Tillerson Threatens To Go After Iran

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Tillerson slams Iran nuclear deal as ‘failed approach,’ vows ‘comprehensive review’

Published April 19, 2017

FoxNews.com

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ratcheted up criticism Wednesday of the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran, publicly confirming the Trump administration is conducting a “comprehensive review” and declaring they have “no intention of passing the buck.”

In some of his toughest language yet, Tillerson said at a brief press conference that the Iran deal “fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran,” and only delays it becoming a nuclear state.

He faulted the agreement for “buying off” a foreign power with nuclear ambitions, saying: “We just don’t see that that’s a prudent way to be dealing with Iran.”

The statement comes after he said in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis, that the administration has undertaken a full review of the agreement to evaluate whether continued sanctions relief is in the best interest of the U.S.

In the same notification, the administration said Iran is complying with the landmark nuclear deal negotiated by former President Obama, and the U.S. has extended sanctions relief to Tehran in exchange for curbs on its atomic program.

But Tillerson noted in his letter, and repeated during his appearance Wednesday, that Iran continues to foment violence around the world.

“Iran spends its treasure and time disrupting peace,” he said Wednesday. “Iran’s nuclear ambitions are a grave risk to international peace and security.”

While not saying definitively whether the administration is inclined to uphold or scrap the deal, Tillerson said they will meet the challenge of Iran with “clarity and conviction” once the review is done.

“The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran,” he said, claiming the deal represents the “failed approach” of the past.

Tillerson also likened Iran’s behavior to that of North Korea. He said an unchecked Iran could pursue the same path as Pyongyang “and take the world along with it.”

As a candidate in the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump was an outspoken critic of the deal but had offered conflicting opinions on whether he would try to scrap it, modify it or keep it in place with more strenuous enforcement. Tuesday’s determination suggested that while Trump agreed with findings by the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, that Iran is keeping to its end of the bargain, he is looking for another way to ratchet up pressure on Tehran.

The nuclear deal was sealed in Vienna in July 2015 after 18 months of negotiations led by former Secretary of State John Kerry and diplomats from the other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France and Russia — and Germany. Under its terms, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program, long suspected of being aimed at developing atomic weapons, in return for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Trump Reviews Iran Deal

The Trump administration is reviewing the Obama-era nuclear weapons agreement with Iran to determine whether they will stop the deal’s suspension of U.S. sanctions, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said today.

Tillerson said administration officials would review the deal despite also announcing that Iran is complying with the terms of the 2015 agreement reached under President Obama.

“Iran remains a leading state sponsor of terror through many platforms and methods,” Tillerson wrote in a Tuesday night letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The terms of the nuclear agreement require the State Department to update Congress on Iran’s compliance every 90 days. Tillerson’s letter noted that Iran is meeting the deal’s requirements.

Tillerson wrote that Trump has directed an inter-agency review of the Iran deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, to “evaluate whether suspension of sanctions related to Iran … is vital to the national security interests of the United States.”

What’s the Iran deal again?

In 2015, the United States and five other nations — the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany — lifted crippling economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for Iran drastically limiting its nuclear activities.

Around $100 million worth of Iranian oil money and other assets were frozen prior to the agreement. In order to unfreeze that money, Iran agreed to several terms, including:

  • Dropping nearly 75 percent of its uranium centrifuges — equipment used to produce nuclear fuel for power plants or weapons.
  • Reducing its uranium stockpile by 98 percent for 15 years and keeping its level of uranium enrichment low enough to only fuel nuclear power plants, not weapons.
  • Redesigning its existing heavy-water reactor so it can’t make weapons-grade plutonium and pledging not to build more reactors for 15 years.
  • Complying with regular monitoring from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the international watchdog for nuclear power.
  • Allowing IAEA inspectors access to any site within 24 days of an inspection request.

These sanctions don’t eliminate Iran’s access to nuclear energy, but it does significantly reduce the country’s “breakout time” — the time needed to build a nuclear weapon. According to the Brookings Institution, the deal increased Iran’s breakout time to at least one year.

What does the Trump administration think about it?

Trump has been a vocal critic of the Iran nuclear deal for years, calling it a “disaster” throughout his presidential campaign in 2015 and 2016.

Since he has come into office, he has continued to blast the deal.

In July last year, Trump told CNN that the Iranians “are laughing at the stupidity of the deal we’re making on nuclear. We should double up and triple up the sanctions and have them come to us. They are making an amazing deal.”

Trump’s Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, has also criticized the deal and Iran’s actions in the Middle East. At a press conference this morning, speaking on Iran’s support of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, Mattis said “everywhere you look, if there’s trouble in the region you find Iran.”

What comes next?

At today’s press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that Trump may believe that Iran is cheating on the deal.

“That’s why he’s asking for this review,” Spicer said. “If he didn’t, if he thought everything was fine, he would have allowed this to move forward. I think he’s doing the prudent thing by asking for a review of the current deal and what’s happening.”

Spicer said the administration will be conducting the review over the next 90 days, and will have more to report at the end of that period.

At a press conference this afternoon, Tillerson suggested that the current nuclear agreement “fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran and only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state.”

“An unchecked Iran has the potential to travel the same path as North Korea and take the world along with it,” Tillerson said. He went on to say that the Iran deal “is another example of buying off a power who has nuclear ambitions, we buy them off for a short period of time and then someone has to deal with it later. We just don’t see that that’s a credible way to be dealing with Iran.”

Earlier this week, a senior White House official told Foreign Policy that the Trump administration is considering taking a harder stance on the deal — implementing the agreements in an “incredibly strict” way — or expanding sanctions against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is an Iranian military branch intended to protect the country’s Islamic system.

There is some speculation that the Trump administration may expand sanctions in response to Iran’s ballistic missile testing and it’s funding for terrorist acts. The administration already implemented new sanctions on Iran in early February for testing a missile.

Additional sanctions wouldn’t necessarily violate the terms of the Iran deal, but it is possible that they could push Iran to drop out of the agreement and begin to develop nuclear weapons.

Spicer said sanctions have been “an effective tool,” but added that the administration recognized the possible consequences of increasing sanctions.

“Obviously we’re well aware of any potential negative impacts that an action could have,” Spicer said. “So regardless of whether it’s an economic, political or military action, you always weigh all those kind of options.”

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.

Trump Puts Pressure On The Iranian Horn

Trump administration pledges ‘great strictness’ on Iran nuclear deal

A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers and representatives of the U.S., Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union during the Iran nuclear talks at the Vienna International Center in… REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration pledged on Tuesday to show “great strictness” over restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities imposed by a deal with major powers, but gave little indication of what that might mean for the agreement.

The 2015 deal between Iran and six major powers restricts Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Trump has called the agreement “the worst deal ever negotiated”. His administration is now carrying out a review of the accord which could take months, but it has said little about where it stands on specific issues.

The Trump administration also gave few clues about any potential policy shift on Tuesday in a statement to a quarterly meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s Board of Governors.

“The United States will approach questions of JCPOA interpretation, implementation, and enforcement with great strictness indeed,” the statement to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) 35-nation board said, citing the deal’s full name: the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

But the U.S. statement, the first to the Board of Governors since Trump took office in January, also repeated language used by the administration of former U.S. president Barack Obama, for whom the deal was a legacy achievement.

“Iran must strictly and fully adhere to all commitments and technical measures for their duration,” it said – wording identical to that used in the U.S. statement to the previous Board of Governors meeting in November.

The IAEA, which polices the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities under the deal, last month produced a quarterly report saying that Iran’s stock of enriched uranium had halved after coming close to a limit imposed by the agreement.

That report was the first to specify how much enriched uranium Iran has, thanks to a series of agreements between Tehran and major powers clarifying items that would not count toward the stock.

Some major powers had criticized previous reports for not being specific enough on items such as the size of the enriched uranium stock, and the U.S. statement called for future reports to be as detailed.

“We welcome inclusion of the additional level of detail, and expect it will continue in the future,” it said.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Trump’s Adviser Recommends Tearing Up Iran Deal

Bolton: Trump should ‘tear up’ the Iran nuclear deal

By PETE KASPEROWICZ (@PETEKDCNEWS) • 2/6/17 8:00 AM

Iran’s ongoing tests of ballistic missiles has shown that Iran is in no mood to comply with the United Nations, and justifies a decision by President Trump to “tear up” the Iran nuclear deal, according to former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.

Bolton, who Trump was considering for secretary of state during the transition, said new sanctions and tougher talk from Trump won’t be enough to curb Iran’s actions.

“Iran’s continued missile testing on Saturday has given President Trump one more reason to tear up his predecessor’s deal with the regime in Tehran,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

Bolton called the Iran deal “diplomatic malpractice,” and noted that the Iran nuclear agreement is an annex to a UN resolution that includes another annex that simply says Iran is “called upon” not to engage in any activity related to ballistic missiles that are “designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”

“Iran is not forbidden from engaging in all ballistic-missile activity, merely ‘called upon’ to do so,” Bolton wrote.

He said those loopholes make it easy for Iran to claim non-violation. In fact, he argued, Iran has already argued that it has no nuclear weapons program, which means it’s impossible from Iran’s point of view to violate the ballistic missile language.

“Every day Washington lets pass without ripping the deal up is a day of danger for America and its friends,” Bolton wrote. “We proceed slowly at our peril.”

Trump And His Neocons

Who Is John Bolton? Donald Trump’s Possible Secretary Of States Wants To Bomb Iran

BY TIM MARCIN @TIMMARCIN ON
11/14/16 AT 4:37 PM

John Bolton could be close to being named the next secretary of state in Donald Trump’s administration, multiple reports suggested Monday. The former U.S. representative to the United Nations is somewhat of an establishment Republican figure but has also developed a reputation for promoting aggressive military action, including bombing Iran to keep the nation from developing nuclear weapons.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the decision was down to Bolton or former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. The Huffington Post reported that Bolton was close to getting named to the position, while Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker was a “remote possibility” and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was no longer being considered.

Bolton wrote a March 2015 opinion piece in the New York Times titled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran,” that claimed “time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed,” in setting back the nation’s proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Others have called such a strike a terrible idea. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who served in presidential administrations of both George W. Bush and Obama, has said, “If you think the war in Iraq was hard, an attack on Iran would, in my opinion, be a catastrophe.”

Gates said the retaliation to such a strike would be devastating. “[Iranian] capacity to wage a series of terror attacks across the Middle East aimed at us and our friends, and dramatically worsen the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and elsewhere is hard to overestimate,” he said in remarks given in 2012 at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

Conservative outlet National Review wrote an editorial urging Trump to choose Bolton, who the magazine called a “friend,” and a board member of the National Review Institute.

In an editorial published over the weekend, Bolton listed the so-called Islamic State group, Iran/North Korea nuclear proliferation, Russian aggression, territorial claims from China and the U.S.’s “global governance” as the “five gravest challenges confronting America” in the next four years.

Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post wrote on Twitter that choosing Bolton would be seen negatively by Russia and later posted that Bolton was not a “done deal.” Bolton has disagreed with one of Trump’s foreign policy statements, the possible secretary of state strongly critiquing the president-elect’s noncommittal to backing its NATO allies.