US Says Palestinian Unity Cabinet Must Recognize Israel, Hamas Snaps Back

US President Donald Trump’s special representative for international negotiations said Thursday that an emerging Palestinian unity government must recognize Israel and disarm Hamas movement.

Jason Greenblatt, who has repeatedly visited the region to seek ways to restart peace talks, laid out a series of conditions in Washington’s first detailed response to the landmark reconciliation deal signed between Hamas and Fatah last week. 

“Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognize the state of Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties -– including to disarm terrorists — and commit to peaceful negotiations,” Greenblatt said in a statement.

“If Hamas is to play any role in a Palestinian government, it must accept these basic requirements,” he added.

But his statement drew an immediate retort from Hamas.

Bassem Naim, an official from the movement, rejected the comments as “blatant interference” in Palestinian affairs, but did not say directly whether the group planned to comply with any of the demands.

Naim accused the US of adopting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s positions.

“This is blatant interference in Palestinian affairs because it is the right of our people to choose its government according to their supreme strategic interests,” Naim told AFP.

“This statement comes under pressure from the extreme right-wing Netanyahu government and is in line with the Netanyahu statement from two days ago.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement signed a reconciliation deal with Hamas in Cairo a week ago aimed at ending a bitter 10-year split.

Under the deal, the Palestinian Authority – currently dominated by Fatah – is due to resume control of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip by December 1.

Talks are also expected on forming a unity government, with another meeting between the various Palestinian political factions scheduled for November 21.

A major sticking point is expected to be Hamas’ refusal to disarm its 25,000-strong armed wing.

Khamenei: We Will Shred ‘Nuclear Deal’ if Trump Tears it Apart

London – Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday Tehran would commit to its 2015 nuclear deal with international powers as long as the US Congress did not impose sanctions against his country.

However, he threatened to “shred” the agreement if the United States pulled out, state TV reported.

Khamenei’s remarks came five days after US President Donald Trump decertified the Iranian nuclear deal, asking the Congress to address the “many serious flaws” in the international agreement.

“I am directing my administration to work closely with Congress and our allies to address the deal’s many serious flaws,” Trump warned.

“In the event, we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated.”

In his first response to Trump, Khamenei said: “I don’t want to waste our time to respond to the rants and whoppers of the foul-throated president of the United States.”

“If the US tears up the deal, we will shred it… Everyone should know that once again America will receive a slap in its mouth and will be defeated by Iranians,” the Iranian leader added.

Although Khamenei expressed his relief with the position of the European Union countries in support of the nuclear agreement, he said that it not enough to tell Trump not to tear up the agreement.

“European states stressed their backing for the deal and condemned Trump … We welcomed this, but it is not enough to ask Trump not to rip up the agreement. Europe needs to stand against practical measures (taken) by America,” he stated.

Following a closed-door meeting on Monday, EU foreign ministers appealed to the US Congress to maintain the nuclear deal with Iran and avoid a return to the sanctions option.

“This agreement is necessary for the security of the region,” EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said, without elaborating on the role the EU could play in countering Iran’s regional activities.

In a joint statement, Paris, London, and Berlin have also expressed concern about the “repercussions on the security of the United States and its allies” that would result from the actions demanded by Trump.

In decertifying the nuclear deal last week, Trump gave the US Congress 60 days to decide whether to impose economic sanctions on Tehran, which were lifted under the 2015 agreement.

During their meeting on Monday, EU foreign ministers also discussed the need to dismantle Iran’s missile program.

“They must avoid interfering in our defense program … We do not accept that Europe sings along with America’s bullying and its unreasonable demands,” Khamenei said, as reported by Reuters.

“They (Europeans) ask why does Iran have missiles? Why do you have missiles yourselves? Why do you have nuclear weapons?” He asked.

Bahrain FM: Qatar Orbits Iran, Failed to Present Initiative to Resolve Crisis

Bahrain

Manama – Bahrain’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad Al Khalifa said that Qatar was still “orbiting Iran”, adding: “We have not seen any sign of Qatar’s initiative to resolve the crisis, so we are still waiting for this step.”

“We are not losers,” he said. “We are concerned about the stability and prosperity of our countries, the security and progress of our peoples before anything else, and it is up to them – the Qataris – if they want to resolve their crisis or not.”

On the Gulf Summit in Kuwait, the Bahraini minister said: “The summit [will be held] on time, upon an invitation by the host country.”

Asked about US President Donald Trump’s remarks on the possibility to terminate the nuclear deal with Iran, Sheikh Khaled said: “We welcomed his speech and the strategy he put forward, and we have been waiting for it for a long time.”

He explained: “Bahrain welcomed this strategy because it is one of the countries that have suffered the most from Iranian terrorism and Iranian interventions, and we are waiting for this strategy to progress and achieve its objectives and not be withdrawn.”

The Bahraini minister underlined the convergence of the strategy launched by Trump with the vision of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain towards Iran’s role in the region.

“Now we see a clearer picture than before, a sound vision and a sense of danger in the region, where Iran represents the greatest threat to security and stability,” he noted.

EU Calls on US Congress to Preserve Iran Nuclear Deal

EU foreign policy chief Mogherini addresses a news conference during a EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels

London- European Union foreign ministers, following a closed-door meeting on Monday, appealed to the United States Congress to maintain the nuclear deal with Iran and avoid a return to the sanctions option, stressing EU’s commitment to maintaining the agreement on the Iranian program after US President Donald Trump on Friday decided not to certify it.

Also on Monday, Britain and France said they were firmly committed to the 2005 nuclear deal with Iran and would work to ensure its implementation.

The British premier’s office said in a statement that during a telephone discussion, “the leaders expressed their firm commitment to a nuclear deal with Iran.”

“Prime Minister May and President Macron agreed to continue close cooperation to ensure proper compliance with the deal and to prevent Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, including its ballistic missile program,” the statement added.

The announcement follows a telephone call between May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who both underlined the need to maintain the Iranian nuclear deal.

EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini chaired the closed-door talks on Monday which discussed how the EU countries would deal with Trump’s threats to the nuclear agreement. The ministers are also scheduled to review the means to tackle Iran’s missile program and its regional role.

“This agreement is necessary for the security of the region,” Mogherini said, without elaborating on the role the EU could play in countering Iran’s regional activities.

“Clearly EU ministers are concerned that messages on JCPOA [Iran’s nuclear deal] might affect negatively opening negotiations or even the space [for] opening negotiations with DPRK,” Mogerhini said, using the abbreviation for the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “One of the key elements of multilateralism is the predictability of maintaining agreements.”

In a joint statement, Paris, London and Berlin expressed concern about the “repercussions on the security of the United States and its allies” that would result from the actions demanded by Trump.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the EU needed to put real pressure on the US Congress.

“We hope that Congress will not call this agreement into question because … non-proliferation [of nuclear weapons] is a major element of global security,” he said.

German Foreign Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned that threats from the US president to pull out from the Iran nuclear accord could provoke military confrontation.

“As Europeans together, we are very worried that the decision of the US President could lead us back into military confrontation with Iran,” Gabriel told reporters ahead of the meeting with his European counterparts.

Trump: Total Termination of Nuclear Deal is a ‘Very Real Possibility’

Trump

Washington – US President Donald Trump said on Monday that a total termination of the Iran nuclear deal was a very real possibility.

“It might be a total termination. That’s a very real possibility,” Trump said before a Cabinet meeting.

“I’m tired of being taken advantage of as a nation,” Trump said, calling Iranian leaders “great negotiators” who “negotiated a great deal for themselves, but a horrible deal for the US.”

“We’ll see what happens,” the president concluded.

The president leaves a 60-day period for Congress to promote implementation of the agreement and address the flaws in the nuclear deal to ensure that Iran is completely prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons or developing intercontinental ballistic missiles and making all restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activity under the law.

Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Republican Sen. Tom Cotton are leading efforts to review the nuclear deal and automatically reinstate sanctions if Iran breaches a number of red lines that were amended.

Sixty votes are required to pass the amendments desired by the Trump administration, which means that the new legislation will need all Republican votes in the Senate (52 votes) and eight votes from Democrat members.

“We are working with the offices of members of Congress, whether in the Republican or the Democratic side, to reach a consensus to pass the legislation,” a senior aide to the office of Senator Tom Cotton said. He noted that the new amendments would take into account Iran’s ballistic missile tests and its support for terrorist groups in the region.

Meanwhile, a Republican lawmaker urged Trump to block a multibillion-dollar deal between Boeing and Iran Air.

Illinois Congressman Peter Roskam wrote in a letter to Trump Friday that while President Barack Obama’s administration lifted its sanctions on Iran Air and permitted commercial jet sales to Iran under the nuclear deal, the airline has not stopped its illicit activities.

“Iran Air continues transporting troops and weapons to Syria, while remaining sanction-free and able to buy hundreds of new aircraft to bolster its terror-supporting operations,” he said.

“Iran Air serves as a lifeline to the Assad Regime,” he added.

Trump’s Iran Strategy Sharpens Power Struggle in Tehran

London- Although it had been expected for months, US President Donald Trump’s unveiling of his new strategy on Iran seems to have taken the ruling elite in Tehran by surprise, intensifying the power struggle within it.

The radical faction close to “Supreme Guide” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had expected Trump to tear-up the so-called nuclear deal, depriving the rival faction known as Rafsanjani’s orphans led by President Hassan Rouhani, of their main propaganda plank.

That Rouhani is anxious to pretend that the nuke deal remains intact is a sign of his faction’s failure to work out any alternative policy. If he denounces the deal, he would be validating Trump’s claim that Tehran never intended to abide by the rules. Such move would, in turn, persuade the Europeans and perhaps even Russia and China to tone down their support for Tehran against Washington.

“We intend to remain committed to the nuclear deal,” Rouhani said Friday night, “for as long as others continue to respect it.”

That was a strange position since one of those “others”, the US, had already announced it would not abide by the deal as it stands now.

“We hope that others will not follow Trump’s lead,” says Hessameddin Ashna, Rouhani’s chief political adviser. This means that Rafsanjani’s Orphans are determined to stick to the “deal” even when and if the US renders it meaningless.

For the deal to work in favor of Iran it is important that international banks and businesses resume treating the country as a normal partner.

Two years after the nuclear deal was announced, this hasn’t happened. The reason is that companies and banks are not sure that by doing business with Iran they would not risk running into trouble with US rules and regulations. Fear that the sanctions that were suspended under the nuclear deal could be snapped back at any time has prevented Iran from attracting any significant foreign investment.

For the same reason Iran has failed to regain access to world capital markets and banking services. Today, even Iranian embassies abroad are not allowed to open bank accounts and are forced to pay their staff in cash. Tehran is also forced to pay the militant groups it backs, notably Hezbollah in Lebanon, Islamic Jihad in Gaza and the Houthis in Yemen with suitcases filled with dollars.

However, Rouhani and his faction, which includes former President Muhammad Khatami, may not be totally unhappy with Trump’s move because the US president singled out the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is controlled by Khamenei, as the main culprit. The Rouhani faction is now harping on the theme that had it not been for the IRGC, the nuclear deal would have borne real fruits for Iran.

However, Trump, according to the daily Kayhan, believed to be a mouthpiece for Khamenei, chose a “more devious method” by not formally denouncing the deal while making it clear the US will intensify sanctions against Iran. This means that “Iran will continue to comply with the deal while the US refuses to abide by its pledges,” the paper says.

The IRGC is clearly happy that, despite months of rumors, Trump did not ask the US Congress to declare it a “terrorist organization”.

According to Kayhan, Trump “dared not” classify the IRGC as “terrorist.” The reason, Kayhan says, was “the stern warning” given by IRGC Commander General Muhammad-Ali Aziz Jaafari.

IRGC spokesman Gen. Massoud Jazayeri has also highlighted IRGC’s message of defiance.

“We intend to intensify our support for suffering peoples fighting for their rights everywhere, most notably in the Middle East,” he said.

The message was further amplified by Quds Corps Commander General Qassem Soleimani. He ended weeks of seclusion with a lightning trip to Iraq after which he posted his “selfies” all over the official media. The message was that he remains very much in business.

The IRGC also tried to dismiss Trump’s order for imposing economic sanctions on the IRGC’s business wing. That business wing, known as the Khatam al-Anbia Conglomerate, controls over 100 companies with a presence in Dubai, Oman, Austria, Cyprus, Greece and Turkey.

On Saturday, General Ibad-Allah Ibadi, the head of the conglomerate, inaugurated a new steel mill with a fiery speech about the IRGC’s determination to expand its business activities across the globe.

“Despite Trump’s forlorn attempts many around the world are keen to do business with us,” he claimed.

While Khamenei has maintained silence, at least at the time of this writing, spokesmen for the rival factions have tried to minimize the impact of Trump’s dramatic move in different ways.

Rouhani is beating the drums about a promise by French President Emmanuel macron to visit Tehran next year as a sign that Iran can ignore the US and “work with European and other partners.”

Rouhani’s rival in the recent presidential election, Ayatollah Ibrahim Raiisi, however, has called for a “full adoption of Resistance Economy” which means forgoing foreign trade and adopting a North Korean style system of self-sufficiency.

For the time being, the rival factions are jumping and gyrating much like angry cats meaning to spring at each other. Without knowing it, perhaps, under the surface, Trump may have sharpened the power struggle in Tehran.

The New Strategy and Attempts to Contain Iran

Donald Trump is notorious in the business world for stiffing other companies when it’s time to pay the bill — offering partial settlement of what he owes and proposing to negotiate the rest. Trump did a version of that Friday when he announced he will stay in the Iran nuclear deal for now, but quit if he can’t get better terms.

Trump’s speech tossed a verbal grenade into a turbulent Middle East. This may have been the goal of a president who styles himself as “the great disrupter.” But it fuels regional feuds that Trump can’t control and provokes disputes with both allies and adversaries that may frustrate America’s interest in curbing Iran’s bad behavior.

The volatility of the region was demonstrated anew Friday, as Iranian-backed Shiite militias and Iraqi government troops massed near Kirkuk, Iraq, threatening Kurdish forces there that have been crucial to US allies against ISIS.

That’s the maddening challenge for US policy in the Middle East, now as always: The United States may seek to squeeze Iranian proxies, but Tehran is positioned to strike back — in ways that could endanger US partners, such as the Kurds, and even American troops.

On the nuclear deal, Trump’s speech was heading in two directions at once. For the near term, he waffled, saying Iran was “not living up to the spirit of the deal,” but tossing the issue of imposing tougher terms in Iran to Congress. But the speech included this harsh warning: “In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated.”

European reaction was swift, and unhappy. About an hour after Trump had finished speaking, the leaders of Britain, France and Germany issued a joint statement urging Congress not to enact new sanctions that would “undermine” the deal and stressing that their three nations, which helped negotiate the deal, “stand committed” to its implementation.

The European statement is important for two reasons. It shows that Trump’s hope of gaining allied support for reopening negotiations (he wants to extend the term of the agreement and provide tougher enforcement) are almost certainly misplaced. Perhaps more important, Iranian contacts have told me that if Europe reaffirms its compliance with the deal (as the three leaders just did), and Congress (as expected) doesn’t legislate new sanctions, then Iran is likely to remain in compliance, too. So the European statement may help keep the deal in limbo, for now.

Trump’s top foreign-policy advisers had been pitching the Iran speech as part of a broad effort to control Tehran’s aggressive behavior in the region. A White House fact sheet issued before the speech spent four pages on Iran’s mischievous behavior and added only a brief section saying the nuclear deal “must be strictly enforced” and the International Atomic Energy Agency “must fully utilize its inspection authorities.”

This same theme of a broad campaign against Iranian behavior was voiced in a telephone interview Friday morning by a senior administration official who’s helping to implement the strategy. He talked about moves to counter Iran in Yemen, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf and elsewhere. And he asserted that European allies “are already working with us” to curb the Iranians. Several hours later, the three European leaders issued their critical statement.

The new confrontation between Iraqi forces and Kurds is an example of how complicated the regional terrain is, and how vulnerable US interests are to local feuds.

The Iraqi government, still fuming about the Kurdish independence referendum last month, has reportedly massed troops and artillery near the Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk. According to a Kurdish source, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has given the Kurds a list of six demands, including turning over control of Kirkuk’s airport, oil fields and military checkpoints to the Shi’ite-dominated Iraqi military.

A top Kurdish official asserted in an email: “It’s important that the world knows Qassem Suleimani [the head of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] is running this campaign.” That claim couldn’t be verified, but it illustrates regional anxieties.

Facing so many flashpoints in trying to contain Iran, Trump has chosen to put the nuclear issue center stage, once again. Rather than focusing on Iranian behavior, Congress and foreign allies will instead be preoccupied anew with Trump’s threatening statements about the future of the nuclear agreement. It will be about Trump, more than Iran. But maybe that’s the way he wants it.

The Washington Post

Trump and The Coup Against The Coup

Donald Trump did not shred the “very bad” nuclear deal with Iran. He has strongly shaken it and trembled the image that Iran tried to market at the international level after the signing of the agreement.
 
He raised doubts and asked questions about what his predecessor, Barack Obama, considered the most important achievement of his era.
 
The deal was not the most important part of the president’s speech. It was rather the message that Iran’s problem with the world and the Middle East is about its role outside its borders, long before its nuclear dream; as if he wanted to say that the role is more dangerous than the bomb, and that thinking about the bomb may be aimed at protecting the ability to maintain this role.
 
The American president awakened memories and facts that Obama was keen to forget. He recalled the bloody events in the Iranian-American relations since the victory of the Khomeini revolution. He reminded the Americans of their diplomats being held hostage at their country’s embassy in Tehran as Iranians shouted “Death to America.” He has also mentioned the coffins of American soldiers returning from Beirut because of a bomb carrying the fingerprints of the Iranian intelligence.
 
Trump went beyond the aspect of bilateral relations. He accused Iran of being “the biggest supporter of terrorism in the world”, harboring al-Qaeda officials, and turning a destabilizing approach into a permanent policy. He also pointed to the Revolutionary Guard’s role and weapons in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
 
The US president seemed to be putting together accusations as a prelude to trial, or as someone preparing a complete file to justify the “new strategy” toward Iran.
 
This strategy contains a clear message to the people of the Middle East. He said: “We will revitalize our traditional alliances and regional partnerships as bulwarks against Iranian subversion and restore a more stable balance of power in the region… We will work to deny the Iranian regime … funding for its malign activities.” The Treasury’s sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard were the first fruits of Trump’s words.
 
Many points have to be considered in Trump’s position. He placed Iran back in the center of danger, after Korea occupied this place in the previous weeks. It became clear that Trump considers his first test to be in the Middle East, not along China’s borders.
 
Trump also re-emphasized the danger posed by the Iranian role, which is translated in a large-scale attack on the Middle East region – an area that concerns the world in terms of its wealth, stability and balance of power.
 
The third message is that America, which has signed the nuclear agreement with Iran, is not in a position, especially under the current administration, to consider violations that Iran has made in a number of Arab countries as a de-facto reality that must be recognized.
 
This practically means that Washington does not recognize Tehran’s right to have the last say in Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sana’a, and refuses that Qassem Soleimani becomes the chief of generals in the four capitals.
 
What Trump has publicly announced from the White House is what US diplomats say in closed rooms and private meetings. His position is also consistent with the stance of US generals who worked in Iraq and witnessed the size of the coup led by Iran in the region, especially after the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime…A coup that is waged “by militias, rockets and small mobile armies and by destroying the immunity of international borders,” as described by an Arab official.
 
Trump’s speech turning into policies on the ground will certainly reverse the approach Obama has taken in his last years in power. An American diplomat says he has asked Obama more than once to allow some weapons into Syria to restore balance that would force the regime to engage in serious negotiations. He adds that Obama’s consistent position was based on three rejections: No to war against Iran in Syria, no to a position threatening US special forces in Iraq, and no to a stance threatening nuclear negotiations with Iran.
 
The diplomat concludes that Iran was more interested in field expansions than its nuclear program, and thus succeeded in “changing the positions of countries and their political and sectarian balances and altering the environment of historic Arab capitals.”
 
America’s allies and friends had feelings of resentment when Obama insisted on reading the whole region’s file based on his desire to accomplish the Iranian nuclear deal. They considered his position a coup to the pillars of the US traditional policy, which was focused on the security of its allies and its commitment to address any threat to their stability.
 
Trump’s speech turning into a specific policy is aimed at containing the Iranian fiasco in the region. In coordination with Washington’s historic friends, this policy would certainly be the largest response to the great Iranian coup, which is aimed at besieging and destabilizing influential countries in the region and weakening their strategic importance.
 
There is no return to a degree of stability in the region unless the balance of power is adjusted by new regulations that require armies to be stationed within their own countries and that force militias to leave the territory of others.
 
Arab moderates do not see an opportunity of this kind without an American role that will revive the red lines in the face of successive coups and the spread of militias. In this context, it is possible to understand Saudi Arabia’s support for the “firm strategy” announced by Trump, and the phone call made by King Salman bin Abdulaziz with Trump after the latter’s speech.
 
Trump has returned the issue of the Iranian role to the international agenda. This was evident in the conversation between Angela Merkel and Theresa May. While the two officials stressed their adherence to the nuclear agreement with Iran, they underlined the need for the international community to face the Persian State’s destabilizing policies – an issue that will be discussed in the coming days on the European table.
 
It is obvious that Iran is angered with the new attention to its destabilizing role.
 
We must wait and see whether it would respond by its old means and where. It is certain that Trump’s speech turning into a policy represents a major coup against the Iranian coup, which has benefited greatly from the invasion of Iraq, Obama’s withdrawal tendencies, and the emergence of ISIS and its horrific practices.

Trump’s Iran Plan Does Too Much and Too Little

Donald Trump

President Donald Trump’s advisers are at pains to emphasize that Friday’s speech on Iran policy was an effort to lay out a comprehensive strategy to tackle the malign behavior of the Tehran regime, not just an announcement that the president had refused to certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. Their frustration that the headlines missed the forest for the trees is understandable — given the need for an Iran policy, not simply an Iran nuclear strategy, which was essentially the approach of the Barack Obama administration.

But Trump’s advisers only have the president — and not the media — to blame. The Iran nuclear deal has long been the focal point of the president’s rhetoric and was the centerpiece of the speech. And the decertification of the deal was one of the few tangible actions outlined by the president.

This focus on decertifying the Iran deal, reached between the US, five other major powers and Iran — is not just a distraction from the bigger picture: Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region. In fact, it also undermines US efforts to execute a strategy aimed at reducing Iran’s influence. While decertification brings with it an array of costs, it brings no obvious benefits.

The main motivation for decertifying the deal seems to be the need to scratch a high-priority presidential itch. As the world knows, while the International Atomic Energy Agency and other entities have judged that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal, Trump is uncomfortable certifying it every 90 days, as required by Congress. His refusal to do so today must give the president a certain amount of satisfaction, given how unequal he perceives the terms of the deal to have been. And he has a point. But the decertification is not linked to the rest of a more comprehensive strategy in any way; none of the steps laid out in the speech require the president make such a determination before they can be taken.

Instead, the failure to certify Iran’s compliance will make the stated objectives — to deter and prevent Iran from undertaking malign activities in the region from Syria to Iraq to Yemen –harder to achieve. Few people or governments will understand the difference between the president’s decision not to certify the deal from a complete US withdrawal of support for the deal. How many Americans — or others — know the difference between the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action? The first is the U.S. domestic law that requires certification; the second is the international accord with Iran, and US participation in it is not related to certification in any direct manner.

This complexity will help the president appear to be delivering on a campaign promise to “rip up” the pact. But it will also have the unfortunate downside of confusing allies, making it harder to work with them to bring additional pressure to bear on Iran outside of the deal. Moreover, it plays into Iranian propaganda and seems to reinforce Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s longstanding mantra that the US cannot be trusted and is really seeking regime change above all else.

Moreover, Trump’s tough rhetoric obviously has repercussions within Iranian society. It undermines those in Iran who have been advocates of the deal — and strengthens its opponents. At the top of the list of those opponents is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — the group responsible for Iran’s efforts to destabilize the Middle East. Strengthening the very actor that you most want to debilitate seems to be a poor approach.

Finally, if — as is very possible — the move not to decertify is answered by congressional crickets, Trump could find himself weakened, not strengthened. Surely, no president wants to declare his position that an agreement entered into by his government is flawed and against the US interests — only to see nothing happen. This will leave the president looking as if he is all talk and no action.

The starting point for Friday’s speech was correct: The US needs a more comprehensive strategy toward Iran, one that addresses its problematic behavior in the region. But a much better approach would have had very different components.

First, it would not have made the nuclear deal the focus, but would have put it in the proper context: a transactional agreement about one particularly problematic behavior (the nuclear file), but not a transformational agreement that can only be viewed as failing in light of Iran’s continued misdeeds in other domains.

Second, Trump could have alleviated the discomfort he feels in repeatedly certifying the agreement by working with Congress to find a way to designate that responsibility to another member of his administration. This would not be unusual; in other circumstances, the certification required by lawmakers is made by the secretary of state or other cabinet members. The president actually made a reference to this possibility when he said, “this law requires the president, or his designee, to certify that the suspension of sanctions under the deal is “appropriate and proportionate” to measure — and other measures taken by Iran to terminate its illicit nuclear program.”

Third, tangible measures to increase pressure on Iran to curb its meddling in other parts of the Middle East would have been the cornerstone of the strategy articulated Friday — rather than a sideshow. Such steps have been widely expected, and do not run afoul of the nuclear deal unless they replicate the sanctions that were lifted as its result of its signing. Steps to curb financing of terrorist groups and sanctions against the IRGC are fair game even while adhering to the pact. Notably, although complicated, a stronger approach might have involved some military measures; past experience tells us that the IRGC curbs its behavior when confronted more directly, as the US did in 2007 under the surge strategy in Iraq.

Fourth, had the president been silent on certification, congressional efforts — such as those led by Senator Bob Corker — to lay out conditions under which lawmakers could impose new sanctions might have actually provided the Trump administration with some leverage. As has been true in other cases, from Libya to China, the administration could have found its efforts to gain greater cooperation from allies were enhanced by the perception that it is under great pressure from Congress to see tangible results. Instead, current congressional initiatives look a lot like what they are — efforts to stave off the most destructive behaviors of the administration — and are unlikely to help the president extract more cooperation from allies.

Finally, a solid strategy toward Iran would of course need to address the country’s nuclear pursuits. But rather than focus on renegotiating the elements of the deal as it stands, a comprehensive US policy might have shifted gears to focus on what happens when elements of the deal start to expire. This is the only way to approach the very real question of what constraints will remain on Iran years later down the road.

(Bloomberg)

Trump Punishes Iran over Regional Behavior

Washington- US President Donald Trump has slammed Iran’s behavior and support of terrorism, threatening to rip up the nuclear agreement signed in 2015 between Tehran and six major countries after accusing it of violating the deal.

In a speech he made at the White House on Friday, Trump took a procedural step of “decertifying” the agreement, giving the Congress 60 days to fix a series of deficiencies in the deal, mainly Iran’s ability in eight years to resume its nuclear program.

“We cannot and will not make this certification” that Iran is complying with the accord, he said. “We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout.”

The accord has lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for concessions regarding its nuclear program. But without the fixes, Trump warned, he would likely pull the US out of the deal.

The US president also said he was hitting Iran’s Revolutionary Guards with sanctions for supporting terrorism.

He backed away from designating the IRGC as a terror group. Instead, the US Treasury said it had taken action against the Guards under a 2001 executive order to hit sources of terror funding and added four companies that support the group to its sanctions list.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin contended the group has “played a central role to Iran becoming the world’s foremost state sponsor of terror.”

Trump opened his speech by reciting a long list of grievances with Iran dating back to the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the seizure of the US Embassy and American hostages in Tehran.

“The regime remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist networks. It develops, deploys, and proliferates missiles that threaten American troops and our allies. It harasses American ships and threatens freedom of navigation in the Arabian Gulf and in the Red Sea. It imprisons Americans on false charges. And it launches cyberattacks against our critical infrastructure, financial system, and military,” he said.

Trump also accused Iran of fueling civil wars in Syria and Yemen.

“Realizing the gravity of the situation, the United States and the United Nations Security Council sought, over many years, to stop Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons with a wide array of strong economic sanctions,” he said.

“But the previous administration lifted these sanctions, just before what would have been the total collapse of the Iranian regime, through the deeply controversial 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. This deal is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA,” he added.