The New York Times reports: Iran, Russia and European leaders roundly condemned President Trump’s decision on Friday to disavow the Iran nuclear deal, saying that it reflected the growing isolation of the United States, threatened to destabilize the Middle East and could make it harder to resolve the growing tensions on the Korean penninsula.
The reaction was far from panicked, as Mr. Trump’s decision punts to Congress the critical decision of whether the United States will reimpose sanctions on Iran — a step that would effectively sink the deal.
But Mr. Trump also warned that unless the nuclear agreement was altered and made permanent — to prohibit Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons — he would terminate the agreement, an ultimatum that threw the future of the accord into question.
Though they avoided direct criticism of Mr. Trump, Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Emmanuel Macron of France said in a rare joint statement that they “stand committed” to the 2015 nuclear deal and that preserving it was “in our shared national security interest.”
“The nuclear deal was the culmination of 13 years of diplomacy and was a major step towards ensuring that Iran’s nuclear program is not diverted for military purposes,” they added.
Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s foreign minister, said that Mr. Trump was sending “a difficult and also from our point of view dangerous signal.”
He said that the Iran deal, and other diplomatic achievements, were necessary “to convince countries like North Korea, and maybe also others, that it is possible to create security without acquiring nuclear weapons.”
“Destroying this agreement would, worldwide, mean that others could no longer rely on such agreements — that’s why it is a danger that goes further than Iran,” he added. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: In a decision that could deepen the transatlantic rift, President Trump announced his withdrawal of presidential “certification” of the Iran nuclear deal Friday ahead of a Sunday deadline. Trump previously called the 2015 agreement disastrous and has argued that it isn’t in the United States’ best interests, though he has reluctantly certified Iran’s compliance in the past.
The deal’s decertification is expected to put Congress in charge of attaching new conditions that could either strengthen the deal or lead to its dismantlement. The latter scenario would probably result in the reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran. Even within Trump’s administration, however, many top officials agree with European leaders and businesses that preserving the deal would be the smarter choice.
So why are European leaders — who unlike some top officials within the Trump administration are more easily able to argue their cases — in favor of upholding the deal?
Europe thinks that a flawed deal is better than no deal
Even though there might be flaws, the current deal is better than no deal, European governments are arguing. “We have no indication of Iran violating its JCPoA commitments,” said an official in the German Federal Foreign Office, referring to the Iran deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by its abbreviation. French officials recently reached the same conclusion, and even U.S. officials have made the case that Iran is in compliance. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: European officials and business executives are quickly mobilizing a counter effort to the expected U.S. rebuff of the Iran nuclear accord, encouraging companies to invest in Iran while urging Congress to push back against White House moves that could hobble the deal.
The European stance — sketched out on the sidelines of an Iran-focused investment forum in Zurich this week — is an early signal of the possible transatlantic rifts ahead as America’s European partners show no sign of following the White House call to renegotiate the landmark pact with Tehran.
“The nuclear deal is working and delivering and the world would be less stable without it,” Helga Schmid, the secretary general of the European’s foreign policy service, said in a speech at the Europe-Iran Forum.
This amounted to a warning shot that Washington may once again find itself isolated from its key Western allies, who have already broke with the White House over issues such as President Trump’s call to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: President Trump plans to announce next week that he will “decertify” the international nuclear deal with Iran, saying it is not in the national interest of the United States and kicking the issue to a reluctant Congress, people briefed on an emerging White House strategy for Iran said Thursday.
The move would mark the first step in a process that could eventually result in the resumption of U.S. sanctions against Iran, which would blow up a deal limiting Iran’s nuclear activities that the country reached in 2015 with the U.S. and five other nations.
Trump is expected to deliver a speech, tentatively scheduled for Oct. 12, laying out a larger strategy for confronting the nation it blames for terrorism and instability throughout the Middle East.
Under what is described as a tougher and more comprehensive approach, Trump would open the door to modifying the landmark 2015 agreement he has repeatedly bashed as a raw deal for the United States. But for now he would hold off on recommending that Congress reimpose sanctions on Iran that would abrogate the agreement, said four people familiar with aspects of the president’s thinking.
All cautioned that plans are not fully set and could change. The White House would not confirm plans for a speech or its contents. Trump faces an Oct. 15 deadline to report to Congress on whether Iran is complying with the agreement and whether he judges the deal to be in the U.S. national interest. [Continue reading…]
Politico reports: administration officials are expected to press Republican lawmakers not to reimpose nuclear sanctions, which would effectively unravel the agreement in the eyes of the Iranian government and many U.S. allies.
In return, Trump officials, led by McMaster, plan to reassure congressional Republicans — virtually all of whom opposed the deal — with a pressure campaign against Iran.
That campaign is at the heart of McMaster’s policy review, due Oct. 31, which has been conducted quietly as the debate over the nuclear deal has played out in public. The new policy is expected to target Iranian-backed militias and terrorist groups, including Lebanon-based Hezbollah, and the financial web that facilitates them.
Of particular focus will be the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the administration will designate as a foreign terrorist organization, the first time the military wing of a regime will have earned the label. [Continue reading…]
John Glaser writes: What many observers have been nervously suspecting for months is now clear: President Donald Trump is intent on eviscerating the Iran nuclear deal, irrespective of the overwhelming evidence that it is successfully staving off Iranian nuclear weapons development.
According to an Associated Press report this week, the administration’s new tactic is to use the deal’s “snap inspections” provision, which allows inspectors to demand access to any undeclared sites in Iran reasonably suspected of engaging in off-the-books enrichment activity, to make Iran appear noncompliant. The problem is there is no clear evidence Iran is doing any illicit enrichment or development. So, Iran quite reasonably can be expected to refuse access, at which point the Trump administration can try to falsely depict Iran as violating the deal.
As Daryl Kimball, director of the Arms Control Association tweeted, the Iran deal’s “special access provisions were designed to detect & deter cheating not to enable false pretext for unraveling the agreement.” The administration is simply “seeking trumped up reasons to sink [the] Iran deal.” [Continue reading…]
Trita Parsi writes: Something extraordinary has happened in Washington. President Donald Trump has made it clear, in no uncertain terms and with no effort to disguise his duplicity, that he will claim that Tehran is cheating on the nuclear deal by October—the facts be damned. In short, the fix is in. Trump will refuse to accept that Iran is in compliance and thereby set the stage for a military confrontation. His advisors have even been kind enough to explain how they will go about this. Rarely has a sinister plan to destroy an arms control agreement and pave the way for war been so openly telegraphed.
The unmasking of Trump’s plans to sabotage the nuclear deal began two weeks ago when he reluctantly had to certify that Iran indeed was in compliance. Both the US intelligence as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency had confirmed Tehran’s fair play. But Trump threw a tantrum in the Oval Office and berated his national security team for not having found a way to claim Iran was cheating. According to Foreign Policy, the adults in the room—Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster—eventually calmed Trump down but only on the condition that they double down on finding a way for the president to blow up the deal by October.
Prior to the revelation of Trump’s Iran certification meltdown, most analysts and diplomats believed that Trump’s rhetoric on Iran was just that—empty talk. His bark was worse than his bite, as demonstrated when he certified Iran’s compliance back in April and when he renewed sanctions waivers in May. The distance between his rhetoric and actual policy was tangible. Rhetorically, Trump officials described Iran as the root of all problems in the Middle East and as the greatest state sponsor of terror. Trump even suggested he might quit the deal. [Continue reading…]
Note the carefully worded headline — seeking war — which should not be taken to mean Trump is intent on starting a war. The specter of war would surely be sufficient for his purposes.
But what are Trump’s purposes?
For Trump to be deeply vexed by the terms of the Iran deal, he’d have to know what those terms are and I doubt he’s even read the deal, let alone subjected it to critical analysis.
It seems much more likely that the only reason Trump has given the Iran deal any consideration whatsoever has nothing to do with geopolitics and everything to do with Barack Obama.
As unpredictable as Trump is, in this respect he has been absolutely consistent: in his determination to undo everything that has been dubbed Obama’s legacy.
He’s torn up the Paris climate accord; having failed to replace Obamacare he’s now intent on destroying it; and this leaves as unfinished business, the Iran deal.
For however long Trump remains in office he will regard his term as successful if it is seen as having erased Obama’s impact on history. In this way, Trump will have left his mark — with the sophistication of a dog.
The Trump doctrine is very simple since it can be reduced to two words: Donald Trump.
The Washington Post reports: Iran reentered the global economy Saturday as years of crippling international sanctions ended in exchange for the verified disabling of much of its nuclear infrastructure.
For Iran, implementation of the landmark deal it finalized with six world powers last summer means immediate access to more than $50 billion in long-frozen assets and freedom to sell its oil and purchase goods in the international marketplace. Tehran has hailed the deal as vindication of its power and influence in the world.
“Today marks the start of a safer world,” said Secretary of State John F. Kerry. “We understand this marker alone will not wipe away all the concerns the world has rightly expressed about Iran’s policies in the region. But we also know there isn’t a challenge in the entire region that wouldn’t become much more complicated, much worse, if Iran had a nuclear weapon.” [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Iran’s parliament voted Tuesday to support implementing a landmark nuclear deal struck with world powers despite hard-line attempts to derail the bill, suggesting the historic accord will be carried out.
The bill will be reviewed by Iran’s 12-member Guardian Council, a group of senior clerics who could return it to lawmakers for further discussion. However, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on key policies, has said it is up to the 290-seat parliament to approve or reject the deal.
Signaling the nuclear deal’s likely success, a spokesman for moderate President Hassan Rouhani’s administration welcomed the parliament’s vote and called it a “historic decision.”
“Members of parliament made a well-considered decision today showing they have a good understanding of the country’s situation,” Mohammad Bagher Nobakht said. “We hope to see acceleration in progress and development of the country from now on.”
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who helped facilitate the nuclear talks, also praised the vote as “good news” in a message on Twitter.
In the parliamentary session carried live by state radio, 161 lawmakers voted for implementing the nuclear deal, while 59 voted against it and 13 abstained. Another 17 did not vote at all, while 40 lawmakers did not attend the session.
A preliminary parliamentary vote Sunday saw 139 lawmakers out of the 253 present support the outline of the bill. But despite getting more support Tuesday, hard-liners still tried to disrupt the parliament’s session, shouting that Khamenei himself did not support the bill while trying to raise numerous proposals on its details. [Continue reading…]
The Wall Street Journal reports: Tensions between the U.S. and Iran, rather than easing as a result of July’s nuclear accord, are increasing over a wide spectrum of issues tied to the broader Middle East security landscape and to domestic Iranian politics, current and former U.S. officials say.
Just in the past two days, Iran has test-fired a ballistic missile and announced the conviction of American journalist Jason Rezaian, fueling suspicions the historic nuclear agreement has allowed Tehran’s Islamist clerics to step up their long-held anti-U.S. agenda.
Washington’s closest Mideast allies, particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia, are more broadly concerned about Iran’s ability to use the diplomatic cover provided by the nuclear accord—and the promised release of tens of billions of dollars of frozen oil revenues—to strengthen its regional position and that of its allies. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday banned any further negotiations between Iran and the United States, putting the brakes on moderates hoping to end Iran’s isolation after reaching a nuclear deal with world powers in July.
Khamenei, the highest authority in the Islamic Republic, already said last month there would be no more talks with the United States after the nuclear deal, but has not previously declared an outright ban. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: The Washington Post said on Monday that its correspondent Jason Rezaian, who has been jailed for 14 months in Iran on espionage charges, had been convicted after a trial that ended two months ago.
While the conviction could not be independently confirmed — a spokesman for the Iranian judiciary said on Sunday that a verdict had been handed down, but he did not disclose specifics — Iran appeared to be moving on Monday to position Mr. Rezaian’s case as part of a broader effort to get the release of Iranians detained in the United States.
On Monday, a state television news channel accused Mr. Rezaian, a dual American-Iranian citizen, of providing information to the United States about individuals and companies who were helping Iran circumvent international economic sanctions.
Iranian leaders, including President Hassan Rouhani, have raised the idea of a prisoner swap, suggesting that Mr. Rezaian, 39, could be exchanged for people who Tehran says are being held by or on the orders of the United States for violating sanctions. [Continue reading…]
Indira A.R. Lakshmanan writes: Covering the path to that deal was the main focus of my beat at Bloomberg News for the past seven years. I traveled more than 140,000 miles and spent months at hotels in Europe, New York, the Middle East and Central Asia, reporting on talks by Kerry and U.S. nuclear negotiators. Now that the deal is done, 12 current and former Obama administration officials intimately involved in the negotiations spoke to me last week, revealing new details for the first time. This story of the behind-the-scenes calculations along a seven-year road to a deal is based upon those accounts, as well as on hundreds of hours of reporting on the talks I did as they unfolded in recent years in capitals across three continents. [Continue reading…]
Ben Wikler writes: At midnight tonight [Thursday], the clock stops. The congressional review period for the Iran nuclear deal expires, and the opponents of the deal officially lose their chance to torpedo the landmark foreign policy achievement of the Obama era. Thanks to 42 Democratic and Independent Senators, the GOP-driven sabotage bill never even reached the president’s desk, and the United States has moved off of the path to war with Iran.
It’s a moment worth marking: the visible sign of a tectonic shift in the politics of American foreign policy.
The Iran deal’s political survival means many things at once. It signals the decline of AIPAC and the Likud lobby, a masterfully executed vote-whipping operation driven by the White House, Dick Durbin and Harry Reid in the Senate, and Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Rep. David Price, and Rep. Lloyd Doggett in the House.
But it also means something more, something largely missed in the many write-ups of how the victory was forged. The success of the Iran nuclear deal marks a crescendo of a politically mature constituency for peace and diplomacy. It’s a milestone in the ascendancy of a grassroots movement stirred to action by the Iraq war that has been building steadily since, a force that will shape the politics of war and peace in 2016 and the years beyond. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: Following a final failed attempt by Senate Republicans to kill the Iran nuclear agreement Thursday, the administration moved aggressively toward putting it into effect, naming a new czar to oversee implementation and announcing that President Obama would issue waivers suspending all U.S. nuclear-related sanctions on Oct. 18.
The waivers will not go into effect until what the agreement itself calls “Implementation Day,” when the International Atomic Energy Agency certifies that Iran has complied with all of its obligations — including removal of 98 percent of its enriched uranium stockpile, shutting down its underground enrichment facility and rendering inoperative the core of a plutonium-capable reactor.
Senior administration officials said those processes could take well into 2016 once they begin next month, under the terms of the deal completed in July. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: Not since George H.W. Bush was president has the American Israel Public Affairs Committee sustained such a public defeat on an issue it deemed an existential threat to Israel’s security.
But the Iran nuclear deal has Washington insiders wondering if the once-untouchable lobbying giant has suffered lasting damage to its near-pristine political reputation.
In fighting the deal, AIPAC and its affiliates mustered all of its considerable resources: spending tens of millions on television ads in the home states of undecided lawmakers and organizing a fly-in to blitz lawmakers on Capitol Hill – another is planned for next week when Congress returns from August recess to vote on a resolution of disapproval. But all that noise amounted to a humbling and rare defeat this week, when President Obama secured a strong enough plurality in the Senate to protect the pact from efforts to dismantle it. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Just before the Senate left town for its August break, a dozen or so undecided Democrats met in the Capitol with senior diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia who delivered a blunt, joint message: Their nuclear agreement with Iran was the best they could expect. The five world powers had no intention of returning to the negotiating table.
“They basically said unanimously this is as good a deal as you could get and we are moving ahead with it,” recalled Senator Chris Coons, the Delaware Democrat who lent crucial support to the deal this week despite some reservations. “They were clear and strong that we will not join you in re-imposing sanctions.”
For many if not most Democrats, it was that message that ultimately solidified their decisions, leading to President Obama on Wednesday securing enough votes to put the agreement in place over fierce and united Republican opposition. One after another, lawmakers pointed to the warnings from foreign leaders that their own sanctions against Iran would be lifted regardless of what the United States did. [Continue reading…]
Laura Rozen reports: When Hassan Rouhani was elected Iran’s president in June 2013 on a campaign platform of engaging with the West to reach a nuclear deal and improve Iran’s economy, he apparently didn’t know that Iran and the United States had already opened a secret diplomatic channel and held bilateral talks in Oman on the nuclear issue in March 2013.
“The first time I informed Rouhani of the secret negotiations with the United States was after his election to office,” former Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in an interview Aug. 4 with Iran Daily, adding that the incoming president and former Iranian nuclear negotiator was shocked when Salehi briefed him on the consultations ahead of his inauguration: “Rouhani was in disbelief.”
That is among the revelations that have emerged from interviews with senior Iranian and US officials in the wake of reaching of a final Iran nuclear accord by Iran and six world powers on July 14. The final deal — formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — is currently under a 60-day review by the US Congress. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and some pro-Israel lobby groups are pressing members of Congress to kill the deal by voting next month on a resolution of disapproval that seeks to block President Barack Obama from providing the US sanctions relief promised in the accord in exchange for significant steps Iran agreed to take to limit its nuclear program. Obama has vowed to veto any such resolution, and Democrats currently believe they have enough support to sustain his veto, if required. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Before the ink was even dry on the Iran nuclear deal, European leaders and executives were heading to the airport to restart trade with an Iranian market described in almost feverish terms as “an El Dorado” and potential “bonanza.”
Germany sent a delegation five days after the signing of the accord in Vienna on July 14. The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, arrived in Tehran on Wednesday. Italian government ministers will get there on Tuesday. Business leaders are to follow soon. They will include 70 to 80 top executives of France’s largest companies in September.
Despite the hints of a gold rush, however, the probable opening of Iran’s market holds substantial risks for businesses, and makes it more complicated diplomatically to pull back anew if Iran again pursues the capacity to make a bomb. [Continue reading…]
Shibley Telhami writes: Much of the criticism of the Iran nuclear deal has focused on the fact that it is entirely limited to the nuclear issue, which leaves Iran a free hand — and new resources — to continue policies that have angered regional and international players. There is no denying that if Iran plays its hands well and uses the next decade to build its economic and political potential, its regional influence is likely to expand, as is its capacity to do the sort of things that have angered Israel and Gulf Arab states.
The deal’s biggest critic may be Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called it “a historic mistake.” The irony is that the urgency with which the Obama administration pursued a nuclear deal was itself a product of Israeli actions. For Netanyahu, the deal was a good example of “be careful what you wish for.”
A little reminder is helpful here. To his credit, President Barack Obama succeeded early in his first term to get international support for sanctioning Iran — one critical reason for Iran’s willingness to take the negotiations more seriously. There have been deliberate and sustained efforts to continue pressuring Iran on multiple levels, including its behavior outside the nuclear issue. [Continue reading…]
Iran and the 5+1/E3+3 Powers (US, Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia) have at last completed a comprehensive nuclear agreement after years of discussions and threats of conflict. The deal sets out requirements for keeping Iran’s nuclear programme from producing nuclear weapons, and establishes a timeline for lifting sanctions that have pushed the country to the brink.
But how can the complexities of the 139-page document be understood, especially amid the already charged argument between those who support and those who oppose the deal? Here are the fundamental points.
This is a good deal for all sides
An excellent agreement is not based on one side “winning” and the other “losing”. It is based on each side compromising but still reaching important objectives.
For the first time, Iran gets international recognition of its enrichment of uranium for civil purposes. That legitimacy also brings the prospect of re-opened trade and investment links, vital for an economy which has been crippled by sanctions and mismanagement over the past decade.
The US, other powers, and the international community get defined limits on that enriched uranium. Put bluntly – and in defiance of the hyperbolic objections of the deal’s critics – Iran has been pushed far back from a militarised program for many years, even if it really was seeking nuclear weapons in the first place.
It no longer has any 20% uranium in a form that can be developed for a bomb, and even its 5% uranium is sharply reduced. Its nuclear facilities, including enrichment plants and a proposed heavy-water nuclear reactor, are under an extensive and tightly defined system of inspections. Some of its military sites will be visited to ensure that no traces of any past quest for nuclear weapons remain. Iran will finally adhere to the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The situation will still be far from “normal” given the years of tension. Nonetheless, for the first time, there is the prospect of Iran becoming part of the global challenge over nuclear proliferation, rather than a pariah.
The Guardian reports: Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has weathered some critical moments over the last quarter of a century – the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 when Tehran feared it would be the next target, the disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad which shook the legitimacy of his rule and the acrimonious years that followed as sanctions hit the country’s economy.
Perhaps the biggest decision of his career, however, was the one he had to make this week. The historic deal struck in Vienna could not have happened without Khameni’s blessing. He has the final say in all state matters in Iran and his decision may define his leadership.
On one side of the negotiating table of the 22-month talks sat seven parties struggling to secure a formula that would allow a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Tehran, which will have profound implications for the Middle East. On the other side, there was one man not actually present but whose view was decisive. No one doubted who that person was. [Continue reading…]
Opponents of the deal will spend millions of dollars on ads pushing the U.S. public and Congress to kill the deal in the next few days. But while a fortune already has been spent on nit-picking the ongoing talks, virtually nothing has been invested in developing an alternative, viable solution to limit Iran’s nuclear activities.
The reality is that the opponents of the deal don’t have a solution, they only have criticism. And for many, the real value of the nuclear deal has been lost amid the barrage of condemnation surrounding the talks.
It’s worthwhile to remind ourselves why this deal is so important — and why it would be a strategic mistake of Iraq War proportions to let this opportunity slip out of our hands. [Continue reading…]