Trump’s Strategy Includes Restricting Iran’s Support for ‘Hezbollah,’ Hamas

Trump

Riyadh, London – US President Donald Trump’s strategy to neutralize Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region includes curbing its support for terrorist organizations and militants in the Middle East and Afghanistan, a US official told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior official at the US State Department said that the strategy included four key elements or objectives.

He pointed out that the first strategic goal is “to neutralize the destabilizing activities by Iran, especially its support for terrorism and insurgents, with a focus on its activities in the Middle East in particular and also in Afghanistan.”

Earlier this week, Trump announced the possibility of terminating the Iranian nuclear deal once and for all, because he was “tired of achieving benefits at [his] country’s expenses”. The European Union, for its part, called on the US Congress to maintain the agreement.

Trump’s new strategy – according to the US official – includes putting an end to Iran’s subversive activities in Syria and its support for terrorism through groups such as “Hezbollah”, Hamas, the Taliban and Iraqi Shi’ite factions, noting that Tehran was seeking to fuel ethnic and sectarian strife in Iraq.

The US president 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.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday welcomed European support for the nuclear deal between his country and international powers.

Rouhani said in a statement on the Iranian presidency website that the consensus on the support for the agreement, especially by the Europeans, “is an important political achievement for Iran,” according to the German news agency.

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’s Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said, without elaborating on the role the EU could play in countering Iran’s regional activities.

The New Bloc against Tehran

Iran

The pace of developments has taken us by surprise. Ever since Washington announced its decision against Iran’s government, Britain and Germany shifted their stance from insisting on remaining loyal to the commitments of the nuclear deal to announcing that they support Trump’s plan to confront Tehran’s regime in the Middle East.

The problem is not related to an agreement over nuclear activity as much as it is about the wars, which Iran is regionally managing. It is unreasonable to let the regime loose in the region and allow it to spread chaos, threaten other regimes and dominate Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. All this would basically be its reward for decreasing uranium enrichment!

Britain and Germany criticized Iranian practices and announced they will join the US in confronting Tehran’s policy. This position foils Iran’s attempts to adopt the entire agreement in one package to impose it on everyone without distinguishing between preventing nuclear activity, which qualifies it for military supremacy, and between the dangerous practices of the regime, which is benefiting from the nuclear deal itself.

We must acknowledge that the White House wittingly managed the battle with its European allies who completely rejected backing down from the agreement and refused to take any action that may lead to tense relations with Tehran.

However, President Trump put two options before them: correct the mistakes related to the agreement or cancel it altogether. He insisted on refusing the previous situation. This stance is in harmony with the Republican Party’s view and his government, of course, supported the decision.

The wheel will begin to turn again to pressure Tehran’s regime, which will be responsible for the next economic and political crisis it will suffer from – that is if it refuses to change its behavior and to suspend its military and militant activities in the region.

The US and governments that support it it do not oppose Iran’s right to establish a civil nuclear program, but Washington expects Tehran rein in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its intelligence apparatuses in the region.

Iran must withdraw the militias, which the IRGC established and trained and which consist of powerless refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and other countries. It also developed “Hezbollah’s” roles and turned the party members into mercenaries who launch wars on its behalf in the region.

It is preparing the Houthi Ansar Allah group in Yemen for this same purpose. Iran also used a naval network to smuggle weapons to conflict areas in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon and used ships to smuggle supplies to fund the Yemeni war. It tried to do the same in Syria via the Mediterranean Sea. Iran also has activities in Afghanistan as it has supported the war there ever since the American invasion of the country following the September 11 attacks.

Iran could not have expanded in this manner in the region if those who signed the agreement hadn’t submitted to its conditions and hadn’t lifted sanctions randomly. Tehran could not have expanded in Syria if the former US administration, under Barack Obama, hadn’t been lenient with it out of fear that it may not sign the deal.

The challenge will be in proposing a new project to Tehran. This can include lifting sanctions in exchange of keeping the deal and getting Iran to commit to withdrawing all its foreign militias from conflict zones and pledging to stop supporting local militias allied with it, like the Houthis, the League of Righteous People, “Hezbollah in Iraq” and others.

To pressure Iran, Washington said it will revive its support of the Iranian opposition that is seeking to topple the regime. Obama’s administration had stopped doing that and had suspended supporting academic, political and media activities directed against Tehran in order to please Rouhani’s government.

Now that the political confrontation is back on, Tehran is faced before a new equation: stop wars or be sanctioned again. All this will be accompanied with the formation of a new bloc, whose aims are to pressure Iran and guarantee the implementation of sanctions.

Rouhani Rejects Trump’s Speech: We will Remain in Nuclear Deal as Long as Interest Demands it

Rouhani

London – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made little on Friday of US President Donald Trump’s new strategy on Tehran, saying that the nuclear deal was “stronger than the US president believed.”

“We will respect the nuclear deal as long as our rights are guaranteed and as long as our interest demand its,” he said during a televised speech hours after Trump declared his new strategy.

Rouhani added that Tehran was cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency to that end.

He warned however that Iran would abandon its nuclear agreement with world powers if it failed to serve the country’s national interests.

Responding to Trump’s claims that the authorities in Tehran had violated the rights of the Iranian people, he announced that the US president “will not be able to come between the people and Supreme Leader.”

Furthermore, he criticized Trump for labeling the Persian Gulf as Arab, urging him to brush up on his history and geography.

“His speech only had insults and false accusations against the Iranian people,” stated Rouhani.

In addition, he renewed his defense of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, stressing that they are “combating terrorism in the region.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi reiterated Rouhani’s stance, warning that Tehran would withdraw from the nuclear deal if it had to.

“Iran’s main policy backs peace and stability in the region and it confronts destabilizing activities,” he stressed.

The Iranian military forces, including the Revolutionary Guards, are a symbol of strength and preservation of Iranian national security, he declared.

“Any military move against the military and Revolutionary Guards will be met with the appropriate and resolute Iranian response,” he stressed.

Moreover, he accused the US of supporting terrorism in the region, saying that it cannot blame others for its action and shy away from its responsibilities.

Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani warned on Friday that Washington’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal will mark the end of the agreement, reported the Russian TASS news agency.

“Washington’s withdrawal would lead to chaos in the world,” he warned from St. Petersburg in Russia where he is attending an international parliamentary conference.

He hoped that Russia will play role in resolving the disputes related to the nuclear deal.

Meanwhile, deputy chief of Iran’s Quds Force, the external branch of the Revolutionary Guards, Esmail Qa’ani said that Trump’s threats to Iran will harm the US, reported Iran’s Tasnim News Agency.

“We are not warmongers, but they will regret any military action against Iran,” he warned.

Political Dispute in Iran after Tightening Restrictions on Khatami

London- The reformist faction in the Iranian parliament has protested “new restrictions” imposed on the country’s former president, Mohammad Khatami, calling them “explicit and obvious” violation of articles of the Constitution.

Meanwhile, 86 MPs have called upon President Hassan Rouhani to step in to prevent the restrictions and report the outcome to the parliament.

However, the spokesman of the judiciary, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei has insisted that the restrictions are not “new” and are merely the extension of “old” measures imposed on the reformist ex-president based on a resolution approved by the Supreme National Security Council Secretariat (SNSCS).

Rouhani, who also presides over the SNSCS, has dismissed the judiciary’s claims as unfounded. His ministers have also insisted that the SNSCS has never issued a resolution banning Khatami from attending public ceremonies.

The Reformist faction Omid (Hope) in the parliament issued a statement on Sunday, saying “increasing restrictions on Khatami’s presence at cultural, political and promotional ceremonies” are in violation of the Articles 20, 23, 36 and 37 of the country’s Constitution.

“These restrictions”, the faction asserted, “have increased the former president’s popularity.”

Furthermore, in a reminder for Rouhani, several MPs called upon him, as the head of the Supreme National Security Council, to guard “fundamental rights” and prevent any move that “restricts citizens’ rights”.

The MPs also asked Rouhani to act against the recent conviction of several political activists and report its outcome to the public.

An opposition website close to Iranian Green Movement, Kalemeh has reported that “the Special Clerical Court has sent a letter to former president Khatami informing him that, for a period of three months, he is barred from attending any political and promotional ceremonies.”

The letter was signed by the head of the Special Clerical Court, and the runner-up in the May 19 presidential election, Ebrahim Raeisi.

Based on the letter, 74-year old Khatami is now barred from attending assemblies, conferences, seminars, theaters, artistic ceremonies and performances, including, concerts, recitals and dramas. The letter has gone much further, barring the reformist ex-president from attending non-family gatherings, including private meetings with activists.

Khatami is believed to have played a crucial role in Rouhani’s ascension to the presidency in 2013 and 2017, apparently convincing his second term vice president, the reformist challenger Mohammad Reza Aref to step aside in favor of Rouhani.

Rouhani, categorically denied the judiciary’s claims, affirming on Saturday, “the reason behind the restrictions against Khatami is the fact that they want to punish somebody” [Khatami] for his impact on the “elections”; referring to the time when the former president urged the people to go to the polls.

“If anybody repeats that people should head to the ballot box, they should be punished?” he asked.

Iranian-Turkish Consensus to Prevent Changing Region’s Borders

Turkey

London, Ankara — The leaders of Iran and Turkey renewed on Wednesday their warning of the separation of Iraq’s Kurdistan, in the wake of the independence referendum organized by the region last month.

They also agreed to “prevent the change of geographical borders” in the region.

Iranian Spiritual Leader Ali Khamenei met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and voiced fear over the positions of Western countries, which he said were claiming to reject the referendum.

“The stances of America and foreign powers cannot be trusted … They are seeking a new Israel in the region,” he stated.

Upon his arrival to the Persian State, Erdogan met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, where talks focused on the Kurdish referendum.

During a joint news conference, Rouhani called on the leaders of the Kurdistan region to go back on the “wrong decisions”, stressing that the Turkish-Iraqi-Iranian alliance “is forced to take necessary and serious measures to achieve its strategic objectives in the region.”

The Iranian president, however, stressed that he rejected attempts to exert pressure on the people of Iraq’s Kurdistan, saying: “We cannot accept separation in the region… Syria and Iraq are two united countries and we do not accept changing geographical boundaries in any way.”

He added that Iran and Turkey would work together to “face the disintegration of Iraq and Syria and reduce tension in the region.”

For his part, Erdogan attacked the Kurdish referendum, highlighting his rejection of what he described as a “decision taken by the [Israeli] Mossad.”

“Iran and Turkey have taken a firm position that the central government in Iraq is legitimate and the referendum is illegal,” he stated.

In parallel with political issues, Rouhani pointed to economic talks between the two sides.

He said that the two countries have taken important decisions in the joint meeting of strategic cooperation, with the aim of developing trade ties, including the expansion of banking relations and trade in local currencies.

He added that Iran has expressed its readiness to provide Turkey with the required facilities in the areas of tourism, petrochemicals, and infrastructure.

Meanwhile, in Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stressed the need to freeze the results of the Kurdish referendum, pointing out that he had proposed to mediate between Baghdad and Erbil “in an attempt to protect the rights of northern Iraq, but Barzani did not listen to Turkey.”

Zarif in Oman to Discuss Critical Topics

Zarif

London- Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held discreet talks with his Omani counterpart Yusuf bin Alawi upon his arrival to Muscat before meeting Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said. During the meeting with Sultan Qaboos, they discussed regional topics including events in Yemen, Syria, and developments in Iraqi Kurdistan.

This is the first visit of an Iranian official after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visit mid of February.

According to Iranian media, the delegation headed by Zarif stopped in Muscat before heading to Doha on Monday to discuss bilateral ties and regional developments.

During his meeting with Qaboos, Zarif described Tehran-Muscat ties as special as he pointed out the similar stances towards regional dialogue and political topics not to mention bilateral economic, energy and navigation ties.

The purpose of the short visit to Oman and Qatar is to discuss regional topics and tense conditions, according to Zarif.

In this context, Zarif added that Omanis and Iranians share the point of view towards the referendum of Iraqi Kurdistan and that “no state supports the referendum on the international level.”

He reiterated Tehran’s insistence on protecting the unity of Iraq in accordance with the Iraqi constitution.

As for the nuclear deal, the Iranian FM renewed his country’s stance that rejects renegotiating the nuclear program and affirmed that Iran wouldn’t be the one to breach the deal first.

Iran’s Ambassador to Oman Mohammad Reza Nouri stated that Iran is discussing facilities for Iranians’ entrance to Oman, revealing the progress achieved in economic cooperation during the past months and expressing hope that banking relations witness more advancement between Oman and Iran.

Iranian-Turkish Military Cooperation to Respond to Kurdish Referendum

Akar

Ankara, London – Amid growing coordination between Ankara and Tehran to confront last week’s Kurdish independence referendum, Turkish Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar held talks on Monday with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran.

Rouhani said during the talks: “Iran and Turkey are the anchor of stability in the region when they stand by side and they play a role in resolving regional issues.”

The meeting between the two officials precedes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Iran on Wednesday where he is scheduled to meet Rouhani.

“Preserving geographic borders is among the most important goals of joint cooperation between Tehran and Ankara,” added the Iranian leader during his talks with Akar.

He said that political and economic Turkish-Iranian ties stand on “good levels”, underling the need to develop “defense and military ties.”

Without directly referring to the Kurdish vote, Rouhani stressed the need to maintain the unity of Iraqi and Syrian territories, preserving stability in the region and “refraining from changing geographic borders.”

“Any change in borders will lead to insecurity and instability in the region,” he warned.

For his part, Akar said during a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart Mohammed Baqeri: “Turkey and Iran are developing their military cooperation against current threats and dangers.”

“Turkey and Iran have been friendly states for hundreds of years and they share common values,” he continued.

He revealed that the two sides have reached an understanding on combating terrorism and ensuring border security.

Baqeri meanwhile said that he discussed with the Turkish official common threats that their two countries are facing.

He added that Turkey and Iran “have a joint position that opposes the illegitimate referendum” that was held in Iraqi Kurdistan.

“We have common views on the unity of Iraqi territory and the need to reject the vote,” he continued.

In addition, Baqeri and Akar discussed Iraqi and Syrian efforts to combat the ISIS terrorist group and ways to achieve peace and security in the two countries.

Furthermore, they addressed increasing cooperation between the Turkish and Iranian militaries, which could include joint drills and the exchange of expertise.

These issues will be discussed further during the upcoming talks between Rouhani and Erdogan.

Baqeri had paid a visit to Ankara in August, the first of its kind by an Iranian chief of staff since 1979.

Trump ‘Decided’ on Iran Nuclear Deal

New York- US President Donald Trump said Wednesday he has reached a decision on whether to recertify Iran’s compliance with an international deal to curb its nuclear program. 

Without revealing his decision, Trump told journalists “I have decided” ahead of an October 15 deadline to re-up the agreement. “I’ll let you know what the decision is,” he said.

Asked whether Trump would withdraw the United States from the deal, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said “if he does not certify he certainly has grounds to not do that.”

Trump’s remarks came as Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani insisted his country has complied with the nuclear accord it signed with six world powers in 2015, but issued a warning.

“It will be a great pity if this agreement were to be destroyed by rogue newcomers to the world of politics. The world will have lost a great opportunity,” Rouhani told the UN General Assembly

Rouhani warned the fate of the deal cannot be decided by “one or two countries.”

“By violating its international commitments, the new US administration only destroys its own credibility and undermines international confidence in negotiating with it or accepting its word or promise,” he added.

Fate of Iran Nuclear Agreement Dominates New York UN Meetings

Iran

New York – The fate of the nuclear agreement with Iran is dominating this week’s United Nations General Assembly as European officials will attempt to persuade US President Donald Trump to maintain the agreement.

Trump is to meet a number of leaders who have opposing stances on the deal, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who backs annulling it, and French President Emmanuel Macron, who backs keeps it.

The US president pledged during his electoral campaign to abolish the Vienna agreement signed on July 14, 2015 between Tehran and six world powers (US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany).

During Monday’s meeting between Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the former highlighted the importance of fully implementing the agreement by all participants.

Washington and Tehran are exchanging accusations of violating the agreement, which was negotiated for ten years and came to effect in January 2016 to ensure the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program in return for the gradual lift of international sanctions on Iran.

Talks at the UN General Assembly coincide with Trump’s speech before US Congress in mid-October to affirm whether Tehran is abiding by its commitments. Should he say that it was violating its pledges, then sanctions would be in order.

“It’s essential to maintain the agreement,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in New York, adding that France will try to persuade Trump that this is the right option.

Washington accuses Iran of breaking the spirit of the agreement and reinforcing its leverage that does not serve the region’s stability, especially in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.

In this context, Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN, said in early September that Iran was using the deal to “hold the world hostage.”

Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corruption Empire

Iran

London- Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps is being forced to shrink its sprawling business empire and some of its senior members have been arrested as part of President Hassan Rouhani’s attempts to curb the elite force’s role in the economy, the Financial Times reported.

In the past year, the guards, who have interests in sectors ranging from oil and gas to telecoms and construction, have had to restructure some holding companies and transfer ownership of others back to the state, a regime insider and a government official told the British daily.

At least a dozen guards members and affiliated businessmen have been detained in recent months, while others are being forced to pay back wealth accrued through suspect business deals, the officials said.

One manager of a large holding company affiliated to the guards was arrested a few months ago and cash worth millions of dollars was confiscated from his house, said a businessman who has worked with the guards. A brigadier general — described as the corps’ economic brain — was also arrested this year, but released on bail, the regime insider said.

The crackdown, which is being conducted discreetly to avoid undermining the guards — one of the most powerful arms of the regime — began last year. It started after Rouhani, a pragmatist who has criticized the guards’ role in the economy, told supreme leader Ali Khamenei about the vast wealth individuals affiliated to the 120,000-strong force had accumulated, the officials said.

“Rouhani has told the supreme leader that the economy has reached a deadlock because of high levels of corruption and the guards’ massive control over the economy,” said one regime insider, who is a relative of the supreme leader. “Other than economic concerns, Khamenei feels the need to save the guards [from corruption] and has naturally thrown his support behind the move.”

Khatam-ul-Anbia, the guards’ economic arm, declined to comment.

The Financial Times quoted Iranian analysts as saying that corruption involving politically connected individuals and entities is hampering economic development and efforts to boost growth as the country grapples with high unemployment.

Two months after he secured a second term in May elections, Rouhani said the guards had created “a government with a gun,” which “scared” the private sector.

The president has been seeking to open up Iran and attract foreign investment since he signed a nuclear accord with world powers in 2015. But he has faced resistance from hardliners within the regime, including the guards, who critics say want to protect their interests.

Under the nuclear accord, many sanctions were lifted and Iran agreed to scale back its nuclear activity.

There are few public details available about the Revolutionary Guards’ business interests. But some companies are known to be affiliated to the force.

According to the FT, these include Sadra Iran Maritime Industrial Company, which builds oil tankers and is involved in oil and gas projects, and Shahid Rajaee Professional Group, one of Iran’s biggest construction companies.

One of the guards’ consortiums, Etemad Mobin Development Company, bought Telecom Company of Iran, a state company, for $7.8bn in 2009. Other companies linked to the guards include Ansar Bank and Sepanir Oil and Gas Engineering.

The forces’ interests stretch across many other sectors, such as health, agriculture and petrochemicals.

But the US has retained financial sanctions related to Tehran’s alleged support for terrorism. The Trump administration has also imposed new sanctions on companies and individuals affiliated to the guards. The measures have put off international investors who fear they could inadvertently end up doing business with entities linked to the guards’ opaque empire.

There is little public information about the force’s business interests. Khatam-ul-Anbia’s website makes references to the areas it works in, including mining, petrochemicals, health and agriculture, but does not name companies. Some economists and businessmen estimate that the corps’ network of companies could be valued at around $100bn.

The guards involvement in the economy is traced back to the end of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s when commanders were rewarded with contracts to build roads, dams and bridges to help reconstruct the country.

The force’s business interests rapidly spread during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a populist hardliner, as the corps was awarded state projects in strategic sectors, including oil and gas. The Telecom Company of Iran, a state entity, has since 2009 become a cash cow to fund the corps and its allies, political observers say.

Ahmadinejad’s rule from 2005 to 2013 was tarnished by widespread allegations of corruption. International sanctions against the country were also tightened during his presidency, but that presented those linked to the regime’s centers of power with the opportunity to use their networks to get involved in murky sanctions-busting deals, including selling crude, analysts say.

The government official said the guards have so far been complying with Rouhani’s efforts to scale back their economic interests.

“Whether he will succeed or not, Rouhani is standing firm and determined to bring the guards under the general umbrella of the economy and give them projects only under certain competitive conditions,” the official said. “The country’s economy is in such a critical state that there is no choice but for the guards to go back to its main military task.