Preparing For War With Iran

america-vs-iranNew Iran Sanctions Bills Could Kill the Nuclear Deal, Pave the Way to War

by Tyler Cullis

Congress is in an apparent race with the Trump administration to see who can pose the greater threat to the sustainability of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)–the nuclear accord between the United States, other major world powers, and Iran.

Last week, Congress introduced separate House and Senate bills that would impose new sanctions on Iran. The most imminent danger to the JCPOA is the Senate bill–the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017 (S.722), co-sponsored by Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ). The proposed Senate legislation would risk upending the U.S.’s obligations under the JCPOA and undoing the long-term restrictions the JCPOA imposed on Iran’s nuclear program, all the while setting the stage for renewed conflict between the two countries.

Several provisions of the Senate bill are troubling. Contrary to the bill’s sponsors, the proposed legislation is not consistent with the JCPOA – containing provisions that would place the U.S. in clear violation of its JCPOA commitments. Just as troubling, the bill would mandate the President to utilize existing sanctions authorities targeting Iran with greater force, all the while providing new sanctions authorities to the President to target the Islamic Republic – an effective green light to the hardline aspirations of the Trump administration. Finally, the bill would take the unprecedented step of designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – a branch of Iran’s armed forces – a terrorist group. Absent significant revisions to the bill, the Senate legislation will not only undermine the fundamentals of the nuclear accord, perhaps fatally. It could also quickly engulf the United States in a military conflict with Iran.

Challenge to the JCPOA

On Transition Day, which is either 8 years from Adoption Day or upon a finding from the IAEA that Iran’s nuclear program is being used for exclusively peaceful purposes, whichever is earlier, the United States is required to remove certain Iranian parties from its sanctions lists. Most, if not all, of these entities were designated for involvement in Iran’s nuclear program, but some were also involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program. To the extent that their designation was related to ballistic missiles, this bill would prohibit the President from de-listing those parties on Transition Day, unless the President can provide certification that they have not engaged in activities for which they have been designated in the three-month period preceding their de-listing. If the President cannot provide such certification, then the President would be prohibited from de-listing those parties, placing the U.S. in clear violation of its JCPOA obligations.

Most troubling, this provision–if enacted–will likely provoke an Iranian response. Iran has been careful to reciprocate each U.S. action with its own reaction (see e.g., Iran’s imposition of sanctions on U.S. companies following the U.S. Treasury’s recent announcement of new sanctions designations.) In this case, any reciprocal measure will likely involve Iran’s promised reneging of its own JCPOA commitments. In doing so, both the U.S. and Iran risk undermining the confidence that has so far sustained the JCPOA and prevented either side from terminating the agreement.

Green Light to Trump?

The bill would also mandate the President to impose sanctions on activities related to Iran’s ballistic missile program in a manner that could lead to the re-imposition of sanctions lifted under the JCPOA. Section 4 of the bill requires the President to impose blocking sanctions on persons that engage in activities that have materially contributed or pose a risk of materially contributing to the activities of the Government of Iran with respect to its ballistic missile program, as well as persons who knowingly provide financial, material, technological, or other support for, or goods or services in support of, a person so sanctioned. For example, this provision would mandate the President to impose sanctions on Iranian banks that provide financial services – including, as a benign example, payment of employee salaries at designated Iranian government entities – in ways that would violate the JCPOA. Under the JCPOA, the United States is prohibited from re-introducing or re-imposing the sanctions lifted under the nuclear accord, including the de-listings of certain Iranian entities (e.g., most of Iran’s financial institutions). In mandating the President to broadly impose sanctions on Iranian parties even tangentially related to Iran’s ballistic missile program, this bill risks placing Washington in violation of its JCPOA commitments.

Perhaps more importantly, this provision would also effectively provide a green light to the Trump administration to take a much harder line against Iran for its non-nuclear activities. Some in Congress might think that is a good thing, but the context is everything. First, this puts the JCPOA itself at risk, as the U.S. has certain affirmative obligations under the nuclear accord to prevent interference with Iran’s realizing the full benefits of the sanctions-lifting and refrain from adopting policies or taking actions intended to make the normalization of trade and economic relations between Iran and the rest of the world more difficult. Imposing broad new sanctions on Iran would clearly contradict these basic principles of the agreement. Second, it was not more than a few months ago when the Trump administration put Iran “on notice,” a forewarning of the ambitions of some in the administration to set the stage for a possible military showdown between the two countries. In urging the President to more broadly sanction Iran, Congress risks empowering these more extreme hardline elements in the White House. So far, President Trump has mimicked the prior administration in his use of the sanctions tool; bipartisan support for cracking down on Iran via this legislation could quickly turn the tide and give his administration the confidence to pursue a more aggressive stance toward Iran that could well trigger a military conflict.

Designating IRGC a Terrorist Group

The bill would also designate the IRGC a terrorist group. The bill’s proponents have been willfully obtuse as to the effect of this particular provision (§ 8 of the bill), but it is nonetheless true.

Specifically, the bill would require the President to impose the sanctions identified in Executive Order 13224 on the IRGC and its officials, agents, and affiliates. EO 13224 is the foundational order to the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 594, and persons designated pursuant to the Order are routinely known as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs). Organizational SDGTs are U.S.-designated “terrorist groups.” The bill’s proponents have variously argued that (1) Congress is not mandating the President to designate the IRGC an SDGT, but instead only to impose the sanctions outlined in EO 13224 to the IRGC; or (2) that the SDGT designation cleverly avoids designating the IRGC a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). This is, at the same time, deliberately misleading and beside the point. First, in order to implement this provision, the President will designate the IRGC pursuant to EO 13224 – i.e., as an SDGT. Congress will not be able to wash its hands of this command; it has directed the President. Second, whether to designate the IRGC an FTO or an SDGT is beside the point: considering current sanctions on the IRGC, there are few actual sanctions consequences as a result of either designation. The concerns with designating the IRGC a terrorist group are “extra-legal.”

What are those concerns? Designating the IRGC a terrorist group has zero sanctions consequences, but important real-life ramifications. Currently, the IRGC is designated under no less than three separate U.S. sanctions programs and is subject to robust secondary sanctions. Designating the IRGC an SDGT will thus only duplicate existing sanctions, adding nothing. However, as the U.S. defense establishment has long warned, there could be important consequences to labeling the IRGC a terrorist group, including, but not limited to, possible retaliation against U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq, who are vulnerable to Iran-backed militias. If such a scenario came to pass, the potential for open hostilities between the U.S. and Iran would have been effectively triggered by the (legally inconsequential) designation of the IRGC as a terrorist group.

Passage of the Senate bill would thus render the U.S. non-compliant with its JCPOA obligations, while also providing an effective stamp of approval to President Trump to utilize his sanctions authorities to target Iran in ways that could fatally undermine the JCPOA and pave the path towards war. Important revisions will need to be made in the weeks ahead if Congress intends to avoid responsibility for unraveling the Iran nuclear accord.

Pakistan Worried About India’s New Nuclear Policy

‘Pakistan worried over Indian nuclear doctrine’

Islamabad, April 1 (IANS) Pakistan is worried about the signs that India is rethinking its policy of ‘no first use’ (NFU) of nuclear weapons.

Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Ehsan ul Haq (Retd), who has remained closely associated with Pakistan’s nuclear thinking, said on Friday that Islamabad has always been sceptical about Indian ‘no first use’ claims.

According to Dawn online, Haq said the recent disclosure by a scholar has cleared Pakistan’s doubts that India’s NFU policy is a sham.

While speaking at the launch of ‘Learning to Live with the Bomb, Pakistan: 1998-2016’ book by Naeem Salik, a former official of the Strategic Plans Division, Haq said he was happy that Indians were themselves exposing their claims.

He claimed it was happening against the backdrop of the extremist Hindutva agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party government.

According to Dawn, Vipin Narang from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said India was moving away from its policy of ‘no first use’ and might carry out a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Pakistan if it believed Islamabad was going to use nuclear weapons against it.

Haq said the rethink in India was the latest in a series of provocative actions.

According to the retired General, Indian steps from admission of interference in erstwhile East Pakistan to references to Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan, scuttling the Saarc summit, escalation along the Line of Control, claims of surgical strikes, diplomatic manoeuvring to isolate Pakistan and domestic war hysteria had heightened tensions between the two countries.

India had been “challenging the credibility of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence through doctrinal as well as technological developments”, he said.

Salik, who has in his book discussed Pakistan’s learning curve as a nuclear power, said Indian moves like the recent talk about transformation from a “passive NFU to pre-emptive disarming strikes” had kept Pakistani strategists on their toes.

–IANS

py/bg

North Korea Will Not Be A Nuclear Horn

White House: ‘The clock has now run out’ on North Korean nuclear program

CNN Updated: 5:14 PM CDT Apr 4, 2017

By Jeremy Diamond

WASHINGTON (CNN) —
A senior White House official issued a dire warning to reporters Tuesday on the state of North Korea’s nuclear program, declaring “the clock has now run out and all options are on the table.”

“The clock has now run out, and all options are on the table,” the official said, pointing to the failure of successive administration’s efforts to negotiate an end to North Korea’s nuclear program.

The comments came as two senior White House officials briefed reporters ahead of President Donald Trump’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping later this week in Florida. The briefing took place on the condition of anonymity.

The same White House official also said North Korea is a “matter of urgent interest for the President and the administration as a whole” and plans to urge China to exert leverage over North Korea to halt the advancement of its nuclear program.

The comments came two days after Trump warned in a recent Financial Times interview that the US would have to act unilaterally to stop North Korea’s nuclear program if China refuses to cooperate in the effort.

But earlier Tuesday, Gen. John Hyten, the commander of US Strategic Command, which oversees US nuclear weapons and missile defense forces, said that China was critical to solving the North Korea nuclear challenge.

“Any solution to the North Korean problem has to involve China,” Hyten told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

His comments come days after the publication of the Trump interview.

Hyten added that while he believed Beijing’s involvement was critical, he said that he will provide military options to the president to deal with the threat from North Korea.

“I’ll provide those military options. So that’s my job but I look at it from a strategic perspective and I can’t see a solution that doesn’t involve China.”

“China is the definition of North Korea’s backyard,” Hyten told the committee, saying that the close economic links between Pyongyang and Beijing made China a pivotal player in curbing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

“It’s hard for me to see a solution without China,” he added.

CNN’s Ryan Browne contributed to this report.

Iran Responsible For Syrian Attack?

Tillerson: Russia, Iran share ‘responsibility’ for Syrian attack

By Associated Press | Posted: Tue 3:15 PM, Apr 04, 2017

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says Russia and Iran bear “great moral responsibility” for deaths from an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria.

Tillerson is calling on Russia and Iran to use their influence over Syrian President Bashar Assad to prevent future chemical weapons attacks. He says they bear moral responsibility because they have declared themselves to be the guarantors of a ceasefire they helped broker in Astana, Kazakhstan.

He says in a statement that Iran and Russia shouldn’t have any illusions about Assad or his intentions. Tillerson says anyone using chemical weapons to attack his own people must be held accountable for a “fundamental disregard for human decency.”

Tillerson says the chemical weapons attack makes clear that Assad operates “with brutal, unabashed barbarism.” He says Syria needs a “genuine ceasefire” and that anyone supporting armed combatants there must help ensure compliance.

A Closer Look At The Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

A Look at the Tri-State’s Active Fault Line

image

Monday, March 14, 2011

 

The Ramapo Fault is the longest fault in the Northeast that occasionally makes local headlines when minor tremors cause rock the Tri-State region. It begins in Pennsylvania, crosses the Delaware River and continues through Hunterdon, Somerset, Morris, Passaic and Bergen counties before crossing the Hudson River near Indian Point nuclear facility.

In the past, it has generated occasional activity that generated a 2.6 magnitude quake in New Jersey’s Peakpack/Gladstone area and 3.0 magnitude quake in Mendham.

But the New Jersey-New York region is relatively seismically stable according to Dr. Dave Robinson, Professor of Geography at Rutgers. Although it does have activity.

“There is occasional seismic activity in New Jersey,” said Robinson. “There have been a few quakes locally that have been felt and done a little bit of damage over the time since colonial settlement — some chimneys knocked down in Manhattan with a quake back in the 18th century, but nothing of a significant magnitude.”

Robinson said the Ramapo has on occasion registered a measurable quake but has not caused damage: “The Ramapo fault is associated with geological activities back 200 million years ago, but it’s still a little creaky now and again,” he said.

“More recently, in the 1970s and early 1980s, earthquake risk along the Ramapo Fault received attention because of its proximity to Indian Point,” according to the New Jersey Geological Survey website.

Historically, critics of the Indian Point Nuclear facility in Westchester County, New York, did cite its proximity to the Ramapo fault line as a significant risk.

In 1884, according to the New Jersey Geological Survey website, the  Rampao Fault was blamed for a 5.5 quake that toppled chimneys in New York City and New Jersey that was felt from Maine to Virginia.

“Subsequent investigations have shown the 1884 Earthquake epicenter was actually located in Brooklyn, New York, at least 25 miles from the Ramapo Fault,” according to the New Jersey Geological Survey website.