Posted tagged ‘Iran sanctions’

Strategic decisiveness, tactical caution

October 15, 2017

Strategic decisiveness, tactical caution, Israel Hayom, Prof. Abraham Ben-Zvi, October 15, 2017

Iran is now facing a three-pronged American challenge: the steps that stem directly from the newly announced Trump Doctrine; new legislation against it; and unilateral action by Trump should Congress fail to enact new legislation, leading to the U.S. withdrawing from the pact.

In one fell swoop, through a single speech, Trump put the ball squarely in Iran’s court.

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When it comes to North Korea, U.S. President Donald Trump has adopted a policy of containment and deterrence, owing to the fact that it presents a general threat.

But when it comes to Iran, things are different. On Friday, Trump unveiled a new doctrine against this component of the Axis of Evil, a doctrine that is based more on red lines and clear thresholds that would trigger American action should they be crossed.

This approach represents a creative blend of strategic decisiveness and tactical caution. The strategic decisiveness rests on his pledge to counter Iran head-on, should the need arise, over its repeated violations of key parts of the 2015 nuclear deal, and over its conduct in the region (including its ongoing ballistic missile program and its continued support for terrorist groups and destabilization efforts).

The tactical caution part is based on his recognition that a potential Iranian-American clash is not necessarily immediate, forceful or even inevitable. In other words, the White House has articulated a gradual process that gives Iranian President Hassan Rouhani a way out by mending his ways before the moment of truth arrives.

Thus, even though the Trump Doctrine is a break from the way the nuclear deal has been implemented so far, Washington will stay in it in order to improve it, hoping that its threats will have a moderating effect on the ayatollah regime. Therefore, Trump’s decision to decertify the agreement doesn’t mean that he is bent on withdrawing from it. He is still going to play by the rules, but his new doctrine presents several powerful deterrent elements.

The first: He has sent a signal to Tehran of what’s to come. Through the newly announced sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which complement other steps the Pentagon has taken in the region to curtail Iran’s destabilizing activity, Iran now knows what’s at stake.

The second: He announced what could be a new, comprehensive and structured mechanism to punish Iran. If and when Congress decides to adopt such a mechanism, it will include a host of steps against the regime, including sanctions that are automatically imposed if Iran violates certain provisions characterized as “red lines” (say, regarding its missile program).

The third: If Congress fails to pass new legislation to punish Iran over the next two months, this will lead to the termination of the agreement as far as he is concerned – with all the consequences that this may entail.

Iran is now facing a three-pronged American challenge: the steps that stem directly from the newly announced Trump Doctrine; new legislation against it; and unilateral action by Trump should Congress fail to enact new legislation, leading to the U.S. withdrawing from the pact.

In one fell swoop, through a single speech, Trump put the ball squarely in Iran’s court.

Congress Seeks Deadline on Iran Accepting Tougher Nuclear Deal Standards

October 13, 2017

Congress Seeks Deadline on Iran Accepting Tougher Nuclear Deal Standards, Washington Free Beacon, October 13, 2017

Rep. Peter Roskam / Getty Images

Roskam’s legislation would mandate that Iran permit unfettered, unannounced, and indefinite access to all of Iran’s contested nuclear sites, including military spots that have been completely off-access to international nuclear inspectors.

Iran opposes such proposals, claiming that its military sites will never been opened to the international community.

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Congress is set to consider new legislation that would require Iran to accept tough new conditions on the landmark nuclear deal or face a rash of harsh new economic sanctions aimed at thwarting the Islamic Republic’s continued nuclear buildup, according to a draft of new legislation exclusively viewed by the Washington Free Beacon.

On the heels of President Donald Trump’s announcement that he will decertify Iranian compliance with the nuclear agreement, top GOP lawmakers are already working on legislation that would compliment the White House’s announcement and move forward with efforts to harshly penalize Tehran if it does not accept rigid new standards on its nuclear activities within the next six months, according to a copy of draft legislation circulating in the House of Representatives.

The new legislation, spearheaded by Rep. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.), would reimpose all economic sanctions lifted by the former Obama administration as part of the nuclear agreement if Iran refuses to comply with tough new standards restricting its ballistic missile program, arms buildup, and failure to permit access to a range of military sites suspected of engaging in nuclear work.

The legislation also would effectively kill provisions of the nuclear agreement known as sunset clauses. These are portions of the deal that would rollback restrictions on Iran’s advanced nuclear research and weapons buildup within the next five to six years.

Trump, as well as allies in Congress, maintains the original nuclear accord contains several key flaws that permit Iran to cheat on the deal and receive sweetheart bonuses—such as sanctions relief and other assets—despite evidence of multiple violations of the agreement.

Sources who spoke to the Free Beacon about the effort to tighten the deal said that many in Congress would be willing to reimpose all key sanctions on Iran if it does not agree to abide by the stricter enforcement regulations.

“The days of appeasing the Mullah’s every wish and sitting back and watching as the terrorist state goes nuclear are over,” said one senior congressional official intimately familiar with the new proposal. “Congress overwhelmingly opposed Obama’s disastrous deal with Iran. Now’s the time to assert our constitutional responsibility to defend our nation and use all tools of U.S. power to permanently prevent an nuclear armed Iran.”

This new legislation is similar to the policy approach advocated by senior Trump administration officials, such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who told reporters late Thursday the administration is looking to create a parallel nuclear deal that gives Congress a larger role in ensuring Iranian compliance.

These would include “trigger points that are specific to the nuclear program itself, but also deals with things like their ballistic missile program,” according to Tillerson.

Roskam’s new legislation, called the JCPOA Improvement Act of 2017, seeks to do precisely this.

In addition to banning Iran from developing, testing, and operating ballistic missile technology—which was never addressed in the original nuclear agreement – the new legislation would impose even stricter regulations on the amount of nuclear enrichment Iran can legally engage in.

It also would stop Iran from installing advanced nuclear centrifuges that can enrich uranium, the key component in a nuclear weapon, much faster than older versions of this equipment. Under the original nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, Iran would have been granted the right to operate advanced centrifuges within the next several years.

Congress also is seeking to address Iran’s development of heavy water nuclear reactors that provide a secondary pathway to a nuclear weapon via the use of plutonium, a by-product of such equipment, according to the draft legislation and sources who spoke to the Free Beacon.

The Obama administration had worked to ensure that, under the agreement, Iran retained its right to operate such reactors, despite opposition in Congress and elsewhere. Iran has already inked several deals with Russia to assist in the construction of new light and heavy water reactors, though this new legislation could complicate that matter.

Another key portion of the original agreement that has been vehemently criticized by Trump and congressional allies surrounds caveats that give Iran more than a month before consenting to inspections of its nuclear sites.

Roskam’s legislation would mandate that Iran permit unfettered, unannounced, and indefinite access to all of Iran’s contested nuclear sites, including military spots that have been completely off-access to international nuclear inspectors.

Iran opposes such proposals, claiming that its military sites will never been opened to the international community.

If Iran does not agree to the new restrictions proposed in the legislation, Congress has the ability to reimpose all sanctions that were lifted as part of the original accord. This represents a major new tool for Congress as it works to thwart Iran’s continued military endeavors across the Middle East and its pursuit of advanced new weaponry.

Under the new legislation, any future attempt to rescind these new restrictions would be subject to a vote in the United Nations Security Council, according to the bill.

Repeal and Replace In Farsi

October 13, 2017

Repeal and Replace In Farsi, Washington Free Beacon, October 13, 2017

(Are the media playing games with their headlines as usual or are their reports accurate? Here’s a link to the principal Times of Israel article cited, Netanyahu at odds with security team over Iran deal. — DM)

President Donald Trump is flanked by GOP senators to discuss health care / Getty Images

[T]he headlines preceding today’s remarks have been almost entirely shaped by the deal’s supporters, by the echo chamber that promoted and distorted the aims and conditions of the agreement to begin with. These were but some of the stories in Thursday’s edition of the Times of Israel: “Barak urges Trump not to decertify Iran nuke deal,” “Netanyahu at odds with security team over Iran deal,” “With Trump set to decertify Iran deal, experts tell Congress to stick to accord,” “Jewish Democrats who opposed Iran nuke deal now urge Trump to keep it.” You have to look hard for a piece detailing Iranian noncompliance, explaining the process of decertification and its relation to the overarching agreement, or quoting defenders of the president and his policy.

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President Trump is expected to announce today that he cannot certify Iran’s compliance with the terms of the agreement over its nuclear program that it entered into with the United States and five other nations in 2015. The president’s decision, according to the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, will commence a 60-day expedited legislative process during which the Republican-controlled Congress may re-impose sanctions against the Islamic theocracy for its intransigence and belligerence. Sanctions, I might add, that should never have been lifted in the first place.

What is striking is that, with the exception of Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, none of the Republicans and Democrats who opposed the nuclear deal two years ago with such vehemence have gone out of their way to prepare the ground and make the national security case for the president’s decision.

Now, the Democrats I can understand. They are just playing to type. To say a kind word for Trump’s attempt to improve the deal would violate the secular commandment to resist his very being. The Republican silence, by contrast, is far more maddening.

This is the party that invited Bibi Netanyahu to criticize the deal in an address to a joint session of Congress. This is the party whose 2016 platform reads, “A Republican president will not be bound by” the deal and “We must retain all options in dealing with a situation that gravely threatens our security, our interests, and the survival of our friends.” This is the party that nominated and elected a president who said his “number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.”

Yet the headlines preceding today’s remarks have been almost entirely shaped by the deal’s supporters, by the echo chamber that promoted and distorted the aims and conditions of the agreement to begin with. These were but some of the stories in Thursday’s edition of the Times of Israel: “Barak urges Trump not to decertify Iran nuke deal,” “Netanyahu at odds with security team over Iran deal,” “With Trump set to decertify Iran deal, experts tell Congress to stick to accord,” “Jewish Democrats who opposed Iran nuke deal now urge Trump to keep it.” You have to look hard for a piece detailing Iranian noncompliance, explaining the process of decertification and its relation to the overarching agreement, or quoting defenders of the president and his policy.

And the reason you have to look hard is that there are few elected Republicans who are taking the lead on this issue. Internal division, uncertainty, and personal rivalry may once again prevent the congressional GOP from achieving the aims it has stated loudly and proudly for years. The parallels to the attempted repeal and replacement of Obamacare are startling and, for this conservative, disturbing. “This is health care for us,” Ben Rhodes said of the Iran deal back in 2014. It would be both a diplomatic and a political disaster if the Republicans flopped as badly while trying to undo the central achievement of Barack Obama’s second term as they had while trying to undo the central achievement of his first.

Iranian noncompliance is a no-brainer. Look at the number of advanced centrifuges Iran is currently operating, its repeated violation of limits on its heavy water stocks, its underground efforts to obtain nuclear- and missile-related technologies. Look at the IAEA’s acknowledgment in September that it has difficulty verifying compliance with Section T of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which forbids “activities which could contribute to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”

And look at the Swiss cheese inspections regime. How can the president in good conscience certify compliance when no Americans are involved in the inspections, when inspections are limited to “declared” nuclear sites, when the Iranians have 24 days to prepare for IAEA inspections of other locations, when inspectors are forbidden from examining military bases? We have no idea what is going on in such places, much less in the places we do not know about. Remember: We didn’t know about the installations at Natanz and Arak until 2002 and the one at Fordow until 2009.

Of course a serious agreement would allow access to military locations. The apologies for Iranian stubbornness on this point are absurd. “For many Iranians—including those who support the nuclear deal—keeping inspectors out of military facilities is a point of national pride,” write Shashank Bengali and Ramin Mostaghim of the Los Angeles Times. Funny that national pride is okay as long as it’s Iran we’re talking about. Bengali and Mostaghim quote a “newspaper employee” in Tehran, Susan Saderi, who says, “It’s our country, and any country’s defense systems should be off limits to international inspections.”

No offense, Ms. Saderi, but you know whose defense systems are not off limits to international inspections?

  1. Associated Press from 2014: “Russians inspect Montana nuclear launch facilities.”
  2. Washington Free Beacon from 2014: “Russian Inspectors to Check U.S. Nuclear Cuts Amid Ukraine Crisis.”
  3. Fortune last August: “Russian Surveillance Plane Makes Low-Flying Pass of Capitol and Pentagon.”
  4. Wall Street Journal last August: “Top U.S. General Breaks Bread With Chinese Soldiers on North Korea’s Doorstep.”

Ok, the PLA probably didn’t allow General Dunford to count ammo stocks in Shenyang. But the point stands. The arms control treaties we signed with the Soviet Union permitted American inspectors to visit military locations. That was the whole point of trust but verify. President Obama may have trusted the Iranians—but then President Obama trusted Harvey Weinstein to oversee his daughter’s post-high school internship earlier this year. Why should Donald Trump play the patsy?

“If the political branches, [work] on a bipartisan basis on the parts of the deal we all know are flawed,” Cotton said earlier this month, “we will have the strong and unified front between Democrats and Republicans, and between Congress and the president, that the Iran deal never enjoyed. That unity will help the president forge a unified position with our allies—not only the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, but also Israel and our Arab allies. Then it will be Russia and China who must choose between a stronger deal and being isolated and in league with the ayatollahs.”

Are Republicans prepared to close ranks in a “strong and unified front” to remove the sunset clauses from the Iran deal, impose further limits on Iranian centrifuges, include Americans on IAEA inspection teams that have access to Iranian military bases, and constrain Iranian missile development? Or will they prove as disunited, feckless, spiteful, and incompetent as they did during the repeal and replace debacle?

I’m not sure I want to know the answer.

Trump Admin Will Not Commit to Designating IRGC as Terror Group

October 11, 2017

Trump Admin Will Not Commit to Designating IRGC as Terror Group, Washington Free Beacon , October 11, 2017

Members of the Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps / Getty Images

Trump last week signed new sanctions legislation mandating that the United States extend a terror designation to the IRGC, marking the first time in U.S. history a foreign country’s military branch would be hit with such a designation.

However, the State and Treasury Departments would not confirm Wednesday that the administration intends to make good on this law, which was approved by Congress with bipartisan support.

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The Trump administration will not commit to designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, Iran’s elite fighting force, as terrorists, despite a congressional mandate to do so by the end of the month, according to multiple U.S. officials and other administration insiders who told the Washington Free Beacon that holdovers from the Obama administration are working to stymie the effort.

While President Donald Trump is expected to announce this week that he will not certify Iran as in compliance with the landmark nuclear deal, it remains unclear if he will follow through with congressionally approved plans to extend a terror designation to the IRGC, a move that has prompted Iran to threaten greater attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East.

The IRGC is responsible for numerous terror attacks on American troops over the years and has played a key role in interfering with U.S. operations in Syria. A bipartisan consensus in Congress has already backed such a designation, but key Obama-era holdovers and top national security officials who have the president’s ear are urging him to refrain, according to multiple sources who spoke to the Free Beacon.

Top lawmakers and insiders who spoke to the Free Beacon about the growing uncertainty over how best to hold Iran accountable for its terror activities expressed frustration over what they view as the administration’s inability to follow through with its foreign policy promises, particularly as they relate to Iran, which has increasingly targeted U.S. forces with military action.

New reports emerged Wednesday afternoon that Trump’s planned speech on Iran may be scaled back and not take place until Friday, if it does at all.

Trump last week signed new sanctions legislation mandating that the United States extend a terror designation to the IRGC, marking the first time in U.S. history a foreign country’s military branch would be hit with such a designation.

However, the State and Treasury Departments would not confirm Wednesday that the administration intends to make good on this law, which was approved by Congress with bipartisan support.

The administration may be getting cold feet due to the objections of key U.S. officials and those in the Treasury Department who view such a designation as harmful to American companies that have business interests in Iran, where the IRGC controls a majority of the economy, sources said.

“The IRGC is responsible for wreaking havoc throughout the Middle East and, through its Quds Force, for killing hundreds of American troops in Iraq,” Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and chair of its National Security Subcommittee, told the Free Beacon.

“The IRGC represents a quintessential terrorist group and should be designated as such,” DeSantis said.  “Whereas the Obama administration flew pallets of cash to the IRGC, the Trump administration should act to hold the IRGC accountable.  Designating it as a terrorist group is a good first step.”

Neither the State Department or White House would confirm to the Free Beacon plans to follow through with this designation, prompting speculation that the process may be held up over objections by Obama-era holdovers in the Trump administration who view the move as a shot at dismantling the former president’s nuclear deal.

“Congress didn’t ask the president to designate the full IRGC,” according to one veteran Middle East policy advisor who lobbies Congress on Iran sanctions. “They told the president to do it by veto proof majorities. Obama holdover lawyers and his establishment staffers are telling him he can use loopholes to just go after some entities and circumvent Congress.”

These same voices are continuing to advise Trump against decertifying Iranian compliance with the deal, despite the president’s personal belief that the Islamic Republic has flagrantly violated what he has repeatedly described as a bad deal.

“These are the same people advising him to certify the nuclear deal, which was also rejected by bipartisan majorities in Congress,” the source said. “They’re wrong and if they stay wrong, lawmakers will eventually make it an oversight issue.”

A State Department official declined repeated requests for clarification on what the administration intends to do about the IRGC, but told the Free Beacon officials remain “deeply troubled by Iran’s longstanding provocative activities including its support for terrorism and destabilizing activities in the region.”

“We are committed to holding Iran accountable for its behavior,” the official said. “The United States retains the authority to respond to Iran’s support for terrorism, human rights abuses, and destabilizing activities. The U.S. government constantly reviews information, through an interagency process, to evaluate potential sanctions violators for targeting under existing sanctions authorities.”

A Treasury Department official did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.

Iranian officials vowed last week to strike U.S. forces and bases in the region if the Trump administration moves forward with extending a terror designation to the IRGC.

Rep. Sean Duffy (R., Wis.), a vocal opponent of the Iran deal, told the Free Beacon that Iran would be wise to back down from its threats.

“President Obama’s terrible Iran deal predictably emboldened the Iranian regime to build up their military and antagonize the region,” Duffy said. “Iran may have been able to bully our previous president, but the American people elected President Trump to stand up for the United States on the world stage.”

“The Iranian regime is already on notice for being the world’s largest state-sponsor of terror, and it would be wise for them to back down from their belligerent posture,” Duffy 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.”

The Iran Deal Isn’t Worth Saving

October 8, 2017

The Iran Deal Isn’t Worth Saving, Gatestone InstituteJohn R. Bolton, October 8, 2017

(The chances of renegotiating the JCPOA to make it less harmful to America appear to be close to zero. — DM)

[T]he deal’s acolytes are actively obscuring this central issue, arguing that it is too arduous and too complex to withdraw cleanly. They have seized instead on a statutory requirement that every 90 days the president must certify, among other things, that adhering to the agreement is in America’s national-security interest. They argue the president should stay in the deal but not make the next certification, due in October.

This morganatic strategy is a poorly concealed ploy to block withdrawal, limp through Mr. Trump’s presidency, and resurrect the deal later. Paradoxically, supporters are not now asserting that the deal is beneficial. Instead, they concede its innumerable faults but argue that it can be made tougher, more verifiable and more strictly enforced. Or, if you want more, it can be extended, kicked to Congress, or deferred during the North Korea crisis. Whatever.

The only sure way to resume economic pressure on Iran is for President Trump to stop waiving the sanctions, as he did a few weeks ago. The power to act is in executive hands, as it should be.

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“Cut, and cut cleanly,” Sen. Paul Laxalt advised Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, urging the Philippine president to resign and flee Manila because of widespread civil unrest. The Nevada Republican, Ronald Reagan’s best friend in Congress, knew what his president wanted, and he made the point with customary Western directness.

President Trump could profitably follow Mr. Laxalt’s advice today regarding Barack Obama’s 2015 deal with Iran. The ayatollahs are using Mr. Obama’s handiwork to legitimize their terrorist state, facilitate (and conceal) their continuing nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile programs, and acquire valuable resources from gullible negotiating partners.

Mr. Trump’s real decision is whether to fulfill his campaign promise to extricate America from this strategic debacle. Last month at the United Nations General Assembly, he lacerated the deal as an “embarrassment,” “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”

Last month at the United Nations General Assembly, President Donald Trump lacerated the Iran nuclear deal as an “embarrassment,” “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.” (Image source: The White House)

Fearing the worst, however, the deal’s acolytes are actively obscuring this central issue, arguing that it is too arduous and too complex to withdraw cleanly. They have seized instead on a statutory requirement that every 90 days the president must certify, among other things, that adhering to the agreement is in America’s national-security interest. They argue the president should stay in the deal but not make the next certification, due in October.

This morganatic strategy is a poorly concealed ploy to block withdrawal, limp through Mr. Trump’s presidency, and resurrect the deal later. Paradoxically, supporters are not now asserting that the deal is beneficial. Instead, they concede its innumerable faults but argue that it can be made tougher, more verifiable and more strictly enforced. Or, if you want more, it can be extended, kicked to Congress, or deferred during the North Korea crisis. Whatever.

As Richard Nixon said during Watergate: “I want you to stonewall it, let them plead the Fifth Amendment, cover up, or anything else if it’ll save it — save the plan.”

Mr. Trump should not be deceived. The issue is not certification. The issue is whether we will protect U.S. interests and shatter the illusion that Mr. Obama’s deal is achieving its stated goals, or instead timidly hope for the best while trading with the enemy, as the Europeans are doing. It is too cute by half to employ pettifoggery to evade this reality.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 embodies the deal and includes two annexes: the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action itself, and a statement by the other negotiating parties on “transparency… creating an atmosphere conducive” to full JCPOA implementation. Resolution 2231, the JCPOA and the statement were all crafted word-for-word with Iran (with Russia and China acting as Tehran’s scriveners on the statement), as was the cash-for-hostages swap Mr. Obama sought desperately to conceal. This packaging is more than a diplomatic nicety. It means Iran’s ballistic-missile program is integral to the deal — fittingly, since Iran’s missiles would deliver its nuclear warheads.

The ayatollahs have neither the desire nor the incentive to renegotiate even a comma of the agreement. Why should they, when it is entirely to their advantage? Both Resolution 2231 and the statement, for example, “call upon” Iran to forgo activity regarding “ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” The U.N. secretary-general recently reported that Iran is violating this provision and implicitly lying about it. But the deal’s language allows Iran to claim solemnly that its missiles are not “designed” to carry nuclear warheads, an assertion whose verification would require polygraphs and psychologists, not weapons inspectors. This is one of many textual loopholes.

If the deal is vitiated, Tehran would not be freer than it is now to pursue nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Not only is the international compliance regime a far cry from Mr. Obama’s promised “anytime, anywhere” inspections, crucial language is vague and ambiguous. Mr. Obama’s negotiators crippled real international verification by pre-emptively surrendering on what were delicately termed “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program.

Moreover, simple economic logic suggests that Tehran’s scientists are probably enjoying Pyongyang’s hospitality, well beyond the International Atomic Energy Agency’s limited capability to detect. Even U.S. intelligence could be in the dark if Iran is renting a uranium enrichment facility under a North Korean mountain. It is specious to assert that the North Korean nuclear crisis should lead to deferring action on the Iran deal. The conclusion should be precisely the opposite: Failure to act decisively on Iran now worsens the global proliferation threat.

The IAEA has interpreted Mr. Obama’s possible-military-dimension concession as requiring new evidence before it attempts to visit Tehran’s military bases, where the real work on weaponization and missiles is taking place—if not under mountains in North Korea. Mr. Obama acquiesced in this emasculation of the IAEA’s will to inspect, making the agency today like the drunk looking for his car keys under a street lamp because the light is better there. This is a sorry caricature of a robust, Reaganesque “trust but verify” regime.

Perhaps the most inane argument is that Congress should decide the deal’s fate and whether to reimpose U.S. sanctions. If a president is unwilling to solve this kind of problem, he shouldn’t have applied for the job. Watching what has happened on failed legislative efforts to repeal and replace ObamaCare, can anyone doubt that Senate Democrats (joined by Rand Paul) would filibuster any legislative effort to renew sanctions? The only sure way to resume economic pressure on Iran is for President Trump to stop waiving the sanctions, as he did a few weeks ago. The power to act is in executive hands, as it should be.

Mr. Trump knows his mind on Iran. And as Mr. Laxalt said to Marcos, “the time has come” to act decisively.

John R. Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is Chairman of Gatestone Institute, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and author of “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad”.

This article first appeared in The Wall Street Journal and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

Trump considers ending Iran deal ahead of key deadline

September 18, 2017

Trump considers ending Iran deal ahead of key deadline, Washinton ExaminerSarah Westwood, September18, 2017

The October benchmark will be the first recertification to occur without Bannon and Gorka, two strong opponents of the JCPOA, on the president’s team.

Gorka said he was unsure if anybody left in the West Wing is pushing for a full decertification of the Iran deal. But he noted Trump will ultimately make his own decision, regardless of their counsel.

“I think the president is an army of one,” Gorka said. “My prediction is the president will not want to recertify.”

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President Trump is weighing whether to nullify the Iran nuclear deal next month, as proponents of the agreement rally to its defense ahead of a key deadline that will force Trump to reevaluate its future.

The president faces pressure to fulfill his campaign promise to end the Iran nuclear agreement, which he has called the “worst deal ever negotiated.” Known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the deal requires the State Department to certify to Congress every 90 days that Iran is still complying with the agreement under the terms ironed out by the Obama administration in 2015.

Some top Trump aides have urged the president to preserve the Iran deal at the next 90-day mark in October. H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have cautioned Trump against scrapping the JCPOA despite his deep skepticism of the agreement, a source familiar with the talks told the Washington Examiner.

But others close to the president have urged him to follow through on his threats to dismantle the deal and have attempted to craft a new strategy for dealing with Iran in the event Trump ends the JCPOA.

Sebastian Gorka, former strategist to the president, said Trump resisted the recertification process at the most recent 90-day deadline in July, when he requested more information from his aides about how he could end the agreement.

“The president didn’t want it recertified last time,” Gorka told the Washington Examiner.

The former White House adviser, who stepped down last month, suggested Trump did not undo the Iran deal this summer only because he had not yet received from his team a set of satisfying alternatives to the agreement.

“Last time, he didn’t do it because he hadn’t been given an adequate path, the scenario hadn’t been provided to him” to decertify the deal, Gorka said.

But soon after Trump requested a draft plan to dismantle the Iran deal, Gorka said he and another top aide tasked with overseeing the creation of the plan, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon left the West Wing and were unable to pass on their findings to the president.

“Those options were never presented to him because of Steve’s resignation and my resignation,” Gorka said.

Bannon had enlisted the help of at least one outside adviser to give Trump options should he choose to exit the Iran deal.

John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, wrote in a late August memo published in National Review that Bannon had approached him shortly after the most recent recertification and asked him to prepare a “game plan” for withdrawing from the JCPOA.

“[S]taff changes at the White House have made presenting it to President Trump impossible,” Bolton wrote of his Iran deal withdrawal plan. “Although he was once kind enough to tell me ‘come in and see me any time,’ those days are now over.”

Bolton’s memo advises Trump to conduct “early, quiet consultations,” beginning with private phone calls from the president, with key allies like Israel and countries that had signed onto the deal, such as France and Germany. Those early conversations should provide a friendly warning about the decision ahead and should help those countries understand why the administration was pulling back from the agreement, Bolton wrote. Then, Bolton advised Trump to undergo an expanded diplomatic campaign aimed at rallying support around the world for new sanctions against Iran once the deal was no longer in place.

Proponents of the JCPOA argue the independent inspections Iran must undergo as a condition of the deal have so far turned up no evidence of explicit violations, proving it has been a success. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the organization that perform the inspections, reportedly conducted more than 400 site visits in 2016 and has informed the international community that Tehran remains in compliance with limits on its centrifuges and uranium enrichment.

The Trump administration has publicly given little indication of where the president plans to go with the JCPOA in the coming weeks. Trump has already recertified the deal twice, although in April, he called for a sweeping review of whether the sanctions relief Iran won as part of the deal remains in the U.S. national interest.

“We’re continuing to conduct a full review of our Iran policy. That has certainly not changed,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters on Sept. 12. “During the course of the review — and I’ll say this again — that we will continue to hold Iran accountable for its malign activities.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley began earlier this month to make the administration’s case for breaking with the deal. Instead of focusing only on whether Iran remains within the parameters of the JCPOA, Haley argued, the U.S. should take a broader view of all Iranian provocations, including the activity of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, support for Hezbollah, and ballistic missile development, and decide on a more comprehensive Iran policy.

“The question of Iranian compliance is not as straightforward as many people believe,” Haley said during a speech to the American Enterprise Institute on Sept. 5. “It’s not just about the technical terms of the nuclear agreement. It requires a much more thorough look.”

The administration moved quickly to signal its low tolerance for Iranian aggression after Trump took office. By early February, Trump had sanctioned more than two dozen people and groups in response to a ballistic missile test Tehran conducted in late January, and his then-national security adviser, Gen. Mike Flynn, had announced that Trump planned to put Iran “on notice” over its provocations.

Trump’s State Department reissued waivers in May that continued to lift sanctions on Iran, which the Obama administration had granted in exchange for compliance with the JCPOA. But Trump also hit several Iranian individuals and entities in May with fresh sanctions related to their aggression outside the terms of the nuclear deal.

And the Trump administration issued a new round of sanctions in July aimed at IRGC-affiliated groups that had engaged in ballistic missile development, among other provocative activities.

Fred Fleitz, senior vice president for policy at the Center for Security Policy, said some critics of the deal have presented options that would keep the JCPOA in place while punishing Iran more severely for bad behavior outside of it.

“They’re trying to find a way to allow the president to do something so he can make a big announcement without pulling out,” Fleitz said of that camp, noting their overall objection for the recertification next month would be to “wrap this in a big, new, anti-Iran policy.”

“The jury is out on what the president is going to do,” Fleitz said.

But Trump has spent months excoriating the deal and blasting the Iranian regime for its aggression. Fleitz said it would make little sense for Trump to continue approving an agreement he has described as dangerous.

“I just think it’s ridiculous to say the deal’s not in our interest and stay in it,” Fleitz said.

Any effort to abrogate the JCPOA would face fierce opposition from the Iran deal’s supporters, all of whom characterize the agreement as the only thing standing between the regime and a nuclear weapon.

However, Trump would earn applause from some members of Congress for following through on his threats to Iran.

Republican lawmakers — including Sens. David Perdue, Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio — have urged Trump to reconsider the suspension of sanctions at the heart of the Iran deal.

Less than a month before the next recertification deadline, one source close to the administration told the Washington Examiner that Trump is “leaning towards decertifying” the Iran deal.

The October benchmark will be the first recertification to occur without Bannon and Gorka, two strong opponents of the JCPOA, on the president’s team.

Gorka said he was unsure if anybody left in the West Wing is pushing for a full decertification of the Iran deal. But he noted Trump will ultimately make his own decision, regardless of their counsel.

“I think the president is an army of one,” Gorka said. “My prediction is the president will not want to recertify.”