administration from adopting fierce measures against Tehran.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s words depicted the devastating blow felt by the regime in its entirety, resorting to completely unorthodox and undiplomatic remarks for a president.

“Trump’s speech consisted of nothing but vulgar language, allegations and bogus remarks,” Rouhani saidin an unorthodox reply. “Trump apparently doesn’t know the JCPOA is not a bilateral document to act however he wishes,” he added. “…the IRGC is not just a military unit, but the Guards are in the hearts of [the Iranian] people,” he also said in a speech at a government cabinet meeting, ending any notion of being a so-call

Enter a capTrump ordered the Treasury Department to designate and fully sanction Iran’s IRGC in its entirety based on Executive Order 13224. (File photo: AP)

Technical Input

Trump ordered the Treasury Department to “fully sanction” the IRGC for its support of terrorism. There can be a debate about the exact meaning of this measure. Does this place the IRGC under sanctions? Is this entity now considered a terrorist organization? What is the meaning of “designating” an entity as a terrorist body?

In the United States there is a law and an executive order covering terrorism. All organizations designated as terrorist organizations are blacklisted as such based on this law and/or executive order.

The legislation was adopted by Congress back in 1996, based on which the State Department, in coordination with the Treasury Department, were provided the authority to designate foreign organizations as terrorist entities, also known as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO).

In 2001 following the 9/11 attacks, former US president George Bush issued Executive Order 13224, providing the State and Treasury departments the necessary authority to accelerate the process of designating, sanctioning and restricting such bodies as “foreign terrorist organization” or a “global terrorist.” The authority provided in a presidential executive order is equal to that of a congressional legislature.

On Friday, Trump ordered the Treasury Department to designate and fully sanction Iran’s IRGC in its entirety based on Executive Order 13224. Generally, these blacklists impose financial restrictions on the designated individuals or entities.

There are slight differences the two State and Treasury blacklists, as the main aspects are very similar, including confiscating all assets of the designated individual or organization, and placing them under the authority of the US judiciary. The State Department’s FTO list also imposes immigration restrictions.

A handout picture provided by the office of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shows him delivering a speech during a conference entitled “Implementation of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) a new chapter in Iran’s economy”, on January 19, 2016, in Tehran. (AFP)

The path forward

The “Corker-Cardin” bill overseeing the JCPOA for Washington provides Congress 60 days to decide the next step following Trump’s announcement on Friday, indicating the Iran nuclear deal is against U.S. national security interests. Trump has called on Congress to intensify this legislation to include certain additional restrictions.

Trump in fact emphasized if existing loopholes in the accord are not resolved, as president he enjoys the authority to single handedly revoke the agreement in its entirety.

This development goes far beyond designating the IRGC and has a more drastic impact than merely decertifying the JCPOA. The Trump administration has announced a completely new policy.

White House fact sheet released prior to Trump’s speech specifically explains how a certain US policy pursued for 15 years vis-à-vis Iran and the Middle East was wrong, and how this administration has decided to no longer repeat those mistakes.

The Iran engagement policy was very effective and acted as a significant pillar in safeguarding and maintaining the Iranian regime in power. That is exactly why from the very day Tehran has sensed a major Washington policy change, all of Iran’s lobbies and advocates are going to the limits to prevent this now realized transition.

Iran had resorted to a variety of threats, even to take military action against US forces in the region, in the case of the IRGC being designated as a terrorist organization.

Now that the entire IRGC is designated as a terrorist organization, we are seeing voices against this development, and Iranian lobbyists attempting to downgrade this turn of events, claiming it is merely sanctions and far different from a terrorist designation.

The truth is that a policy that provided crucial support for Tehran through these years is witnessing major changes. This is rendering enormous concerns in Tehran. What needs comprehending is the scope of Trump’s major policy transition.

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

ANALYSIS: Certified or decertified, Iran faces tough road ahead

All eyes are on US President Donald Trump and his upcoming Iran speech later this week to clarify his decision to certify or decertify Tehran’s compliance with a nuclear agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), designed to curb the regime’s controversial atomic drive.

This has Iran’s regime on its toes, as senior elite in Tehran understand fully how the US can lead the international community in adopting strong measures against its broad scope of malign activities. Expected to be addressed is also a wide range of concerns over Iran’s dangerous policies in relation to its ballistic missile advances, meddling in Middle East states and supporting terrorist proxy groups as explained in a new video.

‘Iran’s unacceptable behavior’

Iran’s rogue behavior, currently imposing its influence on four major regional capitals of Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus and Sanaa, are the result of the Obama administration’s “overly lenient foreign policy, which sought to promote America’s priorities through consensus, rather than through the frank display of power,” as put by a recent The New Yorker piece.

“Lifting the sanctions as required under the terms of the JCPOA has enabled Iran’s unacceptable behavior,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a late September meeting with his P5+1 counterparts and Iran’s top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The Trump administration is also deeply concerned over Iran’s proxies mining the strategic Bab el-Mandeb Strait waterway, aiming its indigenous missiles from Yemen towards cities in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, and from southern Lebanon towards Israel. This is Tehran in action with the objective of taking advantage of the destruction left behind by ISIS across the region, especially in Syria and Iraq.

“The Iranian regime supports terrorism and exports violence, bloodshed and chaos across the Middle East,” Trump told reporters before a Thursday evening meeting with senior military leaders at the White House. “That is why we must put an end to Iran’s continued aggression and nuclear ambitions,” he said. “They have not lived up to the spirit of their agreement.”

Trump has put Iran “on notice” over charges that Tehran violated a nuclear deal with the West by test-firing a ballistic missile. (Reuters)

Joint effort

Parallel to the White House there are voices on Capitol Hill advocating the new approach weighed by the administration.

“The president should decline to certify, not primarily on grounds related to Iran’s technical compliance, but rather based on the long catalog of the regime’s crimes and perfidy against the United States, as well as the deal’s inherent weakness,” Senator Tom Cotton said last week at a speech in the Council on Foreign Relations.

As the Trump administration seeks to place necessary focus on Iran’s illicit Middle East ambitions and actions, talks are also ongoing as we speak over how to amend the JCPOA’s restrictions.

“Sunset clauses,” Iran’s ballistic missile development and testing, and an inspections regime lacking the bite to gain necessary access into the regime’s controversial military sites. Under the current framework Iran can easily conduct nuclear weapons research and development in military sites and claim such locations do not fall under the JCPOA jurisdiction.

While it is expected of Trump to decertify Iran, he most likely will not go the distance to completely pull America out of the nuclear agreement. Obama refused to send the JCPOA to Congress for discussion and approval. Trump, however, seems set to place the decision to impose further sanctions on Iran upon the shoulders of US lawmakers.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks about the Iran nuclear deal at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, on September 5, 2017. (Reuters)

More than ‘one piece’

The new mentality sought by Washington is to address all of Iran’s belligerence and not allow its nuclear program and the JCPOA devour all of the international community’s attention.

The new US response, including blacklisting Iran’s notorious Revolutionary Guards, to be announced by Trump is said to cover missile tests, support for terrorism and proxy groups checkered across the Middle East, hopefully human rights violations at home, and cyberattacks.

Iran has a history of resorting to such measures, including targeting Saudi oil interests. Raising the stakes for Iran, Trump described a meeting with his top military brass on Thursday evening as “the calm before the storm.” Neither the US President nor the White House provided further details, yet rest assured Tehran received the message.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivering a statement on Iran in the Treaty Room of the State Department in Washington, DC, on April 19, 2017. (AFP)

Fear renders contradiction

Sensing an increasingly escalating tone from Washington, Tehran signaled its first sign of fear by expressing readiness to discuss its ballistic missile program, according to Reuters. And yet less than 24 hours later, Iranian officials said no offers were made to negotiate such restrictions.

“Iran regards defensive missile programs as its absolute right and will definitely continue them within the framework of its defensive, conventional and specified plans and strategies,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said, according state media.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also felt the need to make remarks to save face before the regime’s already depleting social base. “In the nuclear negotiations and agreement we reached issues and benefits that are not reversible. No one can turn that back, not Mr. Trump or anyone else,” Rouhani said at a recent Tehran University ceremony, according to state media.

Of course, we all remember how prior to the JCPOA signing in 2015 senior Iranian officials went the limits in describing any “retreat” regarding their nuclear program as a “red line.” To make a long story short, Tehran is comprehending how the times are changing at a high velocity, endangering its domestic, regional and international interests. And unlike the Obama years, its actions will not go unanswered.

Senator Cotton made this crystal clear at his speech: “Congress and the President, working together, should lay out how the deal must change and, if it doesn’t, the consequences Iran will face.”

Iran Feeling The Heat From Trump On Nuclear Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump’s running concerns regarding the deal include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Iran Needs Are Not Concessions But Sanctions

With concerns escalating, North Korea should not lead us to tone down our voice and provide further concessions to Pyongyang and Tehran. We should in fact do the opposite.

More than two years after the flaws of a deal between the P5+1 and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program have become obvious, a chorus is busy insisting there is no other option. While the rendered pact, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has failed to rein in the Tehran regime, correct measures are available at hand.

Some argue the JCPOA has successfully slowed Iran’s dangerous drive to obtain nuclear weapons. The Center for a New American Security held a forum titled, “Consequences of a Collapse of the Iran Nuclear Deal,” featuring “a plethora of prominent speakers advocating in favor of preserving the deal, including former senior Obama administration official, Colin Kahl, a chief proponent of the agreement,” according to The Washington Free Beacon.

We Do Indeed Have Other Viable Options

The highly controversial Parchin military complex, located southeast of Tehran, was “inspected” by Iran’s own “scientists” to provide samples to the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. That is tantamount to asking a murderer to deliver his DNA, in privacy without any supervision, as evidence to compare with that found at a crime scene where closed-circuit cameras recorded his presence at the time of the crime.

JCPOA advocates say the deal isn’t perfect, yet also claim measures against Iran are ill-founded and can be counterproductive. This is not the case.

“The administration could discourage global firms from doing business with Iran by leaving open its final position on the deal, and thus placing at risk their business with America,” as proposed in a recent Foreign Policy piece by James Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Turkey.

Yes, such measures would disappoint Tehran. Yet knowledge of this regime’s nature suggests such actions will not push Iran to the brink of abandoning the JCPOA ship, as they are benefiting from the present terms.

And yes, the Iran nuclear deal is a multilateral agreement, as European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini reminded. Yet also as a reminder, in case of Iran violating the JCPOA terms, the United States can unilaterally launch the “snapback” process and have UN sanctions re-imposed on Iran. In such a scenario there is no need to garner support from Russia or China, both known for backing Tehran, as Security Council veto authority is irrelevant in this regard.

Appeasement Is a Failed Approach

With concerns over this issue escalating, the case of North Korea should not lead us to tone down our voice and provide further concessions to Pyongyang and Tehran. We should in fact do the opposite. This dossier should help us realize that appeasement—the same mentality embraced by the Obama administration in blueprinting the highly flawed JCPOA—has placed us where we are today with North Korea.

Do we seek to trek down the same path with Iran, a state with dangerous influence across the already flashpoint Middle East? One such horrible example is Iran’s involvement in Syria. JCPOA advocates are also describing a “best-case scenario” of providing more concessions to North Korea to muster a “far-from-perfect” pact, similar to the Iran deal, in exchange for Pyongyang to freeze its nuclear development.

Déjà vu. Haven’t we already experienced this with the Clinton administration’s “Agreed Framework” of 1994? Kim Jong Un recently tested his state’s sixth and most powerful nuclear device, claiming to be a hydrogen bomb. As another harsh reminder, rapprochement with North Korea led to the notorious 2010 sinking of the South Korean destroyer, the Cheonan. It is quite obvious by now that a Pyongyang submarine torpedoed the warship and left 46 sailors dead.

Does another South Korea naval ship, or a city for that matter, have to be targeted for us to realize that rogue states such as Iran and North Korea will only consider engagement as a sign of the international community’s weakness and take full advantage of it? Or must a U.S. Navy ship in the Persian Gulf come into the crosshairs of Revolutionary Guards’ fast boats for the West to finally open its eyes?

Some think Iran lacks the necessary will and understands all too well how such a move would spark drastic international measures against its interests. JCPOA advocates (read Iranian apologists) have also delegitimized any concern about Tehran’s intentions by claiming pact violations, such as breaching limits set on heavy water—the substance needed for plutonium-based nuclear bombs—as mere “bumps in the road.”

This shows those making such arguments either lack the necessary knowledge of Iran’s belligerent nature in the past four decades, or simply fall into the category of Iran lobbyists. Fierce international sanctions left Iran no choice but to succumb to nuclear talks with knees bleeding. More non-nuclear sanctions are needed to make Tehran understand the international community means business.

“Peace for our time” was the claim made by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in his September 30, 1938 speech concerning the Munich Agreement with Adolf Hitler. Seventy million people paid the price of that strategic mistake with their lives. Let us finally learn our lesson of appeasement and put aside such an approach for good.

Iran’s People And The Nuclear Deal

Discussions are continuing as we speak over the fate of the highly controversial Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Advocates and opponents are going the limits to present their case prior to the October 15thdeadline when US President Donald Trump is due to determine the status of Iran’s compliance with the accord.

While this is a very important discussion, what unfortunately goes neglected is the status of the Iranian people who should be the first beneficiaries of such an accord that led to many sanctions being lifted from the Iranian regime.

The ruling elite in Tehran have usurped the billions provided by the Obama administration in cash, waivers and sanctions reliefs to boost their ballistic missile program in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, prop up the Assad regime in Syria and its continuous killings of innocent people, and escalate their lethal meddling across the Middle East, including Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Kuwait and Bahrain.

The Iranian people, however, have yet to witness any improvements in their lives. Recently many cities across the country have been the scene of widespread rallies staged by hundreds, and at times thousands of people protesting how their investments in state institutions have been plundered.

For four years financial firms such as the Caspian Credit Institution, reported to be affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), and various branches of the government have received enormous amounts of money from ordinary people looking to invest in such entities what is literally considered their life savings, according to the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

Viewed as a safe investment in other countries, with people placing their money in government institutes and not private companies, investing in such entities has become a nightmare in Iran.

Even the country’s Central Bank has refused to clarify if such financial institutes are actually legal or illegal in nature. Credit firms such as Afzal Tous, Thamen, the Mehr Bank and Arman firm have all opened branches and invited investors to place in their savings, and yet no signs of such names are registered in the Central Bank’s accounts. Millions are said to be investing in these financial firms.

450,000 people who have invested their savings in the Fereshtegan Credit Firm, linked to Caspian, are now complaining how a total of $1.4 billion of their savings have vanished, reports indicate.

Investors had already placed around $2.26 billion in eight trade institutions prior to their dissolve that preluded the formation of the Caspian firm in 2015, the report adds.

Officials of these institutions in Iran are allegedly affiliated to the IRGC and other regime entities, including allegations of the state police issuing registration forms for up to 5,000 such credit institutions.

Many people have felt their trust has been misused and literally stabbed in the back, as their life savings have vanished in thin air.

This has resulted in numerous protest rallies in major cities such as Tehran, Mashhad, Isfahan, Rasht, Kerman, Karaj, Kermanshah, Yazd and Khorramabad, among others.

Protesters in the Iranian capital have rallied outside the regime’s judiciary building, with reports indicating such gatherings continuing. Statements issued by these protesters show they intend to extend their gatherings until further notice.

As reports escalate regarding Iran allocating billions to prop the Assad regime in Syria, protesters are seen chanting: “Forget Syria, start thinking about us!” and “Rouhani, Rouhani, this is the last warning, we are fire at will!” referring to a term used a few months ago by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei against presumed enemies of the state.

In the city of Kerman, southcentral Iran, these protesters in a symbolic gesture laid an empty table cloth to portray their current living status after their savings have been plundered.

Many investors who have lost their savings believe the issue is not just about money, as this has become very deep and involves their very dignity.

Conditions have reached a point where the chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s Economy Commission said there are around 15,000 charity institutions registered in Iran while around half are involved in non-transparent activities considering they do not publish their financial statistics.

Iran’s bankrupt economy is symbolized in as many as 11 million people living under the poverty line, according to the head of Iran’s Khomeini Relief Foundation.

A country with 15,000 charity institutions and a financial turnover estimate of around $10.5 billion, there should not be such an astonishing number of people living in utter poverty.

Considering Iran’s non-transparent regime and economy, this is merely a tip of the iceberg of the enormous economic crisis brewing in this country with a powder keg populace.

This major socio-economic crisis in Iran is evolving as the regime continues to expand budgets allocated for its military and regional forays, and entities involved in imposing a fierce atmosphere of domestic crackdown.

Billions are used to seal deals to purchase planes from Airbus and Boeing, while numerous reports show Iran being notorious for using passenger planes to transfer foot-soldiers, arms and equipment for war machines across the region, especially Syria.

Vital is the fact to impose sanctions on the regime ruling Iran and go the distance in refraining to impose any pressure on the Iranian people. If Iran’s nuclear-related sanctions are relieved under the JCPOA, more measures are needed to ensure the money pouring into Iran are used for the better interest of the Iranian people, and not the regime’s war machine abroad.

Javad Mansouri, the first IRGC commander and a former Iranian ambassador to Pakistan said four years ago, “Even if it rains gold… there will be no change in the status quo. Don’t go thinking all problems will be solved if Mr. Zarif signs the [JCPOA] tomorrow…”