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: Comprehending Trump’s new Iran policy

There is a new understanding in Washington over how US President Donald Trump, set to deliver his first United Nations General Assembly speech tomorrow, can tackle the Iran challenge.

It would be wrong to view the conglomerate of Iran-created crises through a single periscope focusing exclusively on the nuclear dilemma. Iran’s meddling in states across the Middle East, its support for terrorists groups including the likes of the Lebanese Hezbollah, the continuous pursuit of ballistic missiles and domestic human rights violationsare also serious concerns.

The question is how to adopt a proper Iran policy approach to address all questions with equal importance. The plan has been described as a “21st century financial version of [John F.] Kennedy’s Cuba quarantine,” according to a copy leaked to the media. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, known to early on voice Washington’s possible policy of supporting regime change in Iran, shed light on this subject.

“We must take into account the totality of Iranian threats, not just Iran’s nuclear capabilities,” he said at a recent appearance with his UK counterpart Boris Johnson in London.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will “very shortly” make an announcement on Iran’s nuclear agreement with world powers that President Donald Trump has called a “bad deal.” (AFP)

 

Iran’s major belligerence

For far too long, especially during the Obama administration, all of Iran’s major belligerence went neglected for the sake of garnering the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

A variety of reports indicate Washington’s broad Iran policy is near completion and may go public at the end of this month, delivering answers on how to bring an end to Tehran’s influence in the region.

The policy is set to reach as far as significant restrictions aimed at military activities carried out by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the essential entity of Tehran’s regime that is said to control 40 percent of the country’s economy.

There is also talk of re-imposing sanctions lifted under the JCPOA – which seems unlikely – and a slate of actions involving oil export restrictions that has the potential of seriously depriving Iran’s main economic lifeline.

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

 

A glimpse of the future

The JCPOA-sanctions have been relieved once again and the White House is working to provide as many options possible, considering how the Iran policy is said to be near completion in blueprinting.

“Waiving some of those sanctions should not be seen as an indication of President Trump or his administration’s position on the JCPOA nor does the waiver give the Iranian regime a pass on its broad range of malign behavior,” said US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

Initial steps began late last week when the Treasury Department slapped new sanctions targeting 11 firms and individuals for aiding Iran’s ballistic missile program, facilitating cyberattacks and supporting terrorism. The newcomers to the Iran sanctions list include an IRGC-affiliated engineering company and two airline firms in Ukraine.

OPINION: Qatar’s characteristic obstinacy and Iran’s ‘honor’

“The latest sanctions allow the administration to register its displeasure with Iran for pursuing a ballistic missile program and aiding proxies in the region’s conflicts while allowing the nuclear deal to remain in place in keeping with the strong preference of European allies,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

“The Treasury will continue to take strong actions to counter Iran’s provocations, including support for the IRGC-Qods Force and terrorist extremists, the ongoing campaign of violence in Syria, and cyberattacks meant to destabilize the US financial system,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

Just when Iran sought to trumpet how Washington continued to relieve JCPOA sanctions, new restrictions were placed to spoil Tehran’s party.

This picture taken on May 10, 2016 shows, US presidential candidate Donald Trump’s book “Trump 101: The Way To Success” translated to Persian on display during Tehran’s International Book Fair in Iran. (AP)

A message for Tehran

Aiming to rattle Iran to the very foundation, the new US policy will also mentions the possibility of strengthening Washington’s relations with Iran’s pro-democratic groups. This is the message Tehran will most likely be taking in deeply and discussing in length.

Continuing this line of thought, New York is the stage of a large demonstration on Wednesday by the Iranian Diaspora, invited by the Organization of Iranian American Communities, protesting the presence of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the General Assembly.

Also read: European officials urge probe for 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran

At a time when the Tehran regime claims an increase in pressure counters the Iranian people’s interests, such a demonstration against Rouhani proves this regime is no representative of the 80+ million population. Despite billions channeled into the Iranian regime’s bank accounts thanks to the JCPOA, the majority of the Iranian people continue to plunge into deeper poverty.

This is a stark reminder of how former Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, a candidate in May’s presidential race, said this is a regime of “four percenters” that control the country’s political and economic cycles.

In July, the United States imposed sanctions on Iran over its missile program. (Shutterstock)

Shivers among the elite

The mere thought of the Trump administration weighing a global sanctions embargo will cause shivers amongst Tehran’s elite.
While there are voices expressing concerns over the possibility of Iran resorting to an upsurge in violence in response to such a policy, the question is what has been Iran’s dogma in the past four decades? Has Tehran been a beacon of peace and stability in Iraq, Syria, Yemen or across the Middle East for that matter?

In fact, the Iranian regime will only cave in under pressure and a determined will witnessed from the international community. One such example was how Iran immediately released the 52 American hostages after learning Ronald Reagan was elected to the US presidency back in 1980, knowing his policies would far contrast those of Jimmy Carter.

ANALYSIS: Unveiling the secrets of Iran’s 1988 massacre

To this end, adopting a firm policy on Iran will actually prevent war. This comes after decades of appeasement has encouraged Iran into further warmongering. As Trump correctly called, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the entire Arab world must patch up their differences and loopholes. Otherwise, Tehran will most certainly take advantage of any such gaps, as seen currently in the Qatar standoff.

The new US policy on Iran, once announced, should be a rally call for a novel resolve to stand against Iran’s slate of bellicosity, and pinpoint all energies on relieving the globe of this sinister evil for good.

Blueprinting the Right Iran Policy

very reluctant US President Donald Trump recently gave the green light for the State Department to recertify Iran as complying with a nuclear agreement signed between international community representatives and Tehran two years ago.

This measure has hurled ongoing debates, launching a faceoff amongst those who consider the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as a liability and seek an immediate exit, and those who argue the world simply can’t live without it.

While there are also calls for renegotiating the deal or implementing the JCPOA to its exact meaning, as mentioned recently by senior US officials such as inspecting Iran’s military sites, there is another option before the Trump White House: supporting the Iranian people and calls for regime change.

What needs understanding is that Trump’s agenda of adopting a firm stance on Iran should not be minimized on the JCPOA. This would play into Iran’s hand, while Tehran continues its belligerence elsewhere.

The Trump administration has before it an opportunity to adopt meaningful leverage on Iran.

We must give credit to the Obama administration for establishing an international coalition and initially ramping up sanctions against Iran. This is what brought Tehran to the negotiating table, as economic strains began reaching the point of no return.

Obama’s mistakes afterwards were treacherous, however, succumbing to Iran’s demands. Tehran came to believe Obama sought a foreign policy legacy at all costs, and took full advantage. Whereas if the US led the international community in pressuring the mullahs, Tehran would have given in to all demands.

Never forget how despite all his saber-rattling remarks, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ordered the nuclear agreement approved in the regime’s parliament in 20 minutes.

Yet to those who believe continuing with the JCPOA as it is, a look back at the past two years is necessary. Iran has used the deal’s resulting in reportedly up to a $150 billion windfall to expand its Middle East hegemony. Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon are under substantial Tehran influence, leaving the region heavily battered more than ever before.

To add insult to injury, the JCPOA’s sunset articles provide Iran the option of patiently awaiting until they can produce all that is necessary for a nuclear weapon.

Iran is already cheating the nuclear deal due to Obama’s desperate positions in his final years. Tehran exceeded its heavy water production cap. Heavy water is the fundamental ingredient in a plutonium bomb. Iran has been testing more advanced centrifuges, again undermining JCPOA limits. According to German intelligence services Iran has been illicitly procuring highly sensitive nuclear and ballistic missile technology in Germany. Tehran has also exceeded its uranium enrichment cap, another major non-compliance factor.

The deal left the Trump administration little to work with, and no serious building block to build pressure on Tehran.

As a result, abandoning the deal allows Iran make a dash for nuclear weapons capability and leaves the US to blame. In such a scenario, it would most likely take more time for Washington to form an international coalition necessary to re-impose necessary measures.

The Obama approach encouraged the Europeans and other parties to rush to the Iranian market. This effectively has been providing further billions to the notorious Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as this entity controls more than 40% of Iran’s economy. Such a disastrous dogma has also left the Trump administration reluctant, or even unable, to fully overhaul Washington’s comprehensive Iran policy and hold Tehran accountable.

In its first six months the Trump administration slapped three different rounds of sanctions, mostly through the Treasury Department, in response to Iran’s ballistic missile test launches, support for terrorism and regional extremism, and egregious human rights violations. While such action is necessary after all the cost-free concessions provided by Team Obama, they fail in forcing Iran to think twice about its measures. However, there is light at the end of this tunnel.

Congress sent a very powerful message to Tehran recently through the House 419-3 and Senate 98-2 votes, slamming an unprecedented level of sanctions and restrictions on Iran. This bill experienced its share of riddles and obstacles, as reservations and alterations have continuously hovered over the Russia and North Korea sections. The Iran chapter, however, continuously enjoyed vast bipartisan support. And Tehran is receiving the message loud clear.

Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor-in-chief of Keyhan daily in Iran, known to be the Supreme Leader’s mouthpiece, described the new bill as the “mother of all sanctions.”

While long overdue, and despite the fact that the IRGC should officially be designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the State Department, the Guards are now blacklisted amongst the Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT).  “The Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), not just the IRGC Quds Force, is responsible for implementing Iran’s international program of destabilizing activities, support for acts of international terrorism and ballistic missiles,” the text reads in part.

Drastic measures will be implemented following Trump’s signature: all US-based assets and property associated to any individual or entity linked to the IRGC will be seized and frozen. No US individual or entity is permitted to any affiliation, including financial, business or other services, with any individual associated by any means to the IRGC. With all IRGC-affiliated individuals and entities placed under sanctions, this move will have a paralyzing effect for Iran’s belligerent efforts. The IRGC Khatam al-Anbiya conglomerate, currently involved in cooperation with over 2,500 companies, will be targeted severely. A domino effect will launch as sanctions target all related firms. Secondary banking sanctions against the IRGC will ban any and all financial institutions from delivering direct and/or indirect banking services to any individual or entity linked to the IRGC.

These sanctions should be imposed immediately to act as a launching pad for the Trump White House to take the next necessary steps. Iran’s footprints in Syria and Iraq have resulted in utter death and destruction. Tehran’s lethal influence in the Levant and Mesopotamia must be brought to an end. Moving on, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have both spoken of regime change as a forward-looking approach when it comes to Iran.

Ambassador John Bolton, former US envoy to the United Nations, said it most clearly at a recent Iranian opposition rally in Paris: “The outcome of the president’s policy review should be to determine that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 revolution will not last until its 40th birthday,” come February 2019.

Iran Nuclear Deal Continues to Raise Concerns

One would think critics of the Iran nuclear deal would have raised all the flawed aspects of the accord during former President Barack Obama’s tenure or new President Donald Trump’s first days in office. If so, think twice, as new revelations indicate Obama conceded far beyond what we already knew about.

Politico’s Josh Meyer wrote an eye-opening investigative report unveiling how the Obama team freed seven apprehended Iranians by overruling the judgment of veteran prosecutors, while publicly claiming merely economic sanctions were violated by the discussed individuals. The truth was, however, through their membership in a weapons procurement entity, these Iranians posed major threats to US national security.

To add insult to injury, the Obama administration went further in dropping all charges against 14 fugitives, despite clear evidence gathered by US authorities showing their involvement in smuggling advanced weaponry to Iran and its terrorist associates. This measure signaled an end to international arrest warrant efforts against the 14 individuals, and all the while the Obama administration was busy hindering all attempts to seek their apprehension:

“The major issue is not [attaining] an agreement, but ensuring the actual implementation of the agreement in practice. The number…

“The administration didn’t disclose their names or what they were accused of doing, noting only in an unattributed, 152-word statement about the swap that the US ‘also removed any Interpol red notices and dismissed any charges against 14 Iranians for whom it was assessed that extradition requests were unlikely to be successful.’”

Senior White House, State Department and Justice Department officials time and again went the distance to deny requests filed by prosecutors seeking to lure one of the 14 fugitives to a US-friendly country to implement a plan for their arrest. To this end, the arms merchants were able to use the opportunity to evade the net of US law enforcement. One can speculate they are now safe in Iran.

Extradition efforts targeting in-custody suspects were also stalled by Obama’s people, parallel to the slow-walking of probes and prosecution procedures focusing on US-based procurement,

According to Meyer’s report, the Obama administration was successful in deliberately derailing its own measures at very crucial moments:

“Through action in some cases and inaction in others, the White House derailed its own much-touted National Counterproliferation Initiative at a time when it was making unprecedented headway in thwarting Iran’s proliferation networks.”

In effect, this provided Iran a green light to continue ignoring and defying international law.

When the seven were released, the Obama White House claimed such this “one-time gesture” had ended in the release of “civilians” to render the freedom of Americans who were illegally apprehended by the Iranian regime on bogus charges:

“In his Sunday morning address to the American people, Obama portrayed the seven men he freed as ‘civilians.’ The senior official described them as businessmen convicted of or awaiting trial for mere ‘sanctions-related offenses, violations of the trade embargo.’”

It is quite obvious that such an Iran appeasement policy hinged on and came at the price of doing whatever was needed to get Iran to sign a highly-flawed nuclear agreement, and resorting to whatever lies necessary in selling the pact to the American people:

All this came as proof to Iran of how desperate Obama was, and how far he would go, providing Tehran the exact circumstances to take full advantage.

Iran’s mullahs further sensed such weakness in the Obama administration as it failed to enforce its red line regarding Bashar Assad’s chemical attacks, and thus green-lighting Iran’s involvement in Syria.

The irony, as I explained in Forbes piece back in February, lies in the fact that while Obama was busy selling the deal, Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were actively taking advantage of the pact’s benefits.

“In the past 18 months Khamenei-controlled companies, including the IRGC conglomerate, have sealed deals with foreign companies valued at over $11 billion…

”Debate over the JCPOA’s future remains a major issue. If kept intact despite all its flaws, the U.S. should fully implement all articles and have each and every loophole sealed. This initiative can be coupled with further sanctions punishing Iran’s lethal meddling across the Middle East, pursuing a dangerous ballistic missile program and atrocious human rights violations.”

Parallel to an extensive JCPOA review, the next necessary step forward for the Trump administration in adopting a new Iran approach is to designate the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization, and thus showing Iran that the devastating appeasement policy championed by the Obama administration has come to an end.

This will correctly place America alongside the Iranian people in the effort to bring about regime change that will result in a free, democratic and non-nuclear Iran.

Iran lobby gets excited over nothing

The State Department officially notified Congress on Wednesday that Iran has met all its commitments under the Obama-negotiated nuclear agreement. The certification is required every 90 days and the previous administration dutifully rubberstamped it each time.

What was unusual is that this approval was the first under the Trump administration and was being closely watched by regime supporters and foes alike. The decision to provide the approval was being loudly hailed and trumpeted by the Iran lobby, especially the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a known pro-Iran lobby, as a sign that the nuclear deal was working and even U.S. President Donald Trump had to admit so.

In the immortal words of ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend!”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the nuclear deal has failed to squash Iran’s ability and determination to develop atomic weapons, arguing that the country’s ambitions still threaten international peace and security, according to The Washington Post.

“An unchecked Iran has the potential to follow the same path as North Korea and take the world along with it,” Tillerson said in remarks to reporters in the formal setting of the State Department’s Treaty Room. “The United States is keen to avoid a second piece of evidence that strategic patience is a failed approach.”

The White House has decided to conduct a top-to-bottom review of its Iran policy, including an evaluation of the deal officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. To this end, the granting of approval was a pro forma act and means relatively little moving forward.

“With this certification, President Trump must now uphold the United States’ obligations and renew the sanctions waivers,” said NIAC president Trita Parsi. “If not, Trump will place the U.S. in violation of its commitments and be responsible for unilaterally killing the nuclear deal.”

Parsi is correct in saying President Trump can effectively kill the Iran nuclear deal in a heartbeat by not renewing sanction waivers granted by the Obama administration. He, however, misses the entire point of the Trump administration’s review, aimed at finally tying together all of Iran’s actions in areas such as human rights, support for terrorism, and active military campaigns against its neighbors.

This was the crucial missing link in the Obama administration’s approach to Iran, willing to excuse Iran on a number of issues and delink the regime from the agreement.

Support the Assad regime as it drops chemical weapons on civilians? Not a problem.

Busy executing thousands of Iranian citizens and political dissidents? Go for it.

Allowing the beating and mistreatment of Iranian women for violations of moral codes and denying them education and job opportunities? Okay by us.

The effort to appease the regime only enabled and emboldened the mullahs, and now the Trump administration has to do the heavy lifting and hard work the Obama administration couldn’t and wouldn’t do, which is why this review will be so critical.

In a slap at the Obama administration that negotiated alongside the P5+1 for the deal, Tillerson said, “The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran.”

Congress has introduced bills extending U.S. sanctions against Iran related to its alleged support of terrorism, human rights violations and missile tests. Lawmakers have put the legislation on pause, however, because of the impact the bills could have in Iran’s presidential election scheduled for next month.

  •   Should the U.S. confront Iran directly by using military force against proxies such as the Lebanese Hizb’allah and Afghan mercenaries in Syria?
  •   Should Washington re-impose a broad swath of sanctions on Iran and target the commercial enterprises of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)?
  •   Should the Trump administration affirmatively embrace and recognize Iranian dissident groups, such as the National Council of Resistance of Iran, and focus efforts on their inclusion back into Iran?

All these questions and more will have to be part of the White House review.

The administration is inclined to adopt a “more rigorous application of the tools at its disposal,” a senior White House official told Foreign Policy, referring to sanctions policy. Among the options under consideration: broadening U.S. sanctions to include much larger chunks of the Iranian economy linked to the IRGC.

In his remarks, Tillerson focused not only on the nuclear deal, but also on what he called Iran’s “alarming and ongoing provocations that export terror and violence.”

He specifically cited Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Houthi rebels in Yemen, as well as hostility to Israel, the harassment of U.S. naval vessels plying the Persian Gulf and cyberattacks targeting the United States and its Gulf allies.

“Iran spends its treasure and time disrupting peace,” he said.

Time is of the essence considering the upcoming April 25th meeting between Iran and the P5+1 in Vienna for a quarterly review of the accord.

But President Trump doesn’t have to tear up the deal to tighten the screws on Iran. The agreement, which is not a treaty, provides broad leeway to signatory governments in interpreting its terms, and the Trump White House is mulling taking a much more forceful stance on enforcing the deal to the letter.

There are already signs that the Trump administration is using existing legal authorities in a more forceful manner than its predecessor. Last Thursday, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Sohrab Soleimani, the brother of IRGC Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani, for his role in abuses in Iran’s prisons. And in February, the Treasury Department also blacklisted eight IRGC-linked organizations, including an official based in Lebanon.

At the end of the review, the question of whether or not to keep the nuclear agreement may not exactly be centered on the agreement itself, but rather on whether or not the cost of keeping the pact intact in place is too high compared to the cost of not containing Iran as it expands into Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen, along with new threats to Bahrain and other Gulf states.

Is Iran expanding its spying and lobbying efforts?

The Iranian intelligence minister’s recent remarks, pertaining to Tehran overseeing a spy/lobby network in important capitals across the world, is cause for concern. Mahmoud Alavi, Iran’s spy chief, bragged about the regime’s capability to run a lobby group in Washington with the aim of promoting Tehran’s hardline agenda.

According to Alavi, Iranian dual citizens in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom have maintained their loyalty to the “Islamic revolution,” the mullahs’ hallmark motto ever since 1979, through which they have wreaked havoc across the region and beyond.

A “lobby group for the Islamic Republic of Iran” is actively bolstering Tehran’s status in the international stage and helping to sell and legitimize its nuclear ambitions as just causes to the globe, Alavi claimed

The head of Iran’s intelligence apparatus did not bother to name the specific lobby entity. One certain group, however, the National Iranian American Council, has been the target of major criticism in the past several months, with accusations of the group lobbying on Tehran’s behalf. Various dissident organizations are demanding the Trump administration to launch an official probe digging into NIAC’s history and nature of its current events.

Congress has also been petitioned to investigate ties between Iran and the NIAC, and the latter’s active drive to promote a pro-Tehran agenda in Washington. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., who chair the foreign affairs committees in each chamber of Congress, have received specific letters signaling the importance of urgent action in this regard.

NIAC was once again under the spotlight this January for its actions of presenting a positive image of the Iran nuclear deal and advocating a pro-diplomatic approach with Tehran. The media reported extensively on how two senior Iranian regime supporters, former Iranian nuclear diplomat Hossein Mousavian and NIAC founder and president Trita Parsi, enjoyed access to the Obama White House on more than 30 occasions, conducting meetings with senior administration officials.

Such meetings took place at critical points of the Obama administration’s decision-making process and engagement with Iran in their effort to push forward the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Alavi’s recent remarks are source for serious concern as entities advocating Iran’s agenda in the American capital are obliged by the Foreign Agents Registration Act to disclose the nature of their work. This even includes conditions where the relationship does not involve money exchanges, at least not through legal and opaque channels.

A legitimate question now hovers over the possibility of any ties between the groups referred to by Iran’s intelligence minister and the Islamic Republic’s positions on foreign policy.

Another just query circles around the many visits Parsi has made to the White House and the State Department during former President Obama‘s tenure, and can they be attributed to what the Iranian intelligence minister describes as lobbying for Tehran.

Any group seen to be advocating the promotion of Iran’s ballistic missile program, and caring less about the Iranian people’s human rights and the regime’s crackdown, should be subject of suspicion.

For years Iran has been known to forward an official plot of boosting relations with groups promoting anti-war and pro-regime policies in the West. Improving contacts with Iranian dual nationals living in the West has been high on Tehran’s agenda on this matter.

One major task of this network has been discrediting those opposing the regime in Tehran and taking measures against any efforts voicing support for Iran regime change. The main Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, and its most important member, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), have been the constant target of smear campaigns launched and orchestrated by the Iranian regime and NIAC.

Their nightmare involves Washington discussing possibilities with Iranian opposition groups, and upscaling the effort into direct cooperation aimed at further sanctions and ultimately regime change.

Originally published in Washington Examiner

Amir Basiri (@amir_bas) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner and an Iranian human rights activist.

On Trump’s Presidential Victory: Losing Graciously and Winning Humbly

capture
Harvard-educated Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Originally posted in the Huffington Post

If politics were like sports, the losers would take their losses graciously; but Washington politics are not like sports.

Some still appear to have a difficult time at accepting the results of the presidential election, but they should not act like an attorney who lost his case before the judge, and walks outside seeking to relitigate it in front of the public and the media. They should not be in the pounding table and yelling stage, but they should understand that the case is closed.

Some are even heavily criticizing potential Cabinet nominees even before the President-elect Donald Trump has picked any specific individual for the key White House positions.

For example, Daniel Benjamin, a former Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the State Department, recently posted an article in regard to the potential Cabinet nominees as well as a grassroots Iranian organization.

We should adequately and meticulously analyze the politics, facts, and the law.

The Politics

On politics, the 2016 elections are over: Donald Trump won. Republicans control the White House, Senate, and the House of Representatives, and the decades-old policy of appeasement of the Islamic Republic of Iran has received a major blow. Therefore, let’s just get over it.

The Facts

On Nov. 23, Benjamin launched a broadside against the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran/Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (PMOI/MEK); it is the largest and best-organized Iranian opposition movement within the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which acts as the parliament-in-exile.

He criticized a number of former U.S. officials including Mayor Rudy Giuliani for their support for the MEK. In a recent article, he said, “With Giuliani, as perhaps with Gingrich and others, the attraction to the MEK may be more grounded in plain old greed than foreign policy.”

Nevertheless, there exists robust evidence, gathered by U.S. officials, confirming that the mainstream MEK was not responsible for the killing of U.S. citizens in Iran. Rather, those assassinations were the work of a breakaway Marxist-Leninist faction, known as Peykar, which hijacked the movement after the arrest and execution of the leaders of the MEK and killed both the MEK members who resisted the hijacking of their organization and several Americans in Tehran.

Upon being released from prison during the 1979 Revolution, after serving 8 years of his life term, MEK leader “[Massoud] Rajavi had to rebuild the organization, which had been badly battered by the Peykar experience,” said Patrick Clawson in a Council on Foreign Relations interview. He is an Iran scholar and director of research at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The Law

In March 2012, the Treasury Department seemed to suspect that advocates of the MEK were providing material support for a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). The Department began to issue subpoenas to distinguished former U.S. officials who advocated on behalf of the MEK. But Treasury ended its inquiry about a year after the courts and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delisted the MEK in September.

Treasury cited no violations of any laws, either by the Iranian-Americans who were organizing the conferences or the speakers who appeared at these events. So, there is no legal leg on which anyone can make the case that advocates of the MEK were or are in violation of the law, which prohibits providing material support to a listed organization. And, more fundamentally, one is innocent until proven guilty.

Mr. Benjamin wrote that the MEK “inclusion on the FTO list underscored a central principle of U.S. counterterrorism policy, namely, that the target of terrorist violence is irrelevant, and the killing of innocents to advance a political agenda is always wrong.” But according to a report by Dr. Kenneth Katzman, Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs, at the Congressional Research Service, State Department reports on international terrorism till 2011 did not assert that MEK ever targeted civilians purposely.

And most importantly the European Court and the United States ruled in favor of the MEK. Therefore, getting the politics, facts, and the law correctly is critical.

The Way Forward

First, based on politics, facts, and law, refrain from falling back; rather let us look forward together.

Second, the future lies with those who lose gracefully and those who win humbly, as Clinton and Trump have done so well.

Third, former Camp Liberty residents of MEK held under strenuous conditions by the Iraqi Government are now in Albania and other European countries.

The US thanked Albania for resettling members of MEK, “U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has used a visit to Albania to thank the government for resettling members of an Iranian opposition group known as the Mujahedin e Khalq, or MEK”

The real debate, however, is over the U.S. policy on Iran. On the one hand, those who favor the policy of appeasement wish to follow in the footsteps of President Obama. But they are on their way out, with little chance for having any substantial impact at least for the next four years.

On the other hand, there are those who favor holding the Iranian regime accountable for its hostility and terrorism against the United States and its allies in the region. They have also called for imposing additional sanctions for Iran’s abysmal human rights record, and its involvement in terrorism. They are also on the record that they like to see democratic change in Iran by relying on the Iranian people.

For its part, we cannot escape the fact that the MEK appears to be the single mostimportant internal player that can facilitate the democratic change in Iran, as they have demonstrated their extraordinary ability to organize. That explains all the criticisms and attacks on the MEK as well as on those who espouse a favorable view about the MEK, including dozens of senior bipartisan former government officials, such as Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Speaker Newt Gingrich, Governors Howard Dean, Ambassador John Bolton, Secretary Tom Ridge and Governor Edward Rendell.
The proponents of the appeasement policy should realize that the tide is turning, they won’t succeed in resisting it.

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Harvard-educated, Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an American political scientist, president of the International American Council on the Middle East, business advisor, and best-selling author. He serves on the advisory board of Harvard International Review.

Dr. Rafizadeh is frequently invited to brief governmental and non-governmental organizations as well as speak, as a featured speaker, at security, business, diplomatic, and social events. He has been recipient of several fellowships and scholarships including from Oxford University, Annenberg, University of California Santa Barbara, Fulbright program, to name few He is regularly quoted and invited to speak on national and international outlets including CNN, BBC World TV and Radio, ABC, Aljazeera English, Fox News, CTV, RT, CCTV America, Skynews, CTV, and France 24 International, to name a few. . He analyses have appeared on academic and non-academic publications including New York Times International, Los Angeles Times, CNN, Farred zakaria GPS, The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, The Nation, The National. Aljazeera, The Daily Beast, The Nation, Jerusalem Post, The Economic Times, USA Today Yale Journal of International Affairs, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, and Harvard International Review. He is a board member of several significant and influential international and governmental institutions, and he is native speaker of couple of languages including Persian, English, and Arabic. He also speaks Dari, and can converse in French, Hebrew. More at Harvard.

 

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