Archive for the ‘Trump and Iran scam’ category

Time for US to Support Regime Change in Iran – Raymond Tanter

July 27, 2017

Time for US to Support Regime Change in Iran – Raymond Tanter, Iran News Update, July 27, 2017

(Please see also, US seeks to test Iran deal with its new inspections and The Iran dilemma of the Saudi crown prince. Is a “peaceful transition”  possible? Even if it is not, we should support it. — DM)

When asked whether the Trump administration supports “a philosophy of regime change in Iran, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. would work with Iranian opposition groups toward the “peaceful transition of that government.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) echoed Tillerson’s view, saying “it’s time the Iranian people had a free and open society and a functioning democracy,” effectively a call for regime change.

The Obama quote reassuring the Iranian regime that its survival was not on the table stands in marked contrast to those of Tillerson and McCain, for whom the idea of regime change from the people of Iran is on the table, or at least under the table in and around the Trump White House.

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The following is an op-ed by former US National Security Council staff member Professor Raymond Tanter on Iran policy options for the United States. The article was published on The Hill website on Wednesday, July 26:

The time may be right for President Trump to consider and pursue regime change in Iran. Consider three quotes that provide a way of looking back to look forward:

President Obama in 2013 address to the United Nations:

“We are not seeking regime change, and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy.”

When asked whether the Trump administration supports “a philosophy of regime change in Iran, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. would work with Iranian opposition groups toward the “peaceful transition of that government.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) echoed Tillerson’s view, saying “it’s time the Iranian people had a free and open society and a functioning democracy,” effectively a call for regime change.

The Obama quote reassuring the Iranian regime that its survival was not on the table stands in marked contrast to those of Tillerson and McCain, for whom the idea of regime change from the people of Iran is on the table, or at least under the table in and around the Trump White House.

On July 1, an event was held in Paris; there, I had conversations with Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), who explicitly called for regime change from within Iran by supporting Iranian oppositionists, in particular, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

Ditto for other Trump allies, including John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration. On July 1, Bolton, said:

“There is a viable opposition to the rule of the ayatollahs, and that opposition is centered in this room today. I had said for over 10 years since coming to these events, that the declared policy of the United States of America should be … to change the regime itself. And that’s why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran!”

The Way Forward

“Trump time” suggests a period of analysis of options as the President’s National Security Council reviews Iran policy. The review could present three options to Trump.

First, follow the Obama precedent of reassuring Tehran the United States will not challenge the rule of the unelected Ayatollahs. Trump and the Congress, however, are so strongly opposed to the Iranian regime, they are unlikely to countenance the Obama policy toward Iran, which Trump considers “appeasement.” Obama lost his bet that Iran would moderate its ballistic missile testing, state-supported international terrorism, and human rights violations. His nuclear deal was inconsistent with regime change from within, e.g., via a coalition of dissident groups.

Second, order preparations for the kind of coup d’état the CIA and British MI-6 intelligence service carried out in 1953, which overthrew a democratically-elected government in Iran. “All the Shah’s Men” describes how the coup occurred and the unintended negative consequences for Iranian perceptions of America for changing Iran’s government by covert action.

Indicative of this option is an editorial in The New York Times of July 18, which sounds the alarm that, “A drumbeat of provocative words, outright threats and actions — from President Trump and some of his top aides as well as Sunni Arab leaders and American activists — is raising tensions that could lead to armed conflict with Iran.”

But regime change from within is more than just an American issue. It is a “people of Iran” issue and what they want; it is not about the U.S. military going to war with Iran, as the editorial suggests.

Third, support the pro-democracy coalition of dissidents, the NCRI, which is best able to mobilize other oppositionists into an even wider coalition. Also, there’s a new sheriff in town, President Trump, and he expressed a strong presence in his Riyadh address: Trump the deal-maker but one with core principles like “Drive them out.”

“Drive them out of your places of worship,” Trump said of extremists, “drive them out of your holy land. Drive them out of this earth.”

After the July 1 rally in Paris, Fox News reported the next day the president might defy the Iranian regime by signaling his willingness to look kindly on the resistance: “The Trump administration is potentially considering seeking a strategy to try to topple the regime.” The resistance, however, only needs American political and perhaps economic support to effect “regime change from within.”

Even if he does not go so far as to topple the regime, Trump could increase his leverage against the Ayatollahs by supporting the resistance, conditioned on its continued eschewing of terrorist tactics. Doing so is bound to weaken an already faltering regime. In this respect, the tide is turning against Tehran in favor of the opposition.

The Bottom Line

The Iranian resistance benefits from aligning with the United States because the resistance is firmly in the camp of civilized states and does not commit acts of barbarism. Hence, President Trump is more likely to reach out to the Iranian opposition during his review of Iran policy than did President Obama, who valued the nuclear deal with Tehran too much to jeopardize it by opening up to the resistance.

Dr. Raymond Tanter (@AmericanCHR) served as a senior member on the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration and is now Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan.

US seeks to test Iran deal with its new inspections

July 27, 2017

US seeks to test Iran deal with its new inspections, Times of IsraelJosh Lederman and Matthew Lee, July 27, 2017

(It may be significant that Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon, rather than Secretary of State Tillerson, was sent to discuss the proposal with European members of the European Commission monitoring the “deal.” — DM)

US President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, July 26, 2017. (AFP/SAUL LOEB)

Trump faces another certification deadline in three months, and it’s far from clear that either new inspections or any “fixes” to address whether his concerns will be in place by then. Trump told the Wall Street Journal this week he expects to say Iran isn’t complying, setting a high bar for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other aides to persuade him otherwise.

“If it was up to me, I would have had them noncompliant 180 days ago,” Trump said.

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A refusal by Tehran to allow monitors in military sites could give Trump the excuse he wants to cancel the nuclear agreement.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is pushing for inspections of suspicious Iranian military sites in a bid to test the strength of the nuclear deal that US President Donald Trump desperately wants to cancel, senior US officials said.

The inspections are one element of what is designed to be a more aggressive approach to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. While the Trump administration seeks to police the existing deal more strictly, it is also working to fix what Trump’s aides have called “serious flaws” in the landmark deal that — if not resolved quickly — will likely lead Trump to pull out.

That effort also includes discussions with European countries to negotiate a follow-up agreement to prevent Iran from resuming nuclear development after the deal’s restrictions expire in about a decade, the officials said. The officials weren’t authorized to discuss the efforts publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The inspections requests, which Iran would likely resist, could play heavily into Trump’s much-anticipated decision about whether to stick with the deal he’s long derided.

If Iran refuses inspections, Trump would finally have a solid basis to say Iran is breaching the deal, setting up Tehran to take most of the blame if the agreement collapses. If Iran agrees to inspections, those in Trump’s administration who want to preserve the deal would be emboldened to argue it’s advancing US national security effectively.

The campaign gained fresh urgency this month following a dramatic clash within the administration about whether to certify Iran’s compliance, as is required every 90 days.

Trump was eager to declare Tehran in violation, even though the International Atomic Energy Agency that monitors compliance says its infractions are minor. At the urging of top Cabinet members, Trump begrudgingly agreed at the last-minute to avoid a showdown for another three months — but only with assurances the US would increase pressure on Iran to test whether the deal is truly capable of addressing its nuclear ambitions and other troublesome activities.

Trump faces another certification deadline in three months, and it’s far from clear that either new inspections or any “fixes” to address whether his concerns will be in place by then. Trump told the Wall Street Journal this week he expects to say Iran isn’t complying, setting a high bar for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other aides to persuade him otherwise.

“If it was up to me, I would have had them noncompliant 180 days ago,” Trump said.

Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) heads into the Senate Chamber at the US Capitol, in Washington DC, July 26, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

To that end, the administration is seeking to force Iran to let in IAEA inspectors to military sites where the US intelligence community believes the Islamic Republic may be cheating on the deal, several officials said.

Access to Iran’s military sites was one of the most contentious issues in the 2015 deal, in which Tehran agreed to roll back its nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.

Last week in Vienna, where the International Atomic Energy Agency is based, Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon floated the proposal to the European members of the Joint Commission that oversees the deal, one official said. Britain, France and Germany joined the US, Russia, China and the European Union two years ago in brokering the deal with Iran.

To force inspections of new sites in Iran, the US would need to enlist the support of the IAEA and a majority of the countries in the deal. But the US has run into early resistance over concerns it has yet to produce a “smoking gun” — compelling evidence of illicit activity at a military site that the IAEA could use to justify inspections, officials said.

Among the concerns about a rush toward inspections is that if they fail to uncover evidence of violations, it would undermine the IAEA’s credibility and its ability to demand future inspections. So the US is working to produce foolproof intelligence about illicit activity, officials said. The officials declined to describe the intelligence activities or the Iranian sites the US believes are involved.

Senator Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, alluded to the strategy during an event hosted Wednesday by The Washington Post. Corker said the US was trying to “radically enforce” the deal by asking for access to “various facilities” in Iran.

“If they don’t let us in, boom,” Corker said. “You want the breakup of this deal to be about Iran. You don’t want it to be about the US, because we want our allies with us.”

As a candidate, Trump threatened to rip up the deal that US President Barack Obama brokered. As president, Trump has yet to take that step, as his administration finishes a broader Iran policy review expected to conclude in August.

Satellite image of the Parchin facility, April 2012 (AP/Institute for Science and International Security)

The other major step to try and address what Trump has deemed flaws in the deal involves ensuring that Iran can’t revert to old behavior once the limitations on its program “sunset” over the next decade-plus. The US State Department said Trump has directed his administration to “work with allies to explore options” for dealing with that and other shortcomings. Talks are under way with the European countries about a supplemental deal, though it’s unclear how Iran could be persuaded to sign on.

The deal’s provisions for inspections of military facilities, or “undeclared sites,” involve a complex process with plenty of opportunities for Iran to stall. Tehran can propose alternatives to on-site inspections, or reject the request, which would trigger a 24-day process for the Joint Commission countries to override the rejection.

That could drag on for months. And under ambiguities built into the deal, it’s unclear whether Iran must allow IAEA inspectors into military sites, or whether the Iranians can take their own environmental samples and send them to the IAEA for testing, as was allowed under a 2015 side agreement that let Iran use its own experts to inspect the Parchin military site.

Even if Trump declares Iran in violation of the deal — a move that would invigorate his conservative base — he could still leave Iran’s sanctions relief in place.

American businesses are eager for the deal to survive so they can pursue lucrative opportunities in Iran. The aviation industry recently signed billions of dollars of contracts to sell passenger plans to Iranian airlines, including a $16.6 billion deal for Boeing.

A State Department Gone Rogue on Iran

July 25, 2017

A State Department Gone Rogue on Iran, JerusalemPostMatthew R.J. Brodsky, July 24, 2017

Final round of negotiations on a nuclear deal with Iran continue in Vienna November 21, 2014. (photo credit:REUTERS)

According to a recent report, the president assigned a White House team to focus on the Iran deal and sideline the State Department so that he has more options when the issue comes to the fore again in three months.

It’s not just Iran where the president sees a problem; the secretary has been actively tugging in the opposite direction when it comes to solving the Qatar crisis and on a host of issues related to Israel as well.

In many ways, the different view at the State Department should be expected, not just due to institutional issues where diplomats usually prefer finesse to force but because of personnel considerations as well.

Barack Obama holdovers are driving the State Department’s Iran policy.

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For the second time during Donald Trump’s brief tenure as president, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the State Department won in the inter-administration battle over the fate of the nuclear deal with Iran, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). That victory, however, may end up being short lived given the trajectory of the administration’s overall developing policy toward the regime in Tehran and the process by which the reoccurring 90-day certification of Iran took place in April and again on July 17.

The whole ordeal cast a light on the shrinking esteem in which the president seems to hold Secretary Tillerson and the crew of Obama-era holdovers upon whose guidance he relies.

Washington was briefly abuzz on the afternoon of July 17 when rumors began to circulate that President Trump was eager to declare that Iran was in breach of the conditions laid out in the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA).

Those receptive antennas were further heightened given the previous signals sent. After all, the State Department already released talking points to reporters on the decision to recertify Iran. The Treasury Department also had a package of fresh sanctions on over a dozen Iranian individuals and entities ready to announce to appease the hawks who were eager to cut loose from the deal.

But Trump didn’t want to recertify Iran, nor did he want to the last time around in April. That evening, a longtime Middle East analyst close to senior White House officials involved in the discussions described the scene to me: “Tillerson essentially told the president, ‘we just aren’t ready with our allies to decertify.’ The president retorted, ‘Isn’t it your job to get our allies ready?’ to which Tillerson said, ‘Sorry sir, we’re just not ready.’” According to this source, Secretary Tillerson pulled the same maneuver when it came to recertification in April by waiting until the last minute before finally admitting the State Department wasn’t ready. On both occasions he simply offered something to the effect of, “We’ll get ‘em next time.”

That for the second time, Team Tillerson forced the president to recertify Iran because they prepared no other options appears to have left a mark on Trump.

According to a recent report, the president assigned a White House team to focus on the Iran deal and sideline the State Department so that he has more options when the issue comes to the fore again in three months.

It’s not just Iran where the president sees a problem; the secretary has been actively tugging in the opposite direction when it comes to solving the Qatar crisis and on a host of issues related to Israel as well.

In many ways, the different view at the State Department should be expected, not just due to institutional issues where diplomats usually prefer finesse to force but because of personnel considerations as well.

Most pundits have pointed to the dwindling bench of the department’s roster. After all, many positions remain unfilled. When Tillerson chose Elliott Abrams to serve as deputy secretary, a well-known conservative who served under Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, Trump even intervened to quash the appointment. The problem, however, is more about the people already in the department, rather than those yet to be appointed or hired.

Barack Obama holdovers are driving the State Department’s Iran policy.

They include Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon; Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iran in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Chris Backemeyer, who previously served as the director for Iran at the National Security Council (NSC) under Obama; and Deputy Assistant Secretary and former US special envoy for Syria Michael Ratney. The first two were directly involved in the recertification fiasco – twice. They, among others, made their careers selling the Iran deal and are dedicated to its preservation.

In April, the first draft of the language “was full of Obama-era lines” including several falsehoods promoting the utility of the JCPOA, such as the deal verifiably puts Iran a year away from a nuclear weapon, this source explained.

“There was a huge fight after they wrote it because some said it was too pro-deal and it used all kinds of Obama language.”

“The White House went ballistic,” he said, “and they forced rewrites until they had a statement that was just a few lines.”

The revised version praised neither the deal nor Iran’s actions and pointed to the NSC-led interagency review of the JCPOA – a White House victory on the language used but a State Department win on preserving the status quo in policy.

“Backemeyer and Shannon wrote the certification,” the source confirmed, “and they were closely involved in the certification process this time around.”

For an administration that otherwise sounds determined to curtail Iran’s expansionist ambitions, it’s a wonder that the same people who brought the deal across the finish line, made careers out of selling the deal and helped fill Tehran’s financial coffers are still running the show at the State Department.

What’s more, Secretary Tillerson seems supportive of that decision or oblivious to its impact.

In either case, the department is in open insubordination to the White House and neither scenario reflects well on the secretary or his team. Nevertheless, whether or not his days are numbered, the current policy of rubber stamping Iran’s certification certainly appears to be coming to an end.

The author is a senior fellow at the Security Studies Group in Washington, DC, a senior Middle East analyst at Wikistrat and a former director of policy at the Jewish Policy Center. 

U.S. Agency Promoting Trade With Iran Despite Trump Opposition

July 24, 2017

U.S. Agency Promoting Trade With Iran Despite Trump Opposition, Washington Free Beacon, July 24, 2017

(Please see also, Trump State Dept Unsure Why Palestinian Terrorists Kill Israelis. Fire the Obama hold-overs or put them where they can not impair President Trump’s agenda. How about air-conditioned igloos in northern Alaska?– DM)

Pistachio trees at an Iranian field that farmers left behind due to the lack of water / Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is promoting increased trade with Iran, despite clear opposition to this policy by the Trump White House, according to multiple sources who described the agency’s behavior as rogue and part of a lingering effort by the former Obama administration to promote international trade with the Islamic Republic.

A July report released by USDA praises the Obama administration’s efforts to open trade with Iran following the landmark nuclear agreement that dropped major sanctions on the Islamic Republic. The report contradicts White House policy on Iran, which has taken an increasingly hardline against increased relations with Iran under President Donald Trump.

The report is being viewed by administration insiders and regional experts as the product of efforts by the former Obama administration to promote positive propaganda about Iran in a bid to boost support for the Iran deal.

These sources viewed the report as a sign that Trump administration agencies, including USDA and even the State Department, are taking increasingly rogue action contradicting official White House policy on a range of key issues.

“White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster should call his office,” according to Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser and expert on rogue regimes. “A key component of his job—and one that his predecessors let slide—is to coordinate policy across departments. Alas, it seems that the USDA wants to pursue an independent foreign policy, one that is detrimental to broader U.S. national interests.”

The USDA report, which touts renewed prospects for trade between the United States and Iran in light of the Iran deal, outlines “the potential for new opportunities for U.S. producers in the long run.”

The report further touts the Iran deal as an opportunity to help Iran engage with international markets, including those in the United States, to sell products such as pistachios and caviar.

“The lifting of the U.S. import ban on Iranian agricultural products, including pistachios and caviar, [represents] a large new market for Iran’s most valuable export crops,” according to the USDA report. “Arguably as important, however, was the removal of certain U.S. ‘secondary sanctions,’ penalties levied on foreign persons and companies seeking to do business in Iran, particularly in its finance, banking, insurance, and energy sectors.”

“This significant change allows Iran to attract foreign investment, import equipment, and adopt new technologies, all of which bear on Iran’s agricultural production and consumption,” according to the report.

The report further claims that the United States could face competition from Iran in regards to the pistachio market and urges the American market to brace for such a scenario.

“One example of the JCPOA’s [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] possible effect on U.S. producers relates to pistachios,” the report states. “With relaxed import restrictions from Iran, U.S. producers potentially face new competition from the world’s largest pistachio producer and second largest pistachio exporter. Decades of sanctions and trade restrictions have pushed Iran out of the large U.S. and European markets, but news reports have suggested that Iranian pistachio imports could resurge.”

One veteran Iran analyst who is in regular contact with the White House described the report as propaganda meant to falsely promote Iranian moderation and the benefits of legitimizing the regime.

“As with Obamacare, the Obama administration conscripted the entire federal government to propagandize on behalf of the Iran deal,” the source said. “The intelligence community produced politicized reports falsely hinting at Iran moderation. The State Department produced reports saying that the Iran deal was working. The Treasury department dismantled its anti-proliferation infrastructure and then declared it couldn’t find anyone to sanction for proliferation.”

“So it’s not surprising the Agriculture Department was tasked with producing pro-deal propaganda about how the deal would benefit Americans,” the source added. “What’s surprising is that the Trump administration hasn’t managed to put a stop to that nonsense.”

Saeed Ghasseminejad, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the report contradicts efforts by the White House and Congress to increase pressure on Iran as a result of its illicit ballistic missile program and ongoing support for terrorism.

“The White House and Congress seek to put pressure on the mullahs in Tehran, at the same time we see that other parts of the U.S. government are endorsing and recommending policies which are not in line with the White House and Congress’ goal,” Ghasseminejad said. “The Islamic Republic of Iran is a strategic enemy of the United States; unfortunately many in DC prefer to forget this basic point.”

USDA did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the report’s origins and who authorized its production.

What Did Trump Certify?

July 21, 2017

What Did Trump Certify? Power Line,  Paul Mirengoff, July 21, 2017

“What that really foreshadows is once the policy review is done, we’re going to see a massive increase in pressure — not just sanctions pressure but using all instruments of American power.”

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Did President Trump certify to Congress on Monday that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal? This is what virtually of all of the reporting on his action says he did.

We wrote that, early in the day, National Security Council director H. R. McMaster indicated the administration would certify Iranian compliance. The next day we reported, per Eli Lake, that Trump had balked at providing certification and came close to not doing so, but in the end certified Iranian compliance.

But the invaluable Omri Ceren of the Israel Project informs us that, contrary to “almost all major reporting,” Trump stopped short of certifying that Iran is complying with the deal. Indeed, he removed language about Iranian compliance and added language emphasizing Iranian violations. This AP story confirms Ceren’s report.

What, then, did the president certify? He certified only that Iran has met the four narrow conditions of the 2015 Corker-Cardin bill, says Ceren. The four conditions are these:

(1) Iran is implementing the deal,
(2) Iran is not in material breach,
(3) Iran is not advancing its nuclear weapons program, and
(4) sanctions relief is appropriate and vital for U.S. national security.

In limiting his certification to the four conditions, and listing several Iranian violations, the administration made it clear that, although Iran is not in “material breach,” neither is it in full compliance. This is the compromise brought about by Trump’s last-minute intervention.

What difference do the changes make? They don’t change the fact that Iran will continue to get sanctions relief, for now. Only by refusing to certify one or more of the four conditions might this have changed.

However, the changes are not without significance. For one thing, they undermine the Iranian regime’s oft-repeated talking point that the Trump administration admits Iran is complying with the terms of the deal.

For another, they may signal a shift in policy towards the deal once the Trump administration completes its broad review of the Iran deal, which is expected to happen soon. As the estimable Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who reportedly is advising the administration on Iran puts it: “What that really foreshadows is once the policy review is done, we’re going to see a massive increase in pressure — not just sanctions pressure but using all instruments of American power.”

Let’s hope so.

Bi-Partisan Support for Bill to ‘Hold Iran Accountable’

June 16, 2017

Bi-Partisan Support for Bill to ‘Hold Iran Accountable’, Iran News Update, June 16, 2017

“It’s worth noting that the JCPOA is not unlike the Paris climate accord.

“I don’t think many people in our country or many people in this body realize that it is a non-binding political agreement that was entered into by one man using presidential executive authority and can easily be undone by one man using presidential executive authority.

“In fact, in many ways, it is easier than the Paris accord considering the president doesn’t have to take an action to exit this agreement.

All he has to do is decline to waive sanctions. I think that has been missed.

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Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), spoke before the Senate on Wednesday, in a bill he authored, the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017. The legislation, has 60 bipartisan cosponsors, and is expected to pass the Senate this week. It will expand sanctions against Iranian for ballistic missile development, support for terrorism, transfer of conventional weapons to or from Iran, and human rights violations.

Senator Corker’s speech is reproduced as follows:

“Mr. President,

I rise today to speak about the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017, which passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month by a vote of 18 to 3.

“I’d like to thank the members of our committee and the co-authors of this bill for working in a constructive, bipartisan fashion to craft this legislation.

“I think it is a good example of how the Senate can still work together to tackle complex and difficult issues.

“I was in the SCIF recently – a place where senators go to read classified information – reviewing intelligence, and it truly is astounding what Iran continues to do around the world.

“For a people that are capable of so much, their foreign policy is shockingly counter to their own interest.

“We see destabilizing act after destabilizing act – from missile launches, to arms transfers, to terrorist training, to illicit financial activities, to targeting Navy ships and detaining American citizens – the list goes on and on.

“And it’s past time for us to take steps to protect the interests of the United States and our allies.

“This bill is the first time Congress has come together since the JCPOA – the Iran nuclear deal – to do just that.

“For far too long, the agreement – which I strongly opposed, as did our ranking member and presiding officer – has dictated U.S. policy throughout the Middle East.

“It’s worth noting that the JCPOA is not unlike the Paris climate accord.

“I don’t think many people in our country or many people in this body realize that it is a non-binding political agreement that was entered into by one man using presidential executive authority and can easily be undone by one man using presidential executive authority.

“In fact, in many ways, it is easier than the Paris accord considering the president doesn’t have to take an action to exit this agreement.

“I don’t think most Americans understand that. He doesn’t have to take action to exit the agreement. All he has to do is decline to waive sanctions. I think that has been missed.

“But no matter what the president decides, this bill makes it clear that the Congress intends to remain involved and will hold Iran accountable for their non-nuclear destabilizing activities.

“What the nuclear agreement failed to do was allow us to push back against terrorism, human rights issues, violations of U.N. security council resolutions relative to ballistic missile testing, and to push back against conventional arms purchases, which they are not supposed to be involved in.

“As many of us predicted at the time, Iran’s rogue behavior has only escalated since implementation of the agreement, and this bipartisan bill will give the administration tools for holding Tehran accountable.

“Let me say this. I don’t think there’s anybody in this chamber who doesn’t believe that the Trump administration – I know there’s been a lot of disagreements recently about foreign policy issues in the administration – but I don’t there’s anybody here that believes they are not going to do everything they can to push back against these destabilizing activities.

“And what we’ll be doing today and tomorrow with passage of this legislation is standing hand-in-hand with them as they do that.

“It also sends an important signal that the U.S. will no longer look the other way in the face of continued Iranian aggression.

“I want to recognize the important work of my colleagues in making this legislation possible.

“Senator Menendez has been a champion for holding Iran accountable, in this bill but also in decades of work on this issue. He truly is an asset to the Senate, and I thank him for his commitment to many issues, but especially this one.

“Senators Cotton, Rubio, and Cruz all played an important role in drafting this legislation as well.

“But finally, let me say this. This would not have been possible without the support and tireless effort of the ranking member, Senator Cardin, and his great staff. It has truly been a pleasure for me to work with him on the Russia bill that we will be voting on today at 2:00 p.m. but also on this legislation.

“We come from two very different places, representing two very different states, and yet are joined by the fact that we care deeply about making sure that the foreign policy of this country is in the national interest of our citizens and that we as a Congress and as a United States Senate are doing everything we can to drive positive foreign policy.

“I want to thank him for that and tell him I am really proud of the strong bipartisan momentum behind this legislation, which his leadership has helped make happen, and I look forward to passage of this bill.”

Obama Admin Did Not Publicly Disclose Iran Cyber-Attack During ‘Side-Deal’ Nuclear Negotiations

June 7, 2017

Obama Admin Did Not Publicly Disclose Iran Cyber-Attack During ‘Side-Deal’ Nuclear Negotiations, Washington Free Beacon, June 7, 2017

US Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on April 22, 2016 in New York. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump, during his trip to the Middle East in late May, talked tough against Iran and its illicit ballistic missile program but has so far left the nuclear deal in place. A Trump State Department review of the deal is nearing completion, the Free Beacon recently reported, and some senior Trump administration officials are pushing for the public release of the so-called “secret side deals.”

Infiltrating State Department emails and internal communications about where the United States stood on a number of sensitive issues could have given the Iranians an important negotiating advantage, according to David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security.

“The [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] had a lot of loose language at the time and the question was whether the U.S. was going to accept it,” he told the Free Beacon, referring to the weeks immediately following the Congressional Review Period, which ended Sept. 17, and Iran’s own review process, which ended Oct. 15.

“It would be to Iran’s great benefit to know where the U.S. would be” on a number of these issues dealing with the possible military dimensions of the Iran nuclear program, he said. “If they could tell the U.S. was going to punt, they could jerk around the [International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA] a bit.”

“That’s essentially what happened with the IAEA,” he added.

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State Department officials determined that Iran hacked their emails and social media accounts during a particularly sensitive week for the nuclear deal in the fall of 2015, according to multiple sources familiar with the details of the cyber attack.

The attack took place within days of the deal overcoming opposition in Congress in late September that year. That same week, Iranian officials and negotiators for the United States and other world powers were beginning the process of hashing out a series of agreements allowing Tehran to meet previously determined implementation deadlines.

Critics regard these agreements as “secret side deals” and “loopholes” initially disclosed only to Congress.

Sources familiar with the details of the attack said it sent shockwaves through the State Department and the private-contractor community working on Iran-related issues.

It is unclear whether top officials at the State Department negotiating the Iran deal knew about the hack or if their personal or professional email accounts were compromised. Sources familiar with the attack believed top officials at State were deeply concerned about the hack and that those senior leaders did not have any of their email or social media accounts compromised in this particular incident.

Wendy Sherman, who served as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs for several years during the Obama administration and was the lead U.S. negotiator of the nuclear deal with Iran, could not be reached for comment.

A spokeswoman for Albright Stonebridge LLC, where Sherman now serves as a senior counselor, said Tuesday that Sherman is “unavailable at this time and cannot be reached for comment.”

Asked about the September 2015 cyber-attack, a State Department spokesman said, “For security reasons we cannot confirm whether any hacking incident took place.”

At least four State Department officials in the Bureau of Near East Affairs and a senior State Department adviser on digital media and cyber-security were involved in trying to contain the hack, according to an email dated September 24, 2015 and multiple interviews with sources familiar with the attack.

The Obama administration kept quiet about the cyber-attack and never publicly acknowledged concerns the attack created at State, related agencies, and within the private contractor community that supports their work.

Critics of the nuclear deal said the Obama administration did not publicly disclose the cyber-attack’s impact out of fear it could undermine support right after the pact had overcome political opposition and cleared a critical Congressional hurdle.

The hacking of email addresses belonging to State Department officials and outside contractors began three days after the congressional review period for the deal ended Sept. 17, according to sources familiar with the details of the attack and the internal State Department email. That same day, Democrats in Congress blocked a GOP-led resolution to disapprove of the nuclear deal, according to sources familiar with the details of the attack and the internal State Department email. The resolution of disapproval needed 60 votes to pass but garnered just 56.

President Trump, during his trip to the Middle East in late May, talked tough against Iran and its illicit ballistic missile program but has so far left the nuclear deal in place. A Trump State Department review of the deal is nearing completion, the Free Beacon recently reported, and some senior Trump administration officials are pushing for the public release of the so-called “secret side deals.”

State Department alerts outside contractors of cyber-attack

State Department officials in the Office of Iranian Affairs on Sept. 24, 2015 sent an email to dozens of outside contractors. The email alerted the contractors that a cyber-attack had occurred and urged them not to open any email from a group of five State Department officials that did not come directly from their official state.gov accounts.

“We have received evidence that social media and email accounts are being compromised or subject to phishing messages,” the email, obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, states. “Please be advised that you should not open any link, download or open an attachment from any e-mail message that uses our names but is not directly from one of our official state.gov accounts.”

“We appreciate learning of any attempts to use our names or affiliations in this way,” stated the email. Shervin Hadjilou, the public diplomacy officer in the Office of Iranian Affairs, sent the email and cc’d four other State Department officials who deal with Iran issues, including one cyber-security expert.

Two sources familiar with the details of the hack said the State Department and outside contractors determined that Iranian officials were the perpetrators. The hack, which began Sept. 21, had compromised at least two State Department officials’ government email accounts before they regained control of them, as well as private email addresses and Facebook and other social media accounts, the source said.

“They had access to everything in those email accounts,” the source said. “Everyone in the [State Department Iranian Affairs] community was very upset—it was a major problem.”

The hack also stood out because cyber-warfare between Iran and the United States, which had been the weapon of choice between the countries for years, had cooled considerably in 2015 during the nuclear negotiations in what cyber-security experts have described as a limited détente.

Since Iran discovered the Stuxnet virus—a cyber-worm the United States and Israel planted to degrade Iran’s nuclear capabilities—in 2011, the countries have been engaged in escalating cyber warfare as Tehran’s cyber capabilities become increasingly sophisticated and destructive.

Since 2011 Iran has attacked U.S. banks and Israel’s electric grid. In 2012, Iranian hackers brought down Saudi-owned oil company Saudi Aramco, erasing information on nearly 30,000 of the company’s work stations and replacing it with a burning American flag.

Cyber-security experts have long believed that Russia helped Iran quickly build up its cyberweaponry in response to Stuxnet. A team of computer-security experts at TrapX, a Silicon Valley security firm that helps protect top military contractors from hackers, said in April they officially confirmed that Iranians were using a cyber “tool set” developed by Russians.

Tom Kellerman, a TrapX investor who also served on a commission advising the Obama administration on cyber-security, said Iranian cyberwarfare has dramatically improved over the last two or three years in large part due to Russian technical assistance.

“Much like you see the alliance between Syria, Iran, and Russia, the alliance doesn’t just relate to the distribution of kinetic weapons,” he said, but extends into cyberwarfare.

Uproar among private contracting community over cyber-attack

In the late September 2015 hack, at least two State Department officials and a handful of outside contractors lost control of access to their email and social media accounts, which were automatically forwarding emails to work and personal contacts. This spread the hack to a wider network of victims.

The private-contracting community involved in State Department Iran programs—approximately 40 private firms, some of which are based in Washington and others located throughout the United States—were outraged by the infiltration.

“They were saying ‘We’re mad—we’re angry,'” the source recalled. “We all got compromised.”

Eric Novotny, who served as a senior adviser for digital media and cyber security at the State Department at the time, was involved in trying to shut down the hack and help affected officials and private contractors regain control of their accounts. Novotny was one of the four government officials copied on Hadjilou’s Sept. 24 email.

Critics: Obama administration’s silence on hacking was needed to secure nuke deal

Critics of the Obama administration’s handling of the Iran nuclear deal argue that the State Department stayed silent about the hack because acknowledging it could have publicly undermined the pact right after it became official.

“Within hours of the Iran deal being greenlighted, Iran was already conducting cyberattacks against the very State Department that ensured passage of the [nuclear deal],” said Michael Pregent, a senior Middle East analyst at the Hudson Institute. “Acknowledging a cyberattack after the [nuclear deal] was greenlighted would be something that would immediately signal that it is a bad deal—that these are nefarious actors.”

Mark Dubowitz, the CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said Iran’s hacking of State Department personnel at such a critical period is “just one of many of Iran’s malign activities that continued and the State Department essentially ignored while the Obama administration was working out the fine points of the nuclear deal.”

“The Obama administration didn’t acknowledge it publicly out of fear that public outrage could threaten the nuclear deal,” he said.

In early November 2015, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Iran’s hardline Revolutionary Guard military had hacked email and social-media accounts of Obama administration officials.

Yet that report wrongly tied the beginning of the uptick in Iranian cyberattacks to the arrest October 29, 2015 of Siamak Namazi, a businessman and Iranian-American scholar who has pushed for democratic reforms. Namazi and his elderly father remain imprisoned in Iran and face a 10-year sentence on espionage charges.

The Journal report also did not indicate that the attacks had occurred more than a month earlier, within three days of the end of the congressional review period, nor did it indicate any specific individual targeted nor how officials and contractors reacted to it.

The Sept. 24 email obtained by the Free Beacon shows the Iranian hacking of State Department officials occurred much earlier—the weekend after Republicans in Congress failed to push through a resolution disapproving the Iran nuclear pact, effectively sealing the foreign policy win for Obama.

The late September time period was particularly important for negotiating critical details of the nuclear deal’s implementation, what critics, including CIA Director Mike Pompeo, have labeled “secret side deals” allowing Iran to evade some restrictions in the nuclear agreement in order to meet its deadline for sanctions relief.

Among other non-public details of the pact, the side agreements involved the controversial exchange of American prisoners held in Iran for $1.7 billion in cash payments.

Infiltrating State Department emails and internal communications about where the United States stood on a number of sensitive issues could have given the Iranians an important negotiating advantage, according to David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security.

“The [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] had a lot of loose language at the time and the question was whether the U.S. was going to accept it,” he told the Free Beacon, referring to the weeks immediately following the Congressional Review Period, which ended Sept. 17, and Iran’s own review process, which ended Oct. 15.

“It would be to Iran’s great benefit to know where the U.S. would be” on a number of these issues dealing with the possible military dimensions of the Iran nuclear program, he said. “If they could tell the U.S. was going to punt, they could jerk around the [International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA] a bit.”

“That’s essentially what happened with the IAEA,” he added.

The IAEA is charged with verifying and monitoring Iran’s commitments under the nuclear agreement.

According to Albright, the IAEA ultimately accepted far less access to nuclear sites than it originally wanted. The United States and other world powers also accepted other concessions involving “loopholes” allowing Iran to exceed uranium enrichment and heavy water limits for a certain time period in order for Iran to meet implementation deadlines, he said.

“The IAEA didn’t know much at all and had to write a report [in December 2015] that it was content in knowing so little,” he said.

Others who credit Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard with the cyber-attack say it may not have focused entirely on gaining leverage in the negotiations but simply demonstrating a resistance to the deal among hardline factions in the country.

“Iran has two personalities, and I think you were seeing the other personality shine through,” Kellerman said of the hack during a critical phase of the nuclear deal.

Hack used common spear-phishing technique

Sources said the September 2015 hacking incidents compromised email accounts by sending spear-phishing messages, or efforts to gain unauthorized access to confidential data by impersonating close contacts.

The phishing emails targeted both State Department and private contractors’ personal email and social media accounts, including Facebook, shutting down the users’ access and sending out emails to some of the hacked individuals contacts and forwarding other information to unfamiliar emails with Persian-sounding names, two sources told the Free Beacon.

Samuel Bucholtz, co-founder of Casaba, a cyber-security firm that conducts test-hacking for Fortune 500 companies, said the hackers were likely trying to gain access to contacts and emails. The hackers also may have tried to install malware that would provide greater access to information held on computers or the entire computer network of the organizations, he said.

“If it’s a phishing account that installs malware on your machine, then they have access to all the information on your machine,” he said. “Then they start using that foothold to start exploring access throughout the entire organization.”