Saudi Arabia orders its citizens out of Lebanon, raising fears of war

The New York Times reports: Saudi Arabia ordered its citizens to leave Lebanon on Thursday, escalating a bewildering crisis between the two Arab nations and raising fears that it could lead to an economic crisis or even war.

The order came after Saudi Arabia had stepped up its condemnations of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shiite militia that is the most powerful political and military force in Lebanon, and asserted that Lebanon had effectively declared war on Saudi Arabia.

The developments plunged Lebanon into a state of national anxiety, with politicians, journalists and even parents picking up their children at school consumed with the question of what could come next.

While analysts said a war was unlikely — because Saudi Arabia was not capable of waging one and Israel did not want one now — they worried that with so many active conflicts in the region, any Saudi actions that raised the temperature increased the risk of an accidental conflagration.

“There are so many fuses, so little communication, so many risks of something exploding, that there’s little chance of something not going wrong,” said Robert Malley, the former director of Middle East policy in the Obama White House and now vice president for policy at the International Crisis Group. “Everything needs to go right to maintain calm.”

The backdrop to the crisis was a series of steps by Saudi Arabia in recent days to confront its ascendant regional rival, Iran, and the surprise arrests of about 200 Saudis, including 11 princes, in what the government describes as an anti-corruption campaign but which critics see as a consolidation of power by the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

Lebanon had already been drawn into the crisis in two ways: After a rocket was fired from Yemen at the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on Saturday, Saudi officials accused Hezbollah and Iran of aiding in the attack. And they declared that the attack amounted to a declaration of war by Lebanon, a leap given that the weak Lebanese state does not control Hezbollah.

At the same time, the Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri, unexpectedly flew to Riyadh and declared his resignation there on Saturday. Suspicions were growing among officials and diplomats in Beirut on Thursday that he had not only been pressured to do so by Saudi Arabia but was being held there against his will.

Despite the worries, analysts, officials and diplomats said that although they were not privy to the thinking of the Saudi crown prince, it was far-fetched that Saudi Arabia would launch a military action against Lebanon, since it is already overstretched in a war it started two years ago against Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen.

And Saudi Arabia has expressed displeasure with Lebanon this way before: This was at least the fourth time in five years that it asked its citizens to leave Lebanon. [Continue reading…]

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Lebanon’s plunge into political crisis raises specter of war with Israel

The Washington Post reports: Even for a country often used as a battleground by regional powers and their proxies, the sudden resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri has opened a new period of political uncertainty and fear in Lebanon.

The tiny nation has often been caught between the political agendas of more-powerful countries. But it now appears more vulnerable to conflict as Israel and Saudi Arabia try to isolate their shared enemy, the Iran-backed movement Hezbollah.

Hariri, a Sunni politician backed by the Saudis, cited Iranian meddling in Lebanese politics as the reason for his decision to step down.

But the fact that he made his announcement in a televised speech from Saudi Arabia left little doubt that his regional patron must have played a role in a move that caught even his aides off guard. [Continue reading…]

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Deep in Yemen war, Saudi fight against Iran falters

Reuters reports: At a hospital in the Yemeni city of Marib, demand for artificial limbs from victims of the country’s war is so high that prosthetics are made on site in a special workshop.

A soldier with an artificial arm hitches up his robe to reveal a stump where his leg once was. He is angry that authorities have done little to help him since he was wounded.

“I was at the front and a mortar exploded near me. We fought well, but now I get no salary, no support from the government or anyone. They just left us,” said Hassan Meigan.

More than two years into a war that has already left 10,000 dead, regional power Saudi Arabia is struggling to pull together an effective local military force to defeat the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement that has seized large parts of Yemen.

The dysfunction is a reminder to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that his campaign to counter arch-enemy Iran in the Middle East, including threats against Tehran’s ally Hezbollah, may be hard to implement. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi Arabia charges Iran with ‘act of war,’ raising threat of military clash

The New York Times reports: Saudi Arabia charged Monday that a missile fired at its capital from Yemen over the weekend was an “act of war” by Iran, in the sharpest escalation in nearly three decades of mounting hostility between the two regional rivals.

“We see this as an act of war,” the Saudi foreign minister, Adel Jubair, said in an interview on CNN. “Iran cannot lob missiles at Saudi cities and towns and expect us not to take steps.”

The accusation, which Iran denied, came a day after a wave of arrests in Saudi Arabia that appeared to complete the consolidation of power by the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, 32. Taken together, the two actions signaled a new aggressiveness by the prince both at home and abroad, as well as a new and more dangerous stage in the Saudi cold war with Iran for dominance in the region.

“Today confrontation is the name of the game,” said Joseph A. Kechichian, a scholar at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, who is close to the royal family. “This young man, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is not willing to roll over and play dead. If you challenge him, he is saying, he is going to respond.”

The accusations raise the threat of a direct military clash between the two regional heavyweights at a time when they are already fighting proxy wars in Yemen and Syria, as well as battles for political power in Iraq and Lebanon. By the end of the day Monday, a Saudi minister was accusing Lebanon of declaring war against Saudi Arabia as well.

Even before the launching of the missile on Saturday, which was intercepted en route to Riyadh, the Saudi capital, the crown prince had staged another surprise demonstration of the kingdom’s newly aggressive posture toward Iran and Lebanon. The prince hosted a visit from Saudi Arabia’s chief Lebanese client, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who stunned the region by announcing his resignation, via video from Riyadh, in protest against Iran’s undue influence in Lebanese politics.

Even some of Mr. Hariri’s rivals speculated that his Saudi sponsors had pressured him into the statement. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia, said over the weekend that the Saudis had all but kidnapped Mr. Hariri. Mr. Nasrallah urged Mr. Hariri to return to Lebanon for power-sharing talks “if he is allowed to come back.”

On Monday, Saudi Arabia released a photograph of Mr. Hariri meeting with King Salman that was widely seen as an effort to contradict the theory that the prime minister was effectively a hostage.

The Saudi claims that Iran had provided the missile could not be independently verified.

Mr. Jubair, the foreign minister, said the missile had been smuggled into Yemen in parts, assembled in Yemen by operatives from Hezbollah and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran, and fired from Yemen by Hezbollah.

A statement from the Saudi Arabian news agency said “experts in military technology” had determined from the remains of that missile and one launched in July that both had come from Iran “for the purpose of attacking the kingdom.”

Citing allegations of Hezbollah’s role, Thamer al-Sabhan, minister of state for Persian Gulf affairs, said Monday that Saudi Arabia considered the missile attack an act of war by Lebanon as well. [Continue reading…]

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A resignation, detentions and missiles: 24 hours that shook the Middle East

CNN reports: When 32-year-old Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman rose to power two years ago, many predicted that change was afoot. The events of November 4 have shown that change would not just be swift, but also seismic, extending unremittingly beyond the kingdom’s boundaries.

A 24-hour sequence of political bombshells began on Saturday afternoon, when Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation from the Saudi capital of Riyadh, blindsiding his country’s political establishment. Hours later, Saudi Arabia’s official news agency reported that the country’s military had intercepted a Yemen-borne ballistic missile over Riyadh. Even as images of the blast were flashing on TV sets around the region, similarly dramatic news began to trickle in: Some of Saudi Arabia’s most high-profile princes and businessmen were being sacked and detained in an anti-corruption drive led by bin Salman.
The events serve as an opening salvo for a new period in the region’s crisis-ridden history, analysts say. They represent an escalation in a yearslong proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, threatening to activate new fronts in the region, with the Saudi show of force beginning with a sweeping consolidation of power from within.

On Friday, ISIS’ last strongholds in Iraq and Syria fell. It marked a major milestone in a fight that saw archrivals converge on the extremist group until its so-called caliphate was on its last legs. On Saturday, regional powerhouses appear to have trained their sights on one another.

“I think the end of ISIS, the so-called Islamic State, does not really mean the end of geostrategic struggles,” London School of Economics Professor Fawaz Gerges told CNN’s George Howell.

“On the contrary, the dismantling of the so-called caliphate will basically intensify the geostrategic struggles between the pro-Iranian camp led by Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and its allies in the region, including the United States.” [Continue reading…]

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Lebanese PM Hariri resigns, attacking Iran, Hezbollah

Reuters reports: Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri resigned on Saturday, saying he believed there was an assassination plot against him and accusing Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of sowing strife in the Arab world.

His resignation, a big surprise to Beirut’s political establishment, brought down the coalition government and plunged Lebanon into a new political crisis.

It thrust Lebanon into the front line of a regional competition between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi‘ite Iran that has also buffeted Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain. A Saudi government minister said Hariri was in Riyadh to ensure his safety.

Hariri, who is closely allied with Saudi Arabia, alleged in a broadcast from an undisclosed location that Hezbollah was “directing weapons” at Yemenis, Syrians and Lebanese. [Continue reading…]

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Iraq is not Iran’s puppet

Renad Mansour writes: Iraq is, once again, deeply embroiled in crisis. For three years, the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdish region fought together to oust the Islamic State. Now, following the Sept. 25 referendum on independence for the region, they are pointing their guns at each other.

The dynamics in Iraq are far from simple, with intra-Kurdish rivalries; ethnic, sectarian and political divisions in Baghdad; and a war against the Islamic State barely in the rearview mirror. And yet too many people in Washington and elsewhere seem myopically focused on just one factor: Iran, which they view as controlling and dominating the situation in Iraq in pursuit of an ambitious, expansionist foreign policy. That’s far from the full story.

Since coming to power in 2014, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq has worked to push back against Iranian hegemony. Although he is (like the Iranian government) Shiite, he professes to be first and foremost an Iraqi nationalist. And he is certainly not an adherent of the Iranian government’s revolutionary ideology.

This doesn’t make Mr. Abadi unique. Most Iraqi Shiites likewise don’t want to see their country become Tehran’s puppet. The populist Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr now openly opposes Iranian dominance. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Iraqi who is the global spiritual leader of all Shiites, has criticized Tehran’s interference, and in September, he refused to meet with a top Iranian cleric who had been dispatched by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Even the Popular Mobilization Forces, a constellation of some 60 Shiite-dominated paramilitary groups in Iraq, are divided: Some are aligned with Iran, others oppose it.

To balance Iranian influence, Mr. Abadi has sought to build alliances with other local, regional and international players. He has visited Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional nemesis, twice in recent months and has established strong ties with Washington.

The prime minister has also become increasingly popular with Iraq’s Sunnis, who are wary of Iran’s deep penetration into the Iraqi state since 2003 and now see Mr. Abadi as a conciliatory figure and a safeguard against too much Iranian influence.

The evolution of the fight against the Islamic State has revealed this balancing act. When the Islamic State swept across Iraq in the summer of 2014, Iran came to the rescue, quickly providing material and tactical support. Later, when Iraqi forces were advancing against the Islamic State, Mr. Abadi invited a United States-led coalition to join the fight — despite strong Iranian objections. And in more recent battles, Mr. Abadi has kept Iranian proxies back from the front lines.

This is some of the context that too many in Washington are ignoring right now as they view the tension between Baghdad and the Kurds as one piece in an Iranian gambit for control. [Continue reading…]

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Kurds defeated, displaced and divided after Iraq reclaims oil-rich Kirkuk

Martin Chulov reports: When the guns fell silent on the Kirkuk-Erbil road, just after noon on Friday, a fresh border had been scythed through the oil-rich soil – and a new line of influence carved across northern Iraq.

Their gun barrels still hot, vanquished peshmerga forces began another withdrawal a few miles closer to the seat of government in the now shrunken boundaries of Iraqi Kurdistan. A few miles south, closer to Kirkuk, Iraqi forces were digging in, their conquest of the entire province complete, and their five-day sweep through the rest of the north having seized up to 14,000 sq km from the Kurds, with a minimum of bother.

Baghdad has now reasserted its authority over territory that the Kurds occupied outside their mandated borders, most of which they had claimed during the three-year fight against the Islamic State (Isis) terrorist group.

The extraordinary capitulation – which followed an indepedence referendum that was supposed to strengthen their hand – has not only shattered Kurdish ambitions for at least a generation; it has also laid bare an evolving power struggle in Iraq, and a regional dynamic that is fast taking shape in the wake of the shattered so-called caliphate declared by the Isis leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in mid-2014.

Lining up to claim the rout of the Kurds were Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, and Iran’s omnipresent general, Qassem Suleimani, whose influence in the days before last weekend’s attack was key to shaping the aftermath even before a shot had been fired. [Continue reading…]

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America has become dispensable in Iraq

Emma Sky writes: “When the fighting breaks out between Arabs and Kurds, whose side will the Americans be on?” This was the message that Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic party (KDP), instructed his chief of staff to have me convey to senior U.S. officials in Baghdad in 2010. I was serving as the political adviser to General Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. Nuri al-Maliki, then the prime minister of Iraq, and Barzani, concerned by rising tensions between Arabs and Kurds ahead of the 2010 national elections in Nineveh province, had asked General Odierno for help in preventing conflict. We had devised a system of joint check points to facilitate cooperation between the Iraqi Security Forces, the Kurdish Peshmerga, and the U.S. forces, and to ensure all forces remained focused on defeating al-Qaeda in Iraq.

A key part of the plan was to ensure freedom of movement for Atheel Nujaifi, Nineveh’s Sunni Arab governor, who had been elected the previous year on an agenda to roll back the gains the Kurds had made in the province since 2005. Determined to test the new security arrangements at the earliest, Governor Nujaifi decided in early February 2010 to make a trip to the town of Tel Kaif, in a part of the province which the Kurds lay claim to. Over Kurdish objections, the U.S. forces decided that the visit should go ahead. In response, the Kurds brought down reinforcements and tried to prevent the trip from taking place. Crowds of Kurds gathered to block the governor’s convoy; in the resulting melee, shots were fired. The Iraqi police detained 11 Kurds for incitement, and on suspicion of attempting to assassinate Governor Nujaifi.

I was awakened at 2 a.m. by a phone call from Murat Ozcelik, the influential Turkish ambassador to Iraq. He had received a report from Ankara that the Kurds had invaded Mosul, the largest city in Nineveh province. I investigated and soon discovered that there had been no invasion; instead, Kurdish forces had kidnapped a number of Arabs in Nineveh in retaliation for the arrest of the Kurds. President Barzani was furious. Every time he turned on his television, he saw footage of American tanks in a Kurdish village, and F-16s flying overhead. The Kurds had been highly supportive of the United States—not a single U.S. soldier had been killed by a Kurd. So why, he asked, had the Americans behaved this way towards Kurds?

Back in 2010, we did not need to answer Barzani’s question. We could mediate a deal whereby the kidnapped Arabs were swapped for the Kurds accused of attempting to assassinate the Governor of Nineveh. We had close relations with the Turks, and convinced them to back off. For once, everyone seemed happy with this solution, and things calmed down. We were the indispensable ally.

And then we weren’t. And Iran was.

Iran increased its influence during the negotiations to form a government in Iraq after the tightly contested 2010 elections. Iraqiyya, led by Ayad Allawi, won 91 seats; Maliki’s bloc, the State of Law, came in second with 89 seats. After much heated internal debate, Vice President Joe Biden determined that Washington would support the incumbent, insisting that Maliki was “our man,” an Iraqi nationalist, and would permit a contingent of U.S. forces to remain in Iraq post-2011 when the security agreement expired. But despite considerable arm-twisting, the United States could not convince its allies to support a second term for Maliki. Sensing an opportunity, Qassim Suleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Council, pressured Muqtada al-Sadr, an influential and anti-American Shia cleric, to support Maliki on the condition that all U.S. troops would pull out of Iraq and that Sadrists would be given government positions.

Thus it was that Iran ensured Maliki remained as Prime Minister. The Obama administration, in its rush for an exit from Iraq, gave up the American role of “balancer,” of moderator, of protector of the political process, withdrawing its soft power along with its hard.

Secure in his seat for a second term, Maliki pursued a series of sectarian policies. He accused Sunni politicians of being terrorists, forcing them to flee the country; he reneged on his promises to the Sunni Awakening leaders who had fought against al-Qaeda in Iraq; and he arrested Sunni protestors en masse. This created the conditions that enabled ISIS to rise from the ashes of al-Qaeda in Iraq and proclaim itself the defender of Sunnis against the Iranian-backed sectarian regime of Maliki. [Continue reading…]

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Iraqi forces launch operation for Kurdish-held oil fields, military base

The Washington Post reports: Clashes broke out early Monday in northern Iraq as Iraqi forces moved to recapture Kurdish-held oil fields and a military base near the city of Kirkuk, setting the stage for a battle between two U.S. allies.

After a three-day standoff, Iraqi forces advanced into the contested province with the goal of returning to positions they held before 2014, when they fled in the face of an Islamic State push. The positions have since been taken over by Kurdish troops.

The conflict between Kurdi­stan and the Iraqi government over land and oil is decades old, but a Kurdish referendum for independence last month inflamed the tensions. The Iraqi government, as well as the United States, Turkey and Iran all opposed the vote.

The flare-up presents an awkward dilemma for the United States, which has trained and equipped the advancing Iraqi troops, which include elite counterterrorism forces, and the Kurdish peshmerga on the other side.

But the Iraqi side is also backed up by Shiite militia forces close to Iran, at a time when the Trump administration has been vocal about curbing Iranian influence in the region, having sanctioned Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps last week. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli defense experts warn against dropping Iran nuke deal

The Associated Press reports: If President Donald Trump moves to scuttle the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, Israel’s nationalist government can be expected to be the loudest — and perhaps only — major player to applaud.

But the true picture is more complicated than what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might portray: There is a strong sense among his own security establishment that there are few good alternatives, that the deal has benefited Israel, and that U.S. credibility could be squandered in the turbulent Middle East in ways that could harm Israel itself.

That is not to say that Israel’s respected security chiefs are all pleased with every aspect of the Iran deal. But after Netanyahu declared at the United Nations last month that it was time to “fix it or nix it,” the prevailing attitude among security experts seems to be that fixing it is the best way to go.

“It seems to me that the less risky approach is to build on the existing agreement, among other reasons because it does set concrete limitations on the Iranians,” said Uzi Arad, a former national security adviser to Netanyahu. “It imposes ceilings and benchmarks and verification systems that you do not want to lose. Why lose it?” [Continue reading…]

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Syria and beyond: Manufactured doubt and moral atrophy

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes: Earlier this year when the Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif appeared on CNN, host Christiane Amanpour pressed him on his government’s support for the murderous regime in Syria. Zarif’s response was a bravura performance in denial and deflection.

Presented with facts about the regime’s crimes, Zarif was pugnacious. “No. Those are not the facts”, he said. That Assad is a dictator was merely “your impression”; to support Assad was to be “on the right side”; and the problem in Syria was IS, a group that was a “creation of the United States government” and “armed and equipped and financed” by Gulf states.

The man representing a state that supports designated terrorist groups such as Hizballah and whose forces are currently occupying parts of Syria, had advice for the West: “People are making the wrong choices in supporting terrorism”, he said; and they must avoid the folly of basing “foreign troops in an Arab territory”.

Zarif was bludgeoning irony with alternative facts. But his approach is unexceptional. This disdain for truth has become a defining feature of modern politics. The function of lies is no longer to persuade; it is to challenge the primacy of facts. Relativism has been weaponised by the powerful to eliminate the very possibility of justice.

This doubt is distinct from the kind of legitimate scepticism that might check against unqualified belief. It is ersatz and functional, manufactured to thwart action and allay guilty conscience. Politically immobilising and morally liberating, it sustains political inertia among cynical politicians and the will to disbelieve among jaded publics. [Continue reading…]

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What are Turkey’s plans for Syria?

 

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False assumptions about the Iran nuclear deal

Gholamali Khoshroo, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, writes: There are a number of reasons the president and hard-liners in Washington think that the White House should pursue this path [undermining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. But their views are built on a set of false assumptions about the nuclear deal that should be laid to rest.

First, some of the agreement’s opponents claim that the J.C.P.O.A. is “the worst agreement the United States has ever entered into with another country.” This ignores an important truth: The nuclear deal is not a bilateral agreement between Tehran and Washington. In fact, it isn’t even a multilateral deal that requires ratification in either Congress or the Iranian Parliament. It is, instead, a United Nations Security Council resolution. (Indeed, this explains why the deal continues to have wide support from the other Security Council members, as well as from Secretary General António Guterres.)

A second false assumption is that the deal is meant to dictate Iran’s policies in matters unrelated to our nuclear program. This has never been the case. It was always clear that the path to reaching a nuclear deal meant setting aside other geopolitical concerns. Anyone involved in the years of talks that led to the J.C.P.O.A. can attest to this. For example, even as Russia and the United States disagreed on many other issues in the Middle East, they were able to work together at the negotiating table.

Reports now indicate the Trump administration wants to tie the nuclear agreement to Iran’s missile program, a move that would go far beyond the J.C.P.O.A.’s intended purpose. Security Council Resolution 2231, which incorporates the nuclear deal, “calls upon” Iran to not work on “ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” But my country is not seeking to develop or acquire nuclear weapons and this carefully negotiated language does not restrain us from developing conventional military deterrence technology that so many other countries possess. The fact that Iranian missiles are designed for maximum precision proves that they are not designed for nuclear capability, as such delivery vehicles need not be precise in targeting.

A third false assumption is that there is a “sunset clause” in the deal, suggesting that in a decade Iran will be free of inspections or limits on its nuclear program. While it’s true that some provisions regarding restrictions will expire, crucial aspects of inspections will not. Moreover, the deal establishes that some six years from now — assuming all participants have fulfilled their obligations — Iran should ratify the Additional Protocol on Nuclear Safeguards, part of the Nonproliferation Treaty. This would subject my country to an extensive I.A.E.A. inspection process. Iran will continue its nuclear program for energy and medical purposes as a normal member of the international community and signatory to the Nonproliferation Treaty after the period of years written into the J.C.P.O.A. [Continue reading…]

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Iran’s ex-reformist president banned from public appearances week after six MPs sentenced to prison

Center for Human Rights in Iran reports: Iran’s former reformist President Mohammad Khatami has been banned from making public appearances and receiving political guests for three months.

The ban, first reported on October 5, 2017, was issued by the Special Court for the Clergy one week after six prominent reformist politicians, including Khatami’s younger brother, were sentenced to a year in prison for the charge of “propaganda against the state.” They were also banned from political and media activities for two years.

Following the news, thousands of Iranians defended Khatami on social media. [Continue reading…]

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Will Iran stick to the JCPOA if Trump refuses to re-certify it?

Farhad Rezaei writes: As is well known, the Iranian regime is deeply divided along sectoral and ideological lines. On one side are moderates, also known as the normalizers, who, under President Hassan Rouhani, hope to use the JCPOA to “normalize” Iran and integrate it into the family of nations. On the other side are the hardline Principalists, largely concentrated in the parastatal sector such as the Revolutionary Guards, the big foundations, and the ultraconservative Haqqani Circle of clerics. The Principalists have objected to the nuclear deal and reject international reintegration. While Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is essentially a hardliner, he was anxious about the legitimacy crisis triggered by international sanctions and empowered the normalizers to negotiate the JCPOA.

For the moderates, the response to looming possible decertification has been a difficult balancing act.

Under pressure from hardliners, Rouhani was forced to warn the United States that Iran would not stay silent if Washington exerts more pressure on Iran. In an interview with CNN on Sept. 19, Rouhani said that Washington will pay a “high cost” if Trump makes good on his threats. The Iranian president also stated that his country would not enter new negotiations. His foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, warned that Washington would lose credibility if it walks away from the JCPOA and urged European countries to uphold the agreement if the US does not.

Significantly though, the normalizers, have not threatened to quit the agreement should Trump decline to re-certify it. [Continue reading…]

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Trump slow to implement Russia, Iran, North Korea sanctions law, say senators

Reuters reports: Two months after signing it, President Donald Trump has not begun enforcing a law imposing new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea, Senators John McCain and Ben Cardin said in a letter seen by Reuters on Friday.

Also, with just two days to go, his administration has not provided information related to Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors required under the measure by Sunday, they said.

White House officials did not respond to a request for comment on the letter from McCain, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Later on Friday, the White House issued a presidential memorandum taking the first step toward implementation by designating different agencies to start the process putting the law into effect. [Continue reading…]

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The ‘sectarianization’ of the Middle East

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