The Iran Deal: the Dog’s Dinner Obama Dished Out

“Trump violates international treaty!” “Trump tears up pact signed by world powers!”

These were some of the headlines that pretended to report US President Donald Trump’s move on the “Iran nuclear deal” last week. Some in the Western media even claimed that the move would complicate the task of curbing North Korea as Pyongyang might conclude that reaching any deal with the world powers, as Iran did, is useless.

But what is it exactly that Trump has done?

Before answering that question let’s deal with another question. Is Obama’s Iran “deal” a treaty?

The answer is: no.

It is, as Tehran says “a roadmap” in which Iran promises to take some steps in exchange for “big powers” reciprocating by taking some steps of their own.

Even then, the “roadmap” or “wish-list” as former US Secretary of State John Kerry described it, does not have an authoritative text; it comes in five different versions, three in Persian and two in English, with many differences.

The “wish-list” hasn’t been signed by anyone.

Nor has it been submitted, let alone approved, by the legislative organs of any of the countries involved.

The various texts do not envisage any arbitration mechanism to decide whether or not it has been implemented. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which was not involved in shaping the deal, is charged with the task of assessing and, if possible, certifying, Iranian compliance. But there is no mechanism for assessing and certifying whether other participants have done what they are supposed to do.

Legally speaking, the so-called deal doesn’t exist and thus cannot be “torn up” by anybody.

The trouble with the “deal” starts with its genesis.

Jack Straw, a former British Foreign Secretary and an ardent supporter of Iran, had told me that the idea began at a meeting in his official residence in London with then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. At that time the IAEA had established that Iran had violated the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and had asked the UN Security Council to take action. The UNSC had passed resolutions that Iran had rejected because the mullahs didn’t want to appear to be repeating Saddam Hussein’s “mistake” of walking into “UN resolutions trap.”

Straw came up with the idea of creating an ad hoc group to work out a deal with Tehran, by-passing the IAEA and the Security Council, thus flattering the mullahs that they were given special treatment because their regime was special.

It seems that Rice was receptive and initiated a “bold move” by inviting then secretary of Iran’s High Council of National Security Ali Ardeshir, alias Larijani, to Washington exactly at the time that Straw was about to leave office.

Over 100 US visas were issued for Larijani and his entourage. But Iran’s “Supreme Guide” vetoed the visit at the last minute.

When Barack Obama entered the White House, he revived the scheme and after secret talks with Tehran in Oman, arranged by his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he transformed the idea into a process.

Tehran felt that in Obama it had a friend in Washington.

And, Obama really went out of his way to woo and flatter the mullahs.

He created a parallel Security Council, composed of the five “veto” holding powers plus Germany which was and remains Iran’s principal trading partner.

The concoction, dubbed P5+1, was never given an official status.

It was not formally and legally appointed by anybody, had no written mission statement, implied no legal commitment for members and was answerable to no one.

Tehran accepted the trick with its usual attitude of sulking pride.

Larijani’s successor, Saeed Jalili, boasted that the Islamic Republic’s “special status” was recognized by “big powers”, implying that such things as NPT or even international law as a whole didn’t apply to Iran.

Jalili proved a pain in the neck. He saw talks with the P5+1 as a mechanism for Iran to suggest, if not dictate, the course of events on a global scale.

He was not ready to talk about Iran’s nuclear cheating unless the P5+1 also discussed Iran’s plans for a range of international problems. In one meeting, Jalili displayed his “package” dealing with “problems that affect humanity”, from the environment to the “total withdrawal of the American Great Satan” from the region.

Somewhere along the way, the European Union, encouraged by Britain and Germany, hitch-hiked and secured a side-chair along the P5+1.

The idea was to use the EU foreign policy point-person as a punching bag against Iranians who appeared unwilling to play. Thus the P5+1 was enlarged into a Group of 31, that is to say 28 EU members plus the US, China and Russia. (At one point Brazil, Turkey and Kazakhstan also seemed to have won side-chairs with the group but were quickly disembarked.)

Once Jalili was out of the picture, as the new Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, named his Foreign Minister Mohammed-Javad Zarif as point-man, things began to move fast.

During his long years in the US, part of it as diplomat in New York, Zarif had established contacts with the Democratic Party, including John Kerry who took over from Mrs. Clinton as secretary of State. Zarif persuaded his bosses not to miss “the golden opportunity” provided by Obama’s administration which included many “sympathizers” with Iran.

Thus, in just two years what had proved impossible for 10 years became possible.

A vague text was established, fudging the issue, and declaring victory for both sides. The participants in the game agreed to keep the text away from their respective legislatures so as not to risk scrutiny of the witches’ brew they had cooked.

The so-called “deal” was dubbed a non-binding “roadmap”, implying that the “roadmap” isn’t the same as the journey.

Two years after unveiling, the ”roadmap” remains just that.

Neither Iran nor the G31 have delivered on their promises. Iran’s path to developing nuclear weapons remains open, although this doesn’t mean that Tehran is currently making a bomb. For their part, the G31 have not canceled the sanctions imposed on Iran.

Both sides have lied to one another and to their respective audiences.

Obama has left a dog’s dinner of diplomatic deception. Interestingly, Trump hasn’t thrown that dog’s dinner into the dustbin and promises to rearrange and improve it.

Is that possible?

Army Sgt. Held Captive in Afghanistan Faces Life in Prison

Washington- Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who vanished in Afghanistan and spent five years in brutal captivity before the United States recovered him in a controversial prisoner swap, pleaded guilty Monday to two crimes in connection with his disappearance.

Bergdahl, now 31, was a private first class when he went missing in 2009. Appearing in an Army courtroom at Fort Bragg, N.C., he entered guilty pleas to charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.

The desertion charge could yield up to five years’ confinement. The misbehavior charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Rarely used, it’s applied when service members run away, surrender or otherwise endanger fellow troops’ safety through disobedience, neglect or intentional misconduct.

“I understand that leaving was against the law,” he told the judge, according to the Associated Press, adding later, “I believed they would notice me missing, but I didn’t believe they would have reason to search for one private.”

Bergdahl walked away from his combat outpost just before midnight June 29, 2009, in what an Army investigation determined was an attempt to cause a crisis and draw attention to concerns that Bergdahl had about his leaders. The soldier was captured within hours by  armed Taliban fighters on motorcycles and turned over to the Haqqani network, a group in Pakistan that tortured him on and off for years.

A US Special Forces team recovered Bergdahl in May 2014 as part of a deal in which the Obama administration released five Taliban operatives held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The move was bitterly protested by some critics, including Donald Trump, who declared during his bid for the White House that Bergdahl was a traitor. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office concluded that the Obama administration violated the law by failing to provide Congress with sufficient notice about its plans.

Obama administration officials defended the prisoner swap, saying the United States does not leave soldiers behind on the battlefield.

Bergdahl was charged in March 2015. It is not clear what punishment he will receive from the case’s judge, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance. He is expected to be sentenced at Fort Bragg in an Oct. 23 hearing that could include testimony from several US service members and veterans who Nance ruled this year were injured while searching for Bergdahl.

Thousands of US troops were involved in that effort over Bergdahl’s five years in captivity.

Nance also could take into account Bergdahl’s treatment in Pakistan. An Army physician who testified in the case found that Bergdahl, who was at times kept in a cage, suffered muscular nerve damage in his lower legs, degenerative back damage and a loss of range in motion in his left shoulder that prevents him from lifting heavy objects. In addition to confinement, Bergdahl could receive a dishonorable discharge and lose his medical benefits.

Bergdahl’s defense team has said he was unable to receive a fair trial due to Trump’s repeated attacks. One attorney, Eugene Fidell, accused Trump of treating Bergdahl as “a political chew toy,” but Nance rejected a request to dismiss the case on grounds that Trump had unlawfully altered the course of the case.

In an interview published by ABC News on Monday, Bergdahl complained bitterly about his prospect of a fair trial due to Trump, and said it was “insulting” that some critics accuse him of sympathizing with the Taliban.

“We may as well go back to kangaroo courts and lynch mobs that got what they wanted,” Bergdahl said. “The people who want to hang me — you’re never going to convince those people.”

Lt. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, a senior Army officer who interviewed Bergdahl, testified in 2015 that he found Bergdahl “unrealistically idealistic” and believed a jail sentence would be inappropriate, given the circumstances of the case. A military doctor determined that Bergdahl, who had previously washed out of the Coast Guard, exhibited symptoms of a mental disorder known as schizotypal personality disorder, which is considered a variant of schizophrenia that has less frequent or intense psychotic episodes.

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who briefly served as Trump’s national security adviser, said in the ABC News report published Monday that he also does not think that Bergdahl deserves jail time.

“So the guy deserted his men, his soldiers, his squad — no doubt,” Flynn said. “[But] I don’t think he should serve another day in any sort of confinement or jail or anything like that, because frankly, even though he put himself into this situation to a degree, we — the United States government and the United States military — put him in Afghanistan.”

The Washington Post

Trump Faces Harsh Criticism from his Base

Trump

New York- US President Donald Trump is facing increasing criticism due to his latest comments that have been denounced not only by his rivals but also by individuals from the Republican Party.

Criticism was similar to that targeted against him last year weeks before the presidential election, after publishing a video that was seen as an inappropriate for a person who is on his way to the White House.

“Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists,” Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke tweeted.

However, NBA star LeBron James accused Trump of “making hate fashionable again”.

House Speaker Paul Ryan stated, “we must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.”

In a news conference, Trump said that his initial statement was shaped by a lack of information about the events in Charlottesville.

“You had a group on one side that was bad. And you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that. But I’ll say it right now,” he added.

Quoting Mandela, Former US President Barack Obama tweeted, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion”.

Sen. Bernie Sanders said in a tweet that Trump was “embarrassing our country and the millions of Americans who fought and died to defeat Nazism.”

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe wrote that leaders from all over the world unhesitatingly condemned these people and their acts.

Risks of Iran Nuclear Deal Collapse

We can sense fear in statements made by Iranian officials and most recently President Hassan Rouhani who warned against the consequences of the big scheme’s collapse – the reconciliation agreement with the West based on the nuclear deal signed during the term of former US President Barack Obama.

The Congress shocked the Iranian government when it reinstated a number of economic sanctions on Iran, and US President Donald Trump insisted on his stance that the nuclear agreement serves Iran more than the US, threatening to abolish it.

Countries of the European Union (EU) are keen to preserve the agreement, which they believe it ushered in a new phase with the Iranian regime. Since signing it, they rushed to seal huge trade deals with Tehran, a move that was previously not possible because the US government would have put any European company that dealt with Iran on the blacklist.

Arab states, especially Gulf countries, were the most provoked by this agreement. They were neither against sealing a deal that eradicates the Iranian nuclear danger nor against dealing commercially with Iran but objected over its high cost – extending Iran’s powers via fighting in Syria, Yemen and Iraq and threatening other Arab states.

In case Iran considered that imposing sanctions abolishes the nuclear deal then it will resume uranium enrichment, renewing tension. Iran offers the West two options: its nuclear project that will threaten the West and Israel in the future, or being allowed to have hegemony over the region.

Tehran used the second option as a weapon to blackmail the West: Obama’s administration struck with it a deal that only aims at halting its nuclear program, allowing it to enjoy its powers in several areas, including those that the US considers as interest zones such as the Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Yet, Iran’s commitment to ceasing the nuclear project is a significant progress that makes Iran worthy of the removal of economic and commercial sanctions. But Obama’s administration went so far in its concessions and allowed Tehran to wage wars, for the first time and in a direct manner, even in states not lying on its border such as Syria and Yemen.

The nuclear agreement is partially responsible for the region’s chaos.

There are more than 50,000 extremists fighting in Syria – directed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and brought in from various countries at the time when the international community was endeavoring to get rid of extremist groups such as ISIS.

Because the nuclear agreement was negotiated discreetly between the Obama and Rouhani teams, the region hasn’t been aware of its details until recently – the Obama administration left behind it a dangerous mine. Iran has become more aggressive after signing the agreement, this is evident.

The deal might succeed in disrupting the nuclear project for another decade but it has fueled a more dangerous war in the Middle East and posed an unprecedented level of threat to regimes since the revolution in Iran in 1979. It also reinforced extremists in Tehran.

The new Iranian threats against the US economic sanctions must be taken seriously because they trigger Iran’s way of imposing what it wants via violence and chaos. But the US relapse in Syria represents a huge tactical mistake because Syria is where Iran can be besieged and obliged to cooperate regionally and internationally.

There is a contradiction here because Washington is escalating with Iran on the nuclear level and allowing it to operate freely on the Syrian front.

Iran’s Nuclear Deal Is Two Years Old

“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last”

(Winston Churchill)

Marking two years since Iran’s nuclear deal (JCPOA), we would be badly mistaken if we assumed that the ‘architects’ of Barack Obama’s policy of handing over the keys of the Middle East to Tehran rulers feel any kind of regret or remorse.

Not a bit. Obama’s ‘cabal’, which gave Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) a carte blanche throughout the region when it was in charge of it Middle East policies, is quite happy with what it has ‘achieved’ despite its admission that “Iran’s behavior in the region has not improved”.

The other day, Robert Malley, a leading member of the said ‘cabal’ tweeted an article co-written by Philip Gordon, another ‘cabal’ member with Richard Nephew – a researcher and expert who dealt with Iran’s nuclear file between 2011 and 2013 – in The Atlantic magazine. Malley, a ‘progressive’ admirer of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran’s rulers who detests Arab ‘conservatives’, tweeted ‘Why the Iran deal has worked, and why its critics have it wrong’. As for Gordon and Nephew, they chose for their article the following title ‘The ‘Worst Deal Ever’ That Actually Wasn’t’!

In their article Gordon and Nephew indirectly criticized American President Donald Trump’s and leading Republicans’ opposition to JCPOA by arguing “In fact, the deal is doing exactly what is was supposed to do: prevent Iran from acquiring enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, demonstrate to the Iranian public the benefits of cooperation with the international community, and buy time for potential changes in Iranian politics and foreign policy”.

They added “Anyone who thought a deal would immediately change Iran’s regional agenda or who maintains that, if only America and its partners had insisted on such changes in the talks they would have materialized, has a misguided sense of what sanctions and diplomatic pressure can accomplish. Having been deeply involved in the negotiations, we think it’s important to be clear about the purpose, enduring benefits, and inevitable limitations of the agreement”.

The Co-writers then argued that “what the deal has done, at least for the next decade, is deter any realistic threat of a near-term Iranian nuclear weapon. The United States should use that decade wisely: standing up to and imposing costs on Iranian transgressions, supporting US allies in the region, making clear to the Iranian public that the West is not an enemy, and preparing for the day when some of the deal’s restrictions will no longer apply.

If, by 2030, Iran has not demonstrated that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful and that it is willing to live in peace with its neighbors, the United States and its international partners will have difficult decisions to make about how to handle the issue going forward.

In conclusion, they wrote “But since there is a chance that Iran will have different leaders or policies by then—the current Supreme Leader will almost certainly be gone, and a new generation may have come to power—why make those difficult decisions now? The Iran deal has bought valuable time. Squandering that time without a better plan would be foolish”.

An important point to keep in mind as one reads those arguments is whether Malley and Gordon – both very close to Obama and Hillary Clinton – ever expected the Democrats to lose the race to the White House to Trump? Most opinion polls showed the contrary; and Gordon was indeed expected to be a member of Hillary Clinton’s team had she won.

Another question is whether the Democrats – under Obama – were simply postponing the crisis past the incoming Democratic administration, in order to entangle the next Republican president with its complex ramifications and consequences.

As we witnessed since the “deal’ – as described by Gordon and Nephew – the ‘Liberal’ Democrats fought strongly to defend it. Those ‘Liberal’ may be divided into two camps:

1- ‘Progressive apologists’ led by president Obama himself, who tacitly admire Tehran’s ‘revolutionary’ rhetoric against ‘militaristic’ and ‘conservative’ Arab regimes.

2- Trusted ‘Israel friends’ who believe that civil and sectarian wars within and between its neighboring states would be the best guarantee for Israel’s safety and security.

Giving Tehran’s mullahs the benefit of the doubt has been very much in the mind of Obama who once said they were not “suicidal”; and of course Israel’s interests have always been a strategic policy of every US administration. On the other hand, the fate of the Arab countries never occupied a high position in Obama’s list of political priorities, recalling how he reneged on almost everything he promised in what was his ‘historic’ 2009 Cairo speech. This fate hit an all-time low after the collapse of his ‘Red Lines” many had thought existed in Syria to prevent Bashar Al-Assad’s massacring of his own people by chemical weapons and other means.

Since the nuclear deal with Iran, many things have changed throughout the Middle East except in Iran, which is now convinced it has been given a carte blanche to do what it pleases. In fact, from the beginning, former Secretary of State John Kerry was frank when he reiterated that the JCPOA negotiations were restricted to the nuclear file, and never touched on other ‘regional issues’.

However, it was well known that among those ‘regional issues’ was the IRGC’s occupation of four Arab capitals, its destruction of cities in both Syria and Iraq, and uprooting and displacing tens of millions of Syrians and Iraqis most of whom were Sunni Arabs!

Furthermore, most of the crises in the Middle East were relegated to the shadows of ‘The War against ISIS’; that artificial terrorist phantom that was nurtured and built up, if not created and given its raison d’etre, by the policies of Tehran Moscow and Obama’s Washington during three years of the Syrian uprising.

The presence of ISIS has been the perfect excuse to redraw the boundaries of the ‘New Middle East’, and the much sought after factor to justify bringing down everything, leaving only’ failed states’, sectarian animosities, epidemics of ignorance and intolerance, and systematic destruction of institutions, landmarks of civilizations and cultural heritage.

The whole Middle East has paid – and is still paying – a heavy price for the ‘decade’ the nuclear deal has gifted to Iran. This price is being paid even by the ordinary Iranian citizen, who has been deprived by his mullahs, zealots and Revolutionary Guards his/her social safety net and welfare opportunities for future generations.

What Tillerson Didn’t Say Reminds Me of Obama

The July 5 statement from American Secretary of State Tillerson about Syria was the most detailed statement of the Trump administration’s goals in Syria. The Trump administration is often hard to understand, but this July 5 statement follows a cabinet-level meeting at the White House about Syria on June 30 so it should reflect consensus between the State Department, the National Security Council and the Defense Department.

Tillerson mentioned ISIS nine times and emphasized that the American effort in Syria is against ISIS. The implicit meaning is clear: Tillerson called the Syrian government a “regime” but Washington is fighting neither Assad nor Iran in Syria. Indeed, Tillerson urged the Syrian opposition to focus efforts against ISIS, not against Assad. Here Tillerson’s policy reminds me of the Obama administration which insisted in 2014 that the American military would train and equip only Syrian opposition fighters against ISIS who pledged not to use their training and weapons against Assad. Few Syrian fighters accepted the American demand, and the 2014 effort ended in a major embarrassment. In 2017, however, the Free Syrian Army is exhausted by attrition and endless, useless internal battles. More Syrian opposition fighters in the end may accept the American demand to fight ISIS only. Indeed, some now are joining the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to fight ISIS.

The American viewpoint is that two elements are vital to destroying ISIS. First, ISIS’ remaining territories must be captured. Second, there must be stability in Syria; without stability ISIS could, he warned, rise again. After six years of fighting in Syria it is hard to imagine stability, so what is Tillerson thinking about?

We can see some specific points that Washington sees as key to stability. First, Tillerson’s statement mentioned Russia eight times and emphasized that Russia has special responsibilities in Syria. Tillerson said Russia must prevent any Syrian faction from “illegitimately” recapturing territory liberated from ISIS or other terrorist groups’ control. This is the most peculiar part of the Tillerson statement. He apparently is demanding Russia preventing more attacks by Syrian government forces against the American-supported SDF, dominated by the Syrian Kurdish PYD party and its YPG militia, that are attacking Raqqah now and may even try to take parts of Deir az-Zour province in far eastern Syria.

The Americans shot down on June 18 a Syrian air force fighter that was attacking the SDF near Raqqah; three times the Americans have bombed Syrian and Iranian-backed militias approaching Syrian Arab opposition forces in southeastern Syria. However, the Syrian government, even if it is repugnant, is acknowledged by the United Nations to be the legitimate government in Syria and so its retaking any territory inside Syria would be legitimate in terms of international law.

Tillerson listed other elements of stability. Washington, he said, would discuss with Russia establishing no-fly zones, de-confliction areas, deployment of ceasefire observers and faster delivery of humanitarian aid. This will please Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The Russians after the last round of Astana talks had announced four “de-escalation” zones, and so the American vision of stability in Syria is clearer: in the short term, Syria is de facto partitioned into at least four zones: first, a Syrian government zone that includes the major cities in western Syria; second, a zone in northeastern Syria dominated by the Syrian Kurdish PYD that includes Raqqah; third, Idlib in northwestern Syria where perhaps Russian and Turkish soldiers will deploy, and finally, a small zone in southwestern Syria near the Golan Heights and the Jordanian border.

Tillerson didn’t mention Syria’s reconstruction. Instead, he said that Russia had a responsibility to ensure that the “special needs of the Syria people are met.” Tillerson’s implicit message is simple: don’t ask the Americans to help with reconstruction. This message will not please Lavrov, but it fits closely with candidate Donald Trump’s insistence during the presidential campaign last year that the United States should stop trying to fix foreign countries.

Tillerson only briefly mentioned Syria in the long term. He said there should be a political process to achieve a settlement to design Syria’s future. He didn’t say Assad must step aside. He didn’t say foreign militias must depart Syria. He didn’t even mention the word Geneva. Instead, he said Russia – not America – has a special responsibility to help with the political process, whatever it will be.

There are two big issues Tillerson left out of his statement. First, he avoided the word “Iran”, as if Iran has no forces there and will not influence stability. It is possible the June 30 meeting at the White House didn’t reach a final conclusion about what to say about Iran in Syria. Second, Tillerson listed many things for Russia to do but he avoided giving a list of what the United States would do except for fighting ISIS and beginning discussions with Russia about de-escalation, humanitarian aid and no-fly zones. Am I being too cynical to say that also reminds me of the Obama administration?

*Robert Ford is the former US Ambassador to Syria

Trump, after House Panel Subpoenas, Backs Inquiry Into Obama Administration

Trump interacts with reporters as he welcomes Vietnam's Nguyen in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington

Delving into a political quarrel over the most recent subpoenas in the US House Intelligence Committee’s Russia test, US President Donald Trump on Thursday backed endeavors to examine activities by US security and different authorities under past president Barack Obama.

“The big story is the ‘unmasking and surveillance’ of people that took place during the Obama Administration,” Trump said in a tweet, one day after the committee’s Republican chairman subpoenaed the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency amid complaints by Democrats that they were not consulted.

Committee Chairman Devin Nunes asked the agencies on Wednesday for subtle elements of any solicitations made by two top Obama administration aides and the previous Central Intelligence Agency chief to “unmask” Trump campaign advisors incidentally grabbed in top-mystery remote interchanges catches, as indicated by congressional sources.

Another congressional source, who also requested anonymity, said Democrats were “informed and consulted” ahead of time, but committee aides said they were not told.

Nunes, in April, recused himself from driving the board’s examination concerning suspected Russian intruding in the 2016 presidential race taking after a mystery visit he paid to White House authorities, however he holds subpoena control. A senior committee aide said Wednesday’s subpoenas were not part of the Russia test.

In a separate statement on Wednesday, Republican Representative Mike Conaway and Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, who are leading the committee’s Russia probe, announced subpoenas for Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, as well as their firms.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied leading efforts to interfere in last year’s US election.

Trump, a Republican, has denied any collusion between Russia and his campaign and has repeatedly questioned the US intelligence finding that Putin led an operation that included computer hacking, fake news and propaganda intended to swing the election in his favor.

The House Intelligence Committee’s investigation is just one of several congressional probes into Russia, along with one by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Also, the U.S. Department of Justice recently appointed a special counsel.

The Guardian newspaper said on Thursday said that Nigel Farage, a Trump supporter and a leading Brexit campaigner, is a “person of interest” in the FBI probe but has not been accused of wrongdoing. Farage, a former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, said he had no Russia connections.

Farage said on Twitter it had taken him a long time to read the Guardian article because he was “laughing so much at this fake news”.

“This hysterical attempt to associate me with the (Vladimir) Putin regime is a result of the liberal elite being unable to accept Brexit and Trump,” he said.

“I consider it extremely doubtful that I could be a person of interest to the FBI as I have no connections to Russia.”

Separately, the Washington Post reported that the Trump administration was moving toward returning two Russian compounds in the United States to Moscow.

The Maryland and New York compounds were seized under the Obama administration in December as part of a larger action targeting Russian diplomats whom it said were spies. Russian officials said last month that they might retaliate.

Washington, Manama… Ending the Six-Year Strain

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa at the Gulf Cooperation Council leaders summit in Riyadh

With six years of ongoing negligence of a key ally and overlooking Iranian interference to its record, US former president Barack Obama’s foreign policy chipped away at Bahrain’s security the most.

Following the Bahrain 2011 unrest and pursuant demands of overthrowing its monarchy, the Obama administration gave its Gulf ally a cold shoulder, allowing for a boundless inflow of Iranian propaganda, the spread of extremism and armament of militias.

Not only that, but Washington also loudly opposed and ‘aborted’ a Gulf intervention by the Peninsula Shield Force tasked with tuning the situation in Bahrain and preventing it from spiraling out of control.

To say the least, US disregard was a miscalculation given that its vital Middle East naval garrison –the Fifth Fleet– is based in Bahrain waters.

In her memoir, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton cites that the Peninsula Shield Force was the only force standing against Iran torching the entire region with anarchy that holds the potential to reign uncontained.

WikiLeaks also disclosed on illicit emails sent by Clinton showing negative meddling in the work of Bahrain’s independent investigation committee looking into the 2011 uprisings. Kindly put, declassified documents show that the Obama administration had fallen short on supporting an ally. Not to mention that it had conspired against Bahrain in a way that benefited Iran, a common foe!

President Donald Trump’s visit to Riyadh showed that his administration has caught up to Obama’s catastrophic blunders in Bahrain and would make amends by restoring the century-old relation to its pre-Obama norm.

Vowing to mend the strained ties, Trump held talks with Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in which he outlined a new framework that focuses on backpedaling from Obama’s policy and on strengthening US-Bahrain ties. More so, Trump went as far as describing relations between the two countries as ‘wonderful.’

Restoring US-Bahraini relations is a strategic demand not for Bahrain alone, but for all Gulf states. The Kingdom of Bahrain has always been the seen as the first chip in a domino effect that would compromise the security and stability of neighboring countries. The Obama administration was sending mixed signals when failing to actively support its strategic ally, Bahrain.

Some Gulf States saw that it was a tactical pressure mechanism meant to influence policy—how else could it have been for the US to abandon the security of a key factor to regional stability and security?

The two countries have decided on extending their defense cooperation agreement—a critical step that the former US administration would have opted out on.

Trump seeks to salvage whatever is left of US alliances.

“Our countries have a wonderful relationship together, but there has been a little strain, but there won’t be strain with this administration,” Trump said during a photo session with Sheikh Al Khalifa in Riyadh.

“We’re going to have a very, very long-term relationship. I look forward to it very much – many of the same things in common.”

Despite Bahrain being the most to suffer from recent US policy, it wasn’t the only one affected by rising tensions.

It remains to be said that despite the bitter crisis, Bahrain sought serious reform to its security services. The kingdom has also pursued the option of holding discussions with the opposition, a way rare to the region.

However, the Obama administration turned a blind eye to all these efforts.

Bahrain’s Foreign Minister said that his country felt it was being persecuted for no clear reason, but for the mere risk we took for tackling issues encountered by all countries.

While the Obama administration suspended a central Bahrain arms deal, the Trump US administration dropped the inhibiting clause and announced its intentions to proceed with a sale worth up to five billion dollars of F-16 interceptors, 23 engines, and other related equipment.

Such a step confirms that Washington is on the right track to radically restore its relations with allies.

The historical Arab-Islamic-US summits recently held in Riyadh were not at the level of rudimentary protocol as many had hoped, but had carried new American weight and action 180 degrees different from than that of the Obama era– the era that had hurt Gulf people, as did no other US presidency.

Trump Can Remake the Middle East

Trump

One of Donald Trump’s key goals since becoming president has been to systematically reverse the policies of his predecessor. So it’s no surprise that Trump’s visit this weekend to Saudi Arabia, his first to a foreign country, will signal a break with Barack Obama’s foreign policy in the Middle East.

This is both promising and potentially troubling. On the plus side, Trump has a unique opportunity to reframe America’s engagement with the region, by addressing a set of problems ranging from Israel’s relationship with Arab nations to the Islamist radicalization that began with the Iranian revolution in 1979 and has culminated with the so-called “ISIS caliphate” in Iraq and Syria.

But there are also pitfalls to avoid, in particular how America is to confront Iranian regional ambitions and how to get back on a path to resolving the Palestinian-Israeli struggle.

That Riyadh and Jerusalem are the first stops on this trip is clearly Trump’s attempt to distance himself from Obama’s rapprochement with Iran. The previous administration’s calculation here involved creating a balance of power between the regional actors, namely Saudi and Iran, in order to diminish the US military footprint in the region. However, Obama’s strategy — as seen from the ongoing wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen and the escalating tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran — has failed.

Trump, in contrast, has a strong desire to side forcefully with America’s traditional allies, Saudi Arabia and Israel, and has made a point of identifying Iran as the source of instability in the region. Not incorrectly, he sees Iran as having used the cover of the nuclear agreement reached with six major powers in 2015 to increase its influence throughout the region, especially through the use of non-state actors such as “Hezbollah” in Lebanon and Syria, Houthis in Yemen and the “Popular Mobilization Units” in Iraq. In so doing, Iran has waged stealth war on Arabs by providing weapons, ideological indoctrination and training to militias across the entire region.

Trump will be fêted in Riyadh for giving primacy to America’s strategic relationship with the kingdom, and will be hailed as a partner by moderate Muslim states such as Jordan and the United Arab Emirates in the war against extremist radical movements like ISIS as well as “Hezbollah” in Lebanon.

Extremists who are equally at war with states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, cannot be defeated without an alliance with the wider Arab world. The Saudis, for example, have warded off several al-Qaeda attacks against the homeland, and have allowed their territory to be used as a base for US attacks against al-Qaeda and ISIS. Trump will certainly acknowledge this, and is expected to give a major speech on Islam and the West. (President Trump already delivered a speech during the Riyadh Summit on Sunday)

In return, Saudi Arabia is likely to announce significant investments in infrastructure projects in America (perhaps as much as US $40 billion) and that it will be buying $100 billion or more in US arms. This will be framed as part of the kingdom’s effort to achieve two principal aims: diversifying its economy and investments, and strengthening its military capabilities and ability to protect itself instead of placing the burden on the US. Emphasis will be placed on the two countries’ historic economic and political partnership — the summit’s slogan is “Together We Prevail.”

But the meetings won’t be solely about the bilateral relationship. Another major topic will be the 70-year Arab-Israeli conflict. And thus Jerusalem will be the next stop after Riyadh.

The risk here lies in the manner in which Trump attempts to restart the Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations.

That road map requires Israel to offer substantive near-term concessions to the Palestinians, and ultimately a viable state. In return, Israel would get full recognition and normalization of relations with the Arab nations.

For this to play out, Israel must immediately offer the Palestinians something tangible, such as permanent cessation of all settlement construction in the West Bank. If not, Iran, Assad, “Hezbollah” and the Houthis — the self-proclaimed axis of resistance to Israel and the West — will have a strong argument to the Muslim world that revanchism is the only avenue for dealing with Israel.

Another difficulty lies with how Trump will handle Iran, now that he will reposition the US squarely with Saudi Arabia. His former national security advisor, General Michael Flynn, famously put Tehran “on notice” for testing a ballistic missile. But what does this mean in practice? A direct American strike on Iran is inconceivable without an open Iranian provocation such as an attack on a US Navy ship in the Persian Gulf.

On Wednesday, it kept in place waivers of nuclear sanctions against Iran after acknowledging that Tehran was complying with the agreement’s terms. So deciding on where and how to put pressure on Iran is important.

Yemen offers the best arena to begin to roll back Iranian influence. Tehran is clearly involved in supporting and supplying weapons to the Houthi rebels, attempting to create a Hezbollah-like force that can harass Saudi Arabia across the border.

It should be possible to make the regime understand that its foray in Yemen will come at a cost, say the sinking of any ship that is found carrying weapons to the Houthis, along with new sanctions. Instead, opening up a dialog with Iran about Yemen, which would include Saudi Arabia and its allies, might start the process of de-escalation across the entire region.

Perhaps more importantly, it would also show that without America’s active engagement, the region will remain a boiling cauldron, and that Obama was wrong by adopting a hands-off policy in the Middle East. Trump should like that.

Bloomberg

Trump in Riyadh, Game Rules Change

Saudi

With the landing of US President Donald Trump airplane in King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh as his first foreign destination, Obama’s phase in foreign policy reached an end. Choosing Saudi Arabia is a clear sign of the upcoming priorities of the US foreign policy.

This policy is embodied in the role the US administration believes that Riyadh can play in achieving their joint strategy. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz said that the visit will reinforce strategic cooperation and achieve security for the region and world.

Riyadh and Washington are not only betting on correcting bilateral relations but also on enhancing level of coalition between them and returning it to its normal state. This alliance was fulfilled with a joint Saudi-US strategy.

There are four goals behind Trump’s visit and they seem on their way to be achieved.

The first goal is that strategic cooperation with Saudi Arabia is a cornerstone that enables US to reinforce its interests and security. Trump’s administration is aware that terrorism can’t be defeated without the support of the kingdom – the country standing in the frontline at the war against ISIS and al-Qaeda.

Saudi Arabia has proven itself to be the closest security partner of US and the intelligence relations between the two countries since Sep. 11 attacks have protected thousands of Americans and deterred terrorist operations that had US as a target.

The second goal is to help the US public opinion correct its image on Saudi Arabia and its importance in facing terrorism. Without the kingdom, terrorism can’t be besieged and eradicated. This highly important concept is absent and unclear for Americans.

The third goal is related to Trump’s explaining his correct image on Islam. When he wants to clarify his stance towards extremism and not mix it with Muslims then there is no better way than a summit where presidents and heads of the Arab world meet in the land of Makkah and Medina – the two sacred cities.

The fourth goal is to deliver a strict message to the Iranian regime since it is a regime isolated from the majority of the Islamic world and the page of Washington-Tehran rapprochement – during eight years of former administration – has been flipped.

The defensive agreement signed between Riyadh and Washington expressed this clearly – the White House described its goals as defying threats of Iran and regional terrorism as well as supporting the kingdom efforts in confronting terrorism.

The 48 hours Trump will spend in Riyadh will change the rules of the game in the region and world – it is not an official visit like other visits to Riyadh. Barack Obama visited Saudi Arabia four times but none of his visits carried a change or a wish to mend and reform the coalition.

This time, however, Riyadh-Washington ties as well as Arab-Islamic-US ties are expected to come out with a new strategy that contributes in the regional and international security and stability.

Trump is aware of the huge relapse of US in the past eight years and is also aware of the security threats that have doubled on the country and the whole world. For this, he has started rearranging the region’s papers through a visit that carries much symbolism after announcing that he will reconsider the US military role.

This doesn’t contradict with his slogan “America First” since without maintaining the interests of the strongest country in the world and reinforcing current coalitions, US position will shake and other powers will replace it. For sure, this is the last thing a great power such as US wants.