Posted tagged ‘Trump and Iran’

Jared Kushner, Mohammed bin Salman, and Benjamin Netanyahu Are Up to Something

November 8, 2017

Jared Kushner, Mohammed bin Salman, and Benjamin Netanyahu Are Up to Something, Foreign Policy, November 7, 2017

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – JUNE 21: (ISRAEL OUT) In this handout photo provided by the Israel Government Press Office (GPO), Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Jared Kushner on June 21, 2017 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo by Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via Getty Images)

Mohammed bin Salman may or may not have recently visited Tel Aviv, where Israel’s Defense Ministry is located. But even if he never set foot in the HaKirya complex, there is little doubt that he has authorized ever closer relations with the Israelis, who view the Iranian threat exactly as he does. And the crown prince is not the only one Jared Kushner has been speaking to: Trump has given his son-in-law overall leadership on the peace process between Israel and the Arabs, and he is reportedly a welcome guest in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.

Given Kushner’s role, did Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman signal his plans when Kushner last met with him — and did Kushner then inform his father-in-law? And if so, how far will Washington, or more precisely, the White House, go to back up the Saudis if their confrontation with Iran gets hot? Or will Israel serve as Trump’s proxy? With this president, this crown prince, and the current prime minister of Israel, anything is possible.

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There seems to be a general consensus in Washington that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ongoing purge of princes and businessmen — including the wealthiest of them all, the business mogul and Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal — is motivated by his determination to consolidate his power, well before his father, King Salman, passes from the scene. He is in this regard a latter-day Adonijah, who had himself crowned king while his father King David was alive. And, like Adonijah, Mohammed bin Salman has made some very powerful enemies in the process. Unlike that Biblical figure, however, he has his father’s support and has taken care to arrest anyone who might threaten his drive to preeminence.

Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, was in Riyadh again only recently. It was his third trip to Saudi Arabia since Trump took office. He again met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom he appears to have established a close personal relationship. It should therefore come as no surprise that Trump, who shares the young crown prince’s antipathy toward Iran, has commented favorably on the recent developments in Riyadh.

It is said of Donald Trump that he has undermined America’s credibility with its allies. That may be the case in Europe, and perhaps in parts of Asia, though not in Japan or India. But it is certainly not the case in the Middle East. Tensions with Turkey and Egypt emanate primarily from the U.S. Congress, not from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Relations with Israel are better than they have been since the day former President Barack Obama took office. The same can be said of U.S. relations with both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates or, for that matter, Bahrain and Morocco. The force that unites them all is Iran, whose support for instability throughout the region received a financial fillip from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — that is, the Iran nuclear deal.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may or may not be a true reformer. His record on that score is not unequivocal. But he is determined to halt the expansion of Iranian influence, which now really does manifest itself as the Shiite crescent about which Jordan’s King Abdullah II forewarned over a decade ago. The crown prince recognizes that his country’s worst nightmare is slowly materializing: Iran is supplying the Houthi rebels to its south and dominates neighboring Iraq to its north. 

It foments instability in Bahrain and could well do the same in Saudi Arabia’s Shiite-majority Eastern Province. And if that were not enough, Iran’s influence is entrenched in Damascus and Beirut. It is particularly for that reason the Saudis forced their ally Saad Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister, to resign his office while on a visit to the Kingdom.

Mohammed bin Salman may or may not have recently visited Tel Aviv, where Israel’s Defense Ministry is located. But even if he never set foot in the HaKirya complex, there is little doubt that he has authorized ever closer relations with the Israelis, who view the Iranian threat exactly as he does. And the crown prince is not the only one Jared Kushner has been speaking to: Trump has given his son-in-law overall leadership on the peace process between Israel and the Arabs, and he is reportedly a welcome guest in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.

Given Kushner’s role, did Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman signal his plans when Kushner last met with him — and did Kushner then inform his father-in-law? And if so, how far will Washington, or more precisely, the White House, go to back up the Saudis if their confrontation with Iran gets hot? Or will Israel serve as Trump’s proxy? With this president, this crown prince, and the current prime minister of Israel, anything is possible.

Will Trump’s Greatest Triumphs Be in Foreign Policy?

November 8, 2017

Will Trump’s Greatest Triumphs Be in Foreign Policy? PJ MediaRoger L Simon, November 7, 2017

(Please see also, Trump strikes at the heart of the North Korean regime with speech. Here is a video of President Trump’s address to the South Korean National Assembly:

— DM)

Of course, it is highly unlikely that the president will get the deranged Kim to back down.  (The media, in its smug majesty, keeps repeating this as if we hoi polloi are so stupid as not to figure this out by ourselves.) But at least Trump is trying.  He is not repeating the same endless  State Department-approved ritual that has been tried and has failed so miserably for the last twenty-five years.

Perhaps only someone with little or no foreign policy experience would have the “ignorance” — or is it originality or just plain cojones — to try this.  The government bureaucrats in Virginia who so disdain Trump at the ballot box certainly wouldn’t.  They just want to go and on and on collecting their waterproof swamp pay checks without some orange-haired billionaire reminding them of their hollow lives.

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Watching the normally Trump-phobic talking heads at CNN bend themselves into pretzels to say something bad about our president’s foreign policy address in South Korea Wednesday (our Tuesday), you knew POTUS had to have scored a home run in front of that country’s National Assembly.

In fact, if you had viewed the event live on television yourself, as I did here in Los Angeles, you would have known that already because Trump’s speech was superb — at once as tough and determined toward the North Korean dictator as it was complimentary toward the miraculous achievements of the South.  You also got a good short history of the Korean Peninsula since the 1950s into the bargain. Kudos to speechwriters Stephen Miller and Michael Anton and whoever else might be involved.

Trump may have received setbacks by proxy at the ballot boxes in New Jersey and Virginia, but in the realm of foreign policy he is achieving signal success.  Who knew this would be the area of his greatest accomplishments, the area where he appeared to have no prior experience whatsoever?

Nevertheless, the far more trivial electoral defeats will no doubt dominate the news.  Already the same talking heads are placing blame for Virginia squarely on Trump, as if a Republican could ever again be victorious in a state whose northern part is rapidly turning into one giant government employee bedroom.  Call it Swampburbia.

On the foreign front, however, Trump is succeeding as no American president has in years. By taking the gloves off our troops, he has given ISIS the boot (at least in their quondam caliphate) and helped put in place conditions that are causing the current shakeup in Saudi Arabia that most see as salutary. This will enable the Saudis to modernize and confront Islamo-imperialist Iran before the mullahs run rampant over the entire Middle East — something any decent person should applaud, at least if he or she isn’t part of the former Obama administration.

In the next day or so Trump will facing his biggest foreign test yet… no, not Putin, though he is apparently on the schedule… Xi Jinping. China is obviously our primary adversary with Russia not much more than a sideshow, despite what Robert Mueller or Fusion GPS might tell us.  The battle for the 21st century will be between China and the U.S., possibly with India, not Russia, as a distant third.

Trump may have entertained Xi in Mar-a-Lago, but he’s on the Chinese leader’s home turf now and Chairman Xi has recently consolidated his power like no Chinese head of state in years, possibly since Mao.  The American president will have a complicated task in front of him, balancing the need to get Chinese engagement on North Korea and chastising Xi on trade and China’s continued expansionism.

This is more than most American presidents dare to take on — and so far Trump has been doing it with considerable aplomb.  With few exceptions, our media gives him little credit for this. They are so invested in Trump’s failure that even if he were to single-handedly get North Korea to denuclearize they would do their best not to acknowledge it, quickly switching attention to the latest poll, which no doubt will show Trump less popular than Jack the Ripper.

Of course, it is highly unlikely that the president will get the deranged Kim to back down.  (The media, in its smug majesty, keeps repeating this as if we hoi polloi are so stupid as not to figure this out by ourselves.) But at least Trump is trying.  He is not repeating the same endless  State Department-approved ritual that has been tried and has failed so miserably for the last twenty-five years.

Perhaps only someone with little or no foreign policy experience would have the “ignorance” — or is it originality or just plain cojones — to try this.  The government bureaucrats in Virginia who so disdain Trump at the ballot box certainly wouldn’t.  They just want to go and on and on collecting their waterproof swamp pay checks without some orange-haired billionaire reminding them of their hollow lives.

But forget about Virginia, Virginia.  As we used to say, “the whole world is watching.”

New US Policy Confronts Iranian Regime, Opening up New Opportunities for Change

November 4, 2017

New US Policy Confronts Iranian Regime, Opening up New Opportunities for Change, Iran News Update, November 4, 2017

It appears that the only options left with Iranian authorities are confronting, retreating, or buying time until the end of the Trump presidency. Still, the regime must face the other factors at work against it, like the social disaffection within Iran towards the regime, and the recognition of the main opposition movements — the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and People’s Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI) — by US and its allies in the region.

There is now an opportunity, with the current international situation, for the Iranian people and its main opposition movement (NCRI and PMOI), as well as for the people of Middle East and the whole world, for these factors that can lead to regime change and put an end to Iran’s destabilization activities in the Middle East.

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INU – Saudi Arabia and Egypt, important countries in the region, concerned about the destabilizing activities of the Iranian regime in the Arab world, have strongly welcomed the October 13th announcement by US President Trump his regarding his new policy against the destabilizing behavior of Iran in the Middle East, particularly its missile activities. The new policy emphasized making the Middl#$e East a region without weapons of mass destruction.

The Iranian opposition movement and its President-elect, Maryam Rajavi, is leading a campaign to isolate the regime in Tehran. It welcomes the new White House strategy that delegitimizes the Iranian regime. Rajavi called on Trump and the international community to work toward “the ultimate solution”, regime overthrow and the establishment of freedom and democracy in Iran.

By refusing to give approval to the nuclear deal, and designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on the list of terrorist organizations, the new US policy is targeting at the heart of the Iranian regime. According to the Washington Post the strategy marks an important change in US policy on the Middle East: a shift from focusing on war against ISIS and towards the end of Iran’s expansionism in the region.

The steps taken by the White House to carry out this policy include the visit by US Secretary of State to Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region, imposition of sanctions on Hezbollah for being the military wing of IRGC in Lebanon, and sanctions on companies, financial institutions and individuals related to the regime’s ballistic missiles programs.

According to F. Mahmoudi, Kurdish-Iranian political and human rights activist, in his Al Arabiya article, “Therefore, there is no reason for any objection by European countries to the new White House policy. European states are only thinking of securing their financial and economic interests with Iran, as not only the political and military power of the Iranian regime but also economic control lie in the hands of the IRGC.”

Sanctions against the Iranian regime, IRGC and Hezbollah will put European companies and banks in serious danger if they deal with this regime and its affiliates.

Additionally, the sanctions and the terrorist designation of IRGC have put Hasan Rouhani, who earlier presented himself to the West as a moderate, in a position of fully supporting the IRGC.

Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, reacting to the new US strategy, defended the IRGC’s presence in Iraq, Syria and Yemen and asked Europeans to stand strongly against Trump’s policy. However, it is believed that Europe will eventually choose the US instead of Iran and it will not sacrifice billion of dollars in trade benefits with the US. Additionally, Europe cannot accept the risk of Trump’s threat of leaving NATO.

It appears that the only options left with Iranian authorities are confronting, retreating, or buying time until the end of the Trump presidency. Still, the regime must face the other factors at work against it, like the social disaffection within Iran towards the regime, and the recognition of the main opposition movements — the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and People’s Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI) — by US and its allies in the region.

There is now an opportunity, with the current international situation, for the Iranian people and its main opposition movement (NCRI and PMOI), as well as for the people of Middle East and the whole world, for these factors that can lead to regime change and put an end to Iran’s destabilization activities in the Middle East.

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.

The Kurdish test

October 26, 2017

The Kurdish test, Israel Hayom, Clifford D. May, October 26, 2017

It’s essential that Trump make clear that further threats to the security and integrity of the Kurdish region will not be countenanced, and that any advance on Erbil will be met with stiff sanctions and, if necessary, force. The U.S. should insist that all military operations cease immediately and that negotiations between Baghdad and Kurdish leaders commence under American auspices.

Anything less will be interpreted as acquiescence to the Islamic republic’s drive to impose its brand of jihadism and Islamism on its neighbors and, in due time, far beyond.

To make America great again requires demonstrating that America is the best friend and the worst enemy any nation can have. During the Obama years, the opposite seemed to be the case. If aligning with the U.S. comes to be viewed as a chump’s game no matter who is in the White House, the U.S. will end up with no friends. It will have a growing list of emboldened enemies instead.

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In a just world, the Kurds would have a state of their own. Their culture is ancient. They speak a distinctive language. They have a homeland, Kurdistan, ruled for centuries by Arabs, Turks and Persians – foreigners and oppressors all.

After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, the victorious British and French created new Arab nation-states and put in motion a process that would lead to the restoration of a Jewish nation-state. But the Kurds – they got nothing.

In 1992 following the Gulf War, the U.S., along with Britain and France, set up a no-fly zone over the Kurdish region in northern Iraq. The goal was to protect the Kurds from Saddam Hussein whose genocidal war against the Kurds included a chemical weapons attack in the Kurdish city of Halabja four years earlier.

When Americans invaded Iraq in 2003, the Kurds greeted them as liberators. The Kurdistan Regional Government began to diligently nation-build, establishing the institutions and infrastructure necessary for independent statehood.

I don’t mean to oversell: The KRG has not become a democracy. Corruption is reportedly rampant – this is still the Middle East. Kurdish leaders, divided among themselves, have made mistakes.

Most recently, they held a referendum on independence. The results were no surprise. More than nine out of 10 Kurds want self-determination. The government in Baghdad won’t let them go without a fight. And the U.S., which is invested in a unitary Iraq, doesn’t want them to leave. Predictably, the referendum provoked the rulers of Turkey and Iran, who are adamant that their Kurdish subjects not get any big ideas.

Still, Kurdish society is open and tolerant. Kurdish schools actually educate young people. Nowhere in the so-called Muslim world will you find a people more pro-American. The Kurdish peshmerga forces have long been a reliable U.S. partner. In recent days, they have often – and bravely – taken point against Islamic State.

And now the Kurds are imperiled. Here’s what’s happened: On Oct. 13, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his Iran strategy. He declined to recertify the nuclear arms deal concluded by his predecessor. Among the reasons: Iran’s compliance cannot be verified so long as international inspectors are barred from the regime’s military facilities.

The president also is unwilling to turn a blind eye to Iran’s continuing development of missiles designed to deliver nuclear warheads, the “sunset” clauses that legitimize the mullah’s nuclear weapons program over time, and the terrorism that those mullahs sponsor. Notably, he designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization.

The Iranian response has been more than merely rhetorical. On Oct. 16, Iraqi forces, over which Iran’s rulers now exercise considerable influence, and Shia militias, many of them Iranian-backed, drove Kurdish troops out of oil-rich Kirkuk. According to credible reports, Maj. Gen. Ghasem Soleimani, the commander of foreign operations for the IRGC, was on hand to personally coordinate the operation.

Though Kirkuk is beyond the de facto borders of the KRG, Kurds have long viewed it as the Jerusalem of their homeland. It was a Kurdish-majority city until the Saddam regime determined to “Arabize” it, not least through population transfers.

In 2014, however, when Islamic State was on the march, Iraqi government forces abandoned Kirkuk. The peshmerga quickly filled the vacuum, defending the city and holding it ever since.

By orchestrating the taking of Kirkuk, Iran’s rulers are testing Trump. They are betting that, despite the tough talk, he won’t have the stomach to do what is necessary to frustrate their neo-imperialist ambitions.

In the end, they think he will attempt to appease and accommodate them as did former President Barack Obama. Trump reinforced that conviction when, in response to the fighting in Kirkuk, he said his administration was “not taking sides, but we don’t like the fact that they’re clashing.”

Over the weekend, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the Iranian Parliament’s director general for international affairs, tweeted that Iraqi government troops “will return Erbil to the united Iraq easier than Kirkuk, just within minutes.” Erbil is the capital of the KRG. On Tuesday, Shia militias launched an offensive against Kurdish troops near the Turkish frontier.

It’s essential that Trump make clear that further threats to the security and integrity of the Kurdish region will not be countenanced, and that any advance on Erbil will be met with stiff sanctions and, if necessary, force. The U.S. should insist that all military operations cease immediately and that negotiations between Baghdad and Kurdish leaders commence under American auspices.

Anything less will be interpreted as acquiescence to the Islamic republic’s drive to impose its brand of jihadism and Islamism on its neighbors and, in due time, far beyond.

To make America great again requires demonstrating that America is the best friend and the worst enemy any nation can have. During the Obama years, the opposite seemed to be the case. If aligning with the U.S. comes to be viewed as a chump’s game no matter who is in the White House, the U.S. will end up with no friends. It will have a growing list of emboldened enemies instead.

In a just world, Iran’s theocrats would have appreciated the fact that Obama reached out to them in a spirit of respect and reconciliation. In a just world, skilled diplomats would devise elegant power-sharing formulas that all sides would embrace in the interest of peace and stability. In a just world, the Kurds would have a right to self-determination.

But we don’t live in a just world. By now, that should be glaringly obvious.

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The ‎Washington Times.‎

Iran has given US ‘slap in the face’ with Kirkuk: expert

October 19, 2017

Iran has given US ‘slap in the face’ with Kirkuk: expert, RudawRebaz Ali, October 17, 2017

Iran has delivered the US a “slap in the face” by backing Hashd al-Shaabi’s march on Kirkuk within just 60 hours of US President Donald Trump’s speech, says Michael Pregent.

Speaking to Rudaw’s Rebaz Ali on Monday as events were unfurling in Kirkuk, Pregent expressed frustration over Washington’s stance on the Kurds, believing Washington is too close to the ruling Dawa party of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Answering questions from the media later in the day, Trump refused to take sides, simply stating “We don’t like the fact that they’re clashing. We’re not taking sides, but we don’t like the fact that their clashing.”

A Middle East analyst, Pregent is a former intelligence officer for the US Departments of Defense and State. He embedded as an advisor to the Peshmerga in Mosul in 2005-2006

Rudaw: Why is the US so silent on the situation happening in Kirkuk and Hashd al-Shaabi using American weapons against Peshmerga?

Michael Pregent: We’re surprised. We issued an order, not an order but a warning to Baghdad not to use military force against Kurdish positions in and around Kirkuk. Secretary Mattis said that, the president gave a very strong speech on Friday designating the Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization and the Hashd al-Shaabi are commanded by IRGC affiliates, Revolutionary Guard Corps affiliates. We pay money to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior and they’re shifting American resources and equipment to these Iranian-led militias. We had a statement today that the Baghdad spokesman said Qassem Soleimani is an advisor to the Hashd al-Shaabi.

We are watching. I know we’re watching. The DoD (Department of Defense) is aware, the Pentagon’s aware and we’re going to see the results tomorrow morning in DC of what happened in the last six hours and through the night. We’re likely to see that this is exactly what the United States cannot allow. But more importantly, this just shows that we’re losing leverage with Baghdad. If you warn Baghdad and they do it anyway, it’s because Tehran is telling them to do it and they are okay with it, they agree. But this is an opportunity now for the United States, especially after the president’s speech, where he was very tough on Iran, to do something because this is testing American resolve by a Qassem Soleimani-led force moving against our allies, allies we’ve had since the Gulf War, even before that, moving against our allies less than 60 hours after the president designated them a terrorist group*.

So tomorrow, Washington DC will wake up and see what happens and everybody hopefully holds their positions tonight, the Iraqi security forces stop, the Hashd al-Shaabi are declared an illegal military, an illegal militia and moved out. But tomorrow, veterans of the Iraq war, myself and others, veterans in Congress that I speak to will be making our voices as loud as we can for the US to do something. This is, as an American who fought with the Peshmerga, to see this is… uh… I don’t have any words. So, we’ll see what happens tomorrow.

We just saw a statement from the Pentagon asking both sides to be calm and to restrain from using violence, but in fact, it’s the Hashd al-Shaabi who started attacking the Peshmerga and they started the violence that the Pentagon is talking about. What do you think about that?

Well, I saw the statement and the language I didn’t like was ‘we urge both sides to stop, yet we still condemn the Kurdish referendum’. That language actually gives Tehran, Baghdad, and Ankara a green light to do these types of actions. The United States needs to have a strong statement. The vote was a democratic vote. The vote was not an illegal vote. It should not be met with force. It should not be met with violence. I don’t believe that that was crafted by Mattis. I believe it was crafted by the DoD communications department, because the language is not Mattis-like. The language is very Brett McGurk-like… and [it’s a problem].

So people like yourself, the veterans, how do you think they’re going to respond to this? You fought against this in Iraq for years and now you see this happening. This must be frustrating for you and people like yourself. What do you think you need to do? 

Well, the thing we’ve been fighting for for two years is the designation of the Revolutionary Guard corps as a terrorist organization and the decertification of the Iran deal. We got that Friday. That needs to mean something. Our Sunni regional allies heard the president’s message. It was very strong. This should restore confidence in our regional allies.

Pillar number one is to neutralize the Revolutionary Guard Corps’ destabilizing activities across the region. The Kirkuk operation is a destabilizing activity. You can’t give a tough speech and then allow Iran less than 60 hours later to move against an ally. So I would hope that veterans are upset as well, civilians alike.

The Kurdish people are built for western democracy support. They’re built for democratic support. They’re tolerant, they’re accepting, and I find it ironic that the United Nations and other non-government organizations choose to operate out of Kurdistan in order to help Iraqis throughout. When there’s instability in Baghdad, when ISIS invaded Iraq, people go to Kurdistan. Why do they go to Kurdistan? Because it’s an accepting region, it takes care of its own security. It’s an ally of the West. There’s problems, yes, but let’s talk about the problems. We don’t use military action to solve them.

We saw the speech by the president on Iran, but now we see that Qassem Soleimani has been going around in Iraq, meeting with the prime minister and ordering the Hashd al-Shaabi and other militias against the Kurdish Peshmerga, as you said, less than 60 hours after the president’s speech. What does that say about the US involvement in Iraq? Do you think after this or tomorrow, are we going to see less support for the government of Iraq and Prime Minister Abadi from the US government, after what they have seen in the last couple of days, the Iraqis dealing with Qassem Soleimani and the IRGC?

Well, this shows the president that the Iranians didn’t take him seriously. They heard the speech and they’re scoffing at it. This is a slap in the face to a US president by conducting these types of activities after this speech.

Baghdad is part of this, so Baghdad is doing the same thing. I don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors, but I do know that Secretary Mattis issued a statement and Abadi promised the United States he would not conduct an offensive operation against the Kurds. That operation is ongoing now. I truly believe that even if Abadi didn’t want to do it, the Iranians could still make this happen. The Quds force commander on the ground, I don’t know his name, but he actually told KDP officials and PUK officials, “Listen, either work with us or we can bring the whole Iraqi army here.”

So this is an Iranian commander telling Kurdish political parties that we can tell the Iraqi army what to do, we can tell the Iraqi government what to do. And I think that everybody believes that, because we’re seeing it. We’re witnessing it.

So you said this is a slap in the face for President Trump. How do you think President Trump would react to this slap in the face? Do you think that he’s going to accept it?

I don’t think President Trump knows he’s been slapped in the face. The president needs to know who the Kurds are. The president needs to know that the Kurds have been our strongest US ally in Iraq. That the Kurds have helped us fight ISIS, they helped us decimate al-Qaeda. They’ve protected Sunnis, Christians, Shiite nationalists from reprisal attacks from Shia militias as civilians fled to Kurdistan after the violence in Baghdad in 2005-06.

I was actually in Duhok and a family came up to me and said, ‘We can’t talk to you in Baghdad, and thank you, because we’ll get targeted, but thank you for being here.’ I didn’t know who they were. I said ‘Where are you from?’ They said, ‘We’re from Sadr city.’ So that means something.

But I think the president needs to know who the Kurds are and I don’t think he does. [Secretary James] Mattis does, H.R. McMaster does, I don’t think [Rex] Tillerson does. And I think Brett McGurk knows exactly who the Kurds are, but he’s already picked sides. And that’s not coming from me necessarily. That’s coming from everybody I’ve talked to on the ground in Iraq, from Sunni nationalists, Kurdish nationalists, Shiite nationalists, they say the biggest problem is the US government is listening more to the Dawa party than they are to anybody else in Iraq.

What’s happening now is all going on in front of the US government’s eyes. They see how Prime Minister Abadi and the government of Iraq have been declining calls for negotiation from the KRG in order to avoid violence. There has been a blockade, international flights have been banned. And the KRG have been trying to do everything to start negotiations in order to avoid violence, but Prime Minister Abadi and the government in Iraq have declined that. What do you think the United States should do? Why have they been so silent against this?

I think the biggest problem is we’ve given the Iraq portfolio to a man from the Department of State – to Brett McGurk. Now Brett McGurk told DC, Baghdad, Tehran, and Ankara that he could stop the Kurdish people from voting, that the US had enough leverage with the Kurds to get them to stop. Last night, he probably told DC that he had enough leverage with Baghdad to get Baghdad to stop, to not go into Kirkuk. Either that, or he’s signaled some sort of green light.

I’m frustrated by this, because this does not bode well for the relationships we’ve established with Kurds. The Peshmerga that I know, I’ve known for almost 12 years now, and I don’t ever want to put a time limit on a friendship or an alliance. And I think this is a moment where the United States… you know we got the strong statement on Iran, we got a designation of the IRGC, we’re talking about their destabilizing activities. This is what it looks like less than 60 hours after the speech. This is a provocation. This is a slap in the face.

How do you envision the future relationship between the US and the Kurdish government after what’s happening now? A lot of people believe that they have been betrayed by the US government.

Well if this continues and Baghdad conducts a military operation like they have against ISIS-held territory, if you start seeing mortars and artillery like we’re seeing tonight in – what’s the name of the city?

Tuz.

Yes. We’re seeing that now. I would hope that this gets taken care of tomorrow, that this stops. But our relationship with Kurdistan – basically, every US soldier that has ever worked with a Peshmerga is now looking to our US government, saying ‘Don’t do this to this ally of ours, you can’t do it.’ I don’t even have the words for this.

* On Friday, President Trump authorized sanctions on the IRGC for its support of terrorism, but stopped short of designating the force a terror organization.

Clare Lopez: Trump Takes Aim at Iran’s ‘Clandestine Nuclear Weapons Program’

October 18, 2017

Clare Lopez: Trump Takes Aim at Iran’s ‘Clandestine Nuclear Weapons Program’, Breitbart,  Clare M. Lopez, October 17, 2017

AFP

Iran remains a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and is obligated under the terms of that agreement to disclose all nuclear sites to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Of course, it never has. In fact, of all the facilities now known to be part of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, not one was ever reported first by the Iranian regime itself.

Denying re-certification for the Iranian nuclear deal is an important first step as is the Treasury Department designation and sanctioning of the IRGC. Designating the IRGC to the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list and complete withdrawal from the JCPOA should follow. Seeking the support of our closest allies and partners to implement a follow-on set of measures, including sanctions and increasingly coercive commercial, diplomatic, legal, military, and political steps, is also critical if we are to ensure that this Tehran regime never has the ability to deploy deliverable nuclear weapons that threaten any of us.

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President Donald J. Trump put the Iranian regime on notice with his speech last week: the time when the United States (U.S.) government would turn a blind eye to its decades-long drive for deliverable nuclear weapons is over. Citing a long litany of destabilizing, rogue behavior on the part of Tehran, the president announced he would not re-certify Iranian compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or Iran nuclear deal.

That is a necessary and first step, but must be followed up with a clear U.S. strategy for ending Iranian support to Islamic terror proxies and the criminal regime of Syrian Bashar al-Assad, its reckless regional aggression, human rights abuses against its own people, and above all, development of an entire range of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) – biological, chemical, and nuclear – as well as the ballistic missiles on which to deliver them.

By making explicit references to “Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program” and “illicit nuclear program,” President Trump acknowledged what many have known for a long time: there has never been a time since 1988, when the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini first ordered his Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to “get the bomb,” that Iran has not had a clandestine nuclear weapons program. The world first learned publicly about that illicit program in 2002, when the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) blew the lid off the program with revelations about places whose names are now well-known, including Natanz and Isfahan. Iran remains a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and is obligated under the terms of that agreement to disclose all nuclear sites to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Of course, it never has. In fact, of all the facilities now known to be part of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, not one was ever reported first by the Iranian regime itself.

One of the most glaring problems with the terms of the JCPOA is that there is no obligatory mechanism under which the Iranian regime is compelled to open facilities to IAEA inspection where it is suspected that nuclear weapons work is being done. Iran’s leadership has made quite clear in numerous public statements that it will never allow inspectors onto military sites it declares off-limits. Unfortunately, this means there is no chance under the terms of the JCPOA for IAEA inspectors ever to clear up the many unresolved “Possible Military Dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program – involving nuclear warhead work, explosive charges to initiate the implosion sequence of a nuclear bomb, and more – that were enumerated in the November 2011 quarterly report on the Iranian nuclear program by the IAEA Board of Governors.

On 11 October 2017, the NCRI issued a new report, entitled “Iran’s Nuclear Core: Uninspected Military Sites,” which reveals four more of the clandestine sites where the Iranian military is conducting nuclear weapons R&D. While Iran’s alarming and destabilizing geo-strategic behavior certainly provides more than enough reason for the president to find the JCPOA not in America’s national security interests, it is the Iranian regime’s blatant violation of the nuclear NPT as well as material breaches of the JCPOA (especially section T, that deals with nuclear warhead work), that fully justify U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal entirely.

Denying re-certification for the Iranian nuclear deal is an important first step as is the Treasury Department designation and sanctioning of the IRGC. Designating the IRGC to the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list and complete withdrawal from the JCPOA should follow. Seeking the support of our closest allies and partners to implement a follow-on set of measures, including sanctions and increasingly coercive commercial, diplomatic, legal, military, and political steps, is also critical if we are to ensure that this Tehran regime never has the ability to deploy deliverable nuclear weapons that threaten any of us.

Clare M. Lopez is the Vice President for Research and Analysis at the Center for Security Policy.