Posted tagged ‘Iran and JCPOA’

Trump Admin Halts Taxpayer-Funded Purchases of Iranian Nuclear Materials

November 29, 2017

Trump Admin Halts Taxpayer-Funded Purchases of Iranian Nuclear Materials, Washington Free Beacon , November 29, 2017

Getty Images

After leaving the door open to additional purchases, senior Trump administration officials confirmed to the Free Beacon on Wednesday that the U.S. government would no longer engage in these nuclear transactions with Iran, a major policy shift that sources say is part of an effort to crackdown on Iran’s access to U.S. funds.

Lawmakers and other insiders had viewed the $8.6 million payment to Iran as a scheme to give Iran access to U.S. currency as part of an incentive package aimed at keeping it in compliance with the nuclear deal. The former administration stonewalled several attempts by lawmakers to discern the full details of the transaction.

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The Trump administration has put a stop to U.S. purchases of nuclear materials from Iran, a policy that first began under the Obama administration in an attempt to ensure Iran remains in compliance with the landmark nuclear deal, according to U.S. officials who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.

The Obama administration sparked controversy in Congress and the national security world when it announced in late 2016 that it would spend more than $8 million dollars to purchase Iranian heavy water, a nuclear byproduct, in a bid to keep the Islamic Republic in line with restrictions on these materials imposed under the nuclear agreement.

The Obama administration, in what lawmakers described as a “potentially illegal” taxpayer-funded transaction, paid at least $8.6 million to purchase 32 metric tons of heavy water from Iran. The nuclear byproduct can be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium, which is why restrictions were initially placed on Tehran’s stockpile.

The transaction occurred via an offshore third-party, according to U.S. officials, who made clear at the time that it would engage in further purchases if they were needed to help keep Iran in compliance with the nuclear deal.

After leaving the door open to additional purchases, senior Trump administration officials confirmed to the Free Beacon on Wednesday that the U.S. government would no longer engage in these nuclear transactions with Iran, a major policy shift that sources say is part of an effort to crackdown on Iran’s access to U.S. funds.

Lawmakers and other insiders had viewed the $8.6 million payment to Iran as a scheme to give Iran access to U.S. currency as part of an incentive package aimed at keeping it in compliance with the nuclear deal. The former administration stonewalled several attempts by lawmakers to discern the full details of the transaction.

Trump administration officials told the Free Beacon they have informed Iran that it is now solely responsible for maintaining compliance with the nuclear deal.

“No, the United States is not planning to purchase any Iranian heavy water,” a White House National Security Council spokesperson told the Free Beacon. “We have made it clear to Iran that it is their responsibility to remain under their heavy water limit in the JCPOA,” or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the official title of the nuclear agreement.

A State Department official confirmed this shift in policy to the Free Beacon following a request for further information.

In May, House lawmakers approved a bill spearheaded by Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.), to outlaw all future purchases of Iranian heavy water by the United States. Democrats in the Senate opposed a similar measure due to concerns that it would conflict with U.S. efforts to preserve the nuclear agreement.

One source familiar with the administration’s thinking on the policy shift told the Free Beacon it is part of a larger effort to take a tougher line towards Iranian efforts to gain further access to cash assets.

“This is another place where the Trump administration is saying ‘no’ to Iranian extortion and blackmail,” said the source, a veteran Middle East policy expert who routinely works with congressional offices on the Iran issue.

“Iran was deliberately overproducing heavy water and then telling the U.S. ‘buy it from us or it’ll blow up the deal’,” the source said. “The Obama administration paid, effectively rewarding Iran for violating the nuclear deal. The Trump administration refused to let the Iranians hold the deal hostage.”

At the time the Obama administration was orchestrating the cash transaction, lawmakers were intentionally being kept in the dark, the Free Beacon first reported.

Current CIA Director Mike Pompeo, then a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told the Free Beacon at the time that the former administration was seeking to subsidize Tehran’s nuclear program.

“The Obama administration’s deal with the Mullahs in Tehran to purchase heavy water demonstrates a disturbing, potentially illegal, willingness of the administration to subsidize Iran’s nuclear program,” Pompeo told the Free Beacon. “This purchase allows the Iranians to offload previously unsellable product and it destigmatizes the act of doing business in Iran.”

The purchase was “made without explanation as to how Iran will receive these funds or what steps the administration is taking to prevent what will almost certainly be U.S. taxpayer dollars from possibly being used to support terrorist activities, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, or Iran’s ballistic missile program,” Pompeo said at the time.

U.S. Pursuing Rigorous New Nuclear Inspection Regime in Iran

October 31, 2017

U.S. Pursuing Rigorous New Nuclear Inspection Regime in Iran, Washington Free Beacon, October 30, 2017

International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and Iranian technicians at a nuclear power plant of Natanz / Getty Images

The United States is pursuing a rigorous new regime for international inspections of Iran’s nuclear program that includes access to off-limits military sites as well as increased transparency on the Islamic Republic’s often obfuscated enrichment of uranium, the key component in a nuclear bomb, according to U.S. officials and congressional leaders spearheading the new inspection effort.

A delegation of 13 leading senators petitioned the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, led by Ambassador Nikki Haley, to implement a series of stricter inspection methods that would give Western countries a deeper look into Iran’s suspected use of military sites to continue contested nuclear work prohibited under the landmark nuclear agreement, according to U.S. officials who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.

The Trump administration is said to be fully on board with these tougher inspection measures, which could address lingering questions about Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, U.S. officials said. Iran has been found in breach several times since the accord was implemented.

The letter, spearheaded by Sen. David Perdue (R., Ga.) and a delegation of top GOP senators, urges the United States to force the United Nations into accepting a tough new nuclear inspection regime in Iran that could shed sunlight on the country’s hidden nuclear efforts.

Many of Iran’s most contested military sites and uranium enrichment plants have been off-limits to international inspectors or subject to a delayed timeline that gives Iran at least a month to prepare for inspections, a part of the nuclear agreement that has come under particular criticism from those who say it gives the Islamic Republic time to cleanup and hide possible nuclear work falling outside of the accord.

The senators highlight a series of “shortcomings in the inspection and verification regime” led by the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, which has itself admitted in recent months that it does not have a full picture of Iran’s current nuclear program.

A major “deterioration in the amount and quality of the information provided by IAEA inspections [has] prevented the inspection and verification regime of the JCPOA from being as thorough and transparent as possible,” the senators write, referring to the nuclear deal by its official acronym.

The U.S. Mission to the U.N. is said to fully back these tougher inspection requests and is already pushing for a change at Turtle Bay.

“The senators’ letter is completely in sync with Ambassador Haley’s concerns about Iranian nuclear inspections,” a spokesperson for the U.S. Mission told the Free Beacon Monday, several days after the senators first sent their letter.

Haley “will continue to press for the most aggressive implementation of the nuclear deal, while also working to move the U.N. toward stronger measures against dangerous Iranian actions that fall outside of the deal, including their missile testing, arms smuggling, and support for terrorism,” the official said.

A spokesperson for Perdue’s office described the letter as part of a larger bid to crackdown on flaws in the nuclear deal that were originally obfuscated by the Obama administration when it first sold the deal to Congress and the American public.

“It’s very clear President Obama’s dangerous Iran Nuclear Deal doesn’t have the teeth he claimed it would,” the congressional official told the Free Beacon. “President Trump was right to decertify this deal, and now we have to turn up the pressure on the IAEA to get more detailed reporting and ensure all potential nuclear sites—including military installations—are inspected thoroughly.”

“Senator Perdue is encouraged Ambassador Haley has brought these issues to the U.N. and supports her effort to get better information about Iran’s nuclear activities,” the source said.

U.S. officials and those in Congress are seeking to close a series of gaps that have allowed Tehran to receive a month’s notice before inspections and also keep secret its most contested military sites.

The letter highlights flaws in a portion of the nuclear deal known as Section T, which is supposed to provide assurances that Iran is not engaging in any activities that would contribute to the design or development of a nuclear explosive device.

The IAEA has admitted in recent weeks that it is unclear exactly how to interpret this portion of the accord and has been unable to fully verify efforts undertaken by Iran on this front.

Without this information, the United States cannot fully determine “if Iran makes any effort to leave the JCPOA abruptly or gradually,” according to the letter, which was also signed by Sens.Ted Cruz (R., Texas), Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), Mike Lee (R., Utah), John Barrasso (R., Wyo.), Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.), and several others.

Access to Iran’s military sites remains a key outstanding issue for the Trump administration and Congress, according to these officials, who say there is no credibly way to determine Iranian compliance with the nuclear accord without such access.

“We believe that without visits to military sites, the IAEA cannot make a credible conclusion that Iran is meeting its section T obligations,” the senators wrote.

The group is also pushing greater transparency on Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts, including its mining of uranium ore and yellow cake.

Inspection regimes “should include the number of visits to mines and ore concentration plants,” according to the senators, who say that Iran should be forced to inform the West about the amount of yellow cake it produces.

Additional new measures would include disclosures of “the type and amount of uranium fed into [nuclear] cascades at” each of Iran’s facilities. Such information would provide a clearer picture of how much enriched uranium Iran has on hand.

Iran must also provide more information about the number of nuclear centrifuges it is operating in its Natanz plant, as well as other areas, according to the senators, who are pushing for greater inspection of Iran’s storage of advanced nuclear centrifuges.

This would include “an assessment on if the IAEA surveillance measures are conclusive” on this front, or if further inspections are needed.

“With these improvements to inspection and reporting practices, we can better deny Iran’s access to a nuclear weapons capability,” the senators wrote.

A spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council declined to comment on the letter, saying it does not discuss “correspondence between Congress and government officials,” but the issues highlighted in the missive appear to jibe with the Trump administration’s public criticism of the accord.

One veteran foreign policy insider for works closely with Congress on the Iran portfolio told the Free Beacon that the new U.S. inspection efforts highlight important ways in which the IAEA’s current regime has failed to provide critical information about Tehran’s nuclear progress.

“This letter does a couple of things,” the source said. “It highlights how the IAEA has been spinning its wheels in Iran, and hasn’t visited the sites where Iran is likely to be developing nuclear weapons technology.”

“It also serves notice that Congress knows the IAEA is full of shit when its top officials say they’ve confirmed Iran is complying with the deal,” the source added.

ANALYSIS: Certified or decertified, Iran faces tough road ahead

October 10, 2017

ANALYSIS: Certified or decertified, Iran faces tough road ahead, Al Arabiya, Heshmat Alavi, October 9, 2017

Members of Iranian armed forces march during a parade in Tehran, Iran, September 22, 2017. President.ir/Handout via REUTERS.

The new mentality sought by Washington is to address all of Iran’s belligerence and not allow its nuclear program and the JCPOA devour all of the international community’s attention.

The new US response, including blacklisting Iran’s notorious Revolutionary Guards, to be announced by Trump is said to cover missile tests, support for terrorism and proxy groups checkered across the Middle East, hopefully human rights violations at home, and cyberattacks.

Iran has a history of resorting to such measures, including targeting Saudi oil interests. Raising the stakes for Iran, Trump described a meeting with his top military brass on Thursday evening as “the calm before the storm.” Neither the US President nor the White House provided further details, yet rest assured Tehran received the message.

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All eyes are on US President Donald Trump and his upcoming Iran speech later this week to clarify his decision to certify or decertify Tehran’s compliance with a nuclear agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), designed to curb the regime’s controversial atomic drive.

This has Iran’s regime on its toes, as senior elite in Tehran understand fully how the US can lead the international community in adopting strong measures against its broad scope of malign activities. Expected to be addressed is also a wide range of concerns over Iran’s dangerous policies in relation to its ballistic missile advances, meddling in Middle East states and supporting terrorist proxy groups as explained in a new video.

‘Iran’s unacceptable behavior’

Iran’s rogue behavior, currently imposing its influence on four major regional capitals of Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus and Sanaa, are the result of the Obama administration’s “overly lenient foreign policy, which sought to promote America’s priorities through consensus, rather than through the frank display of power,” as put by a recent The New Yorker piece.

“Lifting the sanctions as required under the terms of the JCPOA has enabled Iran’s unacceptable behavior,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a late September meeting with his P5+1 counterparts and Iran’s top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The Trump administration is also deeply concerned over Iran’s proxies mining the strategic Bab el-Mandeb Strait waterway, aiming its indigenous missiles from Yemen towards cities in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, and from southern Lebanon towards Israel. This is Tehran in action with the objective of taking advantage of the destruction left behind by ISIS across the region, especially in Syria and Iraq.

“The Iranian regime supports terrorism and exports violence, bloodshed and chaos across the Middle East,” Trump told reporters before a Thursday evening meeting with senior military leaders at the White House. “That is why we must put an end to Iran’s continued aggression and nuclear ambitions,” he said. “They have not lived up to the spirit of their agreement.”

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

Joint effort

Parallel to the White House there are voices on Capitol Hill advocating the new approach weighed by the administration.

“The president should decline to certify, not primarily on grounds related to Iran’s technical compliance, but rather based on the long catalog of the regime’s crimes and perfidy against the United States, as well as the deal’s inherent weakness,” Senator Tom Cotton said last week at a speech in the Council on Foreign Relations.

As the Trump administration seeks to place necessary focus on Iran’s illicit Middle East ambitions and actions, talks are also ongoing as we speak over how to amend the JCPOA’s restrictions.

“Sunset clauses,” Iran’s ballistic missile development and testing, and an inspections regime lacking the bite to gain necessary access into the regime’s controversial military sites. Under the current framework Iran can easily conduct nuclear weapons research and development in military sites and claim such locations do not fall under the JCPOA jurisdiction.

While it is expected of Trump to decertify Iran, he most likely will not go the distance to completely pull America out of the nuclear agreement. Obama refused to send the JCPOA to Congress for discussion and approval. Trump, however, seems set to place the decision to impose further sanctions on Iran upon the shoulders of US lawmakers.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks about the Iran nuclear deal at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, on September 5, 2017. (Reuters)

More than ‘one piece’

The new mentality sought by Washington is to address all of Iran’s belligerence and not allow its nuclear program and the JCPOA devour all of the international community’s attention.

The new US response, including blacklisting Iran’s notorious Revolutionary Guards, to be announced by Trump is said to cover missile tests, support for terrorism and proxy groups checkered across the Middle East, hopefully human rights violations at home, and cyberattacks.

Iran has a history of resorting to such measures, including targeting Saudi oil interests. Raising the stakes for Iran, Trump described a meeting with his top military brass on Thursday evening as “the calm before the storm.” Neither the US President nor the White House provided further details, yet rest assured Tehran received the message.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivering a statement on Iran in the Treaty Room of the State Department in Washington, DC, on April 19, 2017. (AFP)

Fear renders contradiction

Sensing an increasingly escalating tone from Washington, Tehran signaled its first sign of fear by expressing readiness to discuss its ballistic missile program, according to Reuters. And yet less than 24 hours later, Iranian officials said no offers were made to negotiate such restrictions.

“Iran regards defensive missile programs as its absolute right and will definitely continue them within the framework of its defensive, conventional and specified plans and strategies,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said, according state media.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also felt the need to make remarks to save face before the regime’s already depleting social base. “In the nuclear negotiations and agreement we reached issues and benefits that are not reversible. No one can turn that back, not Mr. Trump or anyone else,” Rouhani said at a recent Tehran University ceremony, according to state media.

Of course, we all remember how prior to the JCPOA signing in 2015 senior Iranian officials went the limits in describing any “retreat” regarding their nuclear program as a “red line.” To make a long story short, Tehran is comprehending how the times are changing at a high velocity, endangering its domestic, regional and international interests. And unlike the Obama years, its actions will not go unanswered.

Senator Cotton made this crystal clear at his speech: “Congress and the President, working together, should lay out how the deal must change and, if it doesn’t, the consequences Iran will face.”

Iran Lashes Out at ‘Cowboy’ Trump After U.N. Speech

September 20, 2017

Iran Lashes Out at ‘Cowboy’ Trump After U.N. Speech, Washington Free Beacon, , September 20, 2017

President of Iran Hassan Rouhani / Getty Images

Senior Iranian leaders verbally attacked President Donald Trump late Tuesday and early Wednesday following his first United Nations address, in which the U.S. president harshly criticized Iran for its support of global terror operations, according to regional reports.

Iranian political and military leaders, including the country’s president, mocked Trump for his criticism of the Islamic Republic and threatened military repercussions if the United States decides to leave the landmark nuclear agreement, which Trump hinted could be a possibility on Wednesday.

In brief remarks to reporters following a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Trump said, “I have decided” on whether to designate Iran in violation of the nuclear deal, a move that would set the wheels in motion for the United States to leave the agreement and reimpose tough sanctions on Tehran.

When pressed on the issue, Trump smiled and said, “I’ll let you know what the decision is.”

Iranian leaders have vowed a harsh response should the United States move to leave the deal, and have hinted at more aggressive military moves against American interests in the region. Iran will seek to boost its military capabilities and directly confront the United States, according to these Iranian military and political leaders.

“We won’t chicken out for cowboy-like acts of Trump,” Brig. Gen. Seyyed Massoud Jazayeri, deputy chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, was quoted as saying on Tuesday in reaction to Trump’s U.N. speech, which singled out Iran and its nuclear program as a chief global threat.

Trump’s “remarks recount how the weak and incapable government of the U.S. has fallen in melancholy after keeping the dream of being the world’s superpower,” Jazayeri was quoted as saying in Iran’s state-controlled media.

Trump’s remarks have spurred Iran to further increase its military capabilities, according to Jazayeri.

“For facing a country whose president overtly and blatantly shouts at the lectern of the U.N. that it would ‘totally destroy’ with its military power, no option is left but to strengthen the defensive infrastructures,” he said.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani offered similar remarks, telling reporters that Iran would “be victorious” in any outcome, even if Trump moves to end the nuclear agreement.

“Iran will be victorious, regardless of what happens” with the nuclear deal, Rouhani said. “If the U.S. backs out of the deal, they will suffer loss and if they remain committed, they will sow benefits. We are ready for any situation and there is no obstacle to our advance toward our objectives.”

Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, said that Iran is already moving to enhance its military capabilities and face down the United States.

“Time is now ripe for correcting the U.S. miscalculations,” Jafari was quoted as saying after Trump’s speech. “Now that the U.S. has fully displayed its nature, the government should use all its options to defend the Iranian nation’s interests.”

“Taking a decisive position against Trump is just the start and what is strategically important is that the U.S. should witness more painful responses in the actions, behavior, and decisions that Iran will take in the next few months,” he said.

Other senior Iranian leaders, such as Rouhani’s deputy chief of staff, took to Twitter to express anger at Trump and mock his remarks.

“A person who takes the presidential office with deception and undemocratic behavior, will be unable to differentiate between delivering speech in the United Nations from the rough American football.” Hamid Aboutalebi, a senior Rohani aide tweeted.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, the main official who helped cement the nuclear agreement, described Trump’s remarks as “ignorant hate speech” on his Twitter feed.