Defense, Intelligence Officials Caution White House on Terrorist Designation for Iran's Revolutionary Guard Senior defense and intelligence officials have cautioned the White House that a proposal to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization could endanger U.S. troops in Iraq and the overall fight against the Islamic State, and would be an unprecedented use of a law that was not designed to sanction government institutions. Defense and intelligence concerns have been expressed at the highest levels over the past several days, as the White House was preparing to roll out an executive order dealing with both Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Muslim Brotherhood, according to administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the sensitive matter. (The Washington Post)
Trump says "Nothing off the table" on Iran, as Republicans plan action
U.S. President Donald Trump is poised to impose new sanctions on multiple Iranian entities, seeking to ratchet up pressure on Tehran while crafting a broader strategy to counter what he sees as its destabilizing behavior, people familiar with the matter said on Thursday. In the first tangible action against Iran since Trump took office on Jan. 20, the administration, on the same day he insisted that "nothing is off the table," prepared to roll out new measures against more than two dozen Iranian targets, the sources said. The announcement is expected as early as Friday, they added. (Reuters)
Originally published on The LobeLog by Nader Entessar, AIC Publications Review Committee Member US-Iranian relations since 1979 have been characterized by long periods of animosity and mutual demonization and only fleeting moments of relaxed tensions. Under President Trump, the United States has ratcheted up the anti-Iran rhetoric and actions, causing some analysts to opine that a military confrontation between the two countries is likely. Despite US-Iran tensions and the lack of formal diplomatic ties between the two countries, a variety of people-to-people exchanges are among the very few forms of civil engagement between the two sides. Sporting events and other exchanges have played a leading role in enhancing Iranian-American public diplomacy. These examples of public or citizen diplomacy have challenged the malevolent stereotypes of Iranians that have become an ingrained part of American political discourse.
US Senators Rubio, Young, Cornyn, Introduce Iran Non-Nuclear Sanctions Act In the first session of the new Congress, U.S. Republican Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Todd Young (R-IN) and John Cornyn (R-TX) reintroduced the Iran Non-nuclear Sanctions Act, a legislation that would impose harsh financial and economic sanctions countering Iran’s non-nuclear activities. The hawkish GOP senators, who had introduced the same bill last December, slammed the Obama administration for not adopting adequate measures against Iran. “I look forward to working with the new administration to hold Iran fully accountable for both its nonnuclear and nuclear threats,” Rubio said during the session, his official website reported on Tuesday. (Tehran Times)
Iran to Reserve Judgment on Trump Before He Takes Office
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif vowed to keep an open mind toward Donald Trump, saying it was too early to judge his policies despite the U.S. president-elect’s strongly worded antagonism toward Iran. "We will have to wait and see what President-elect Trump, once inaugurated, will try to pursue as his policy," Mr. Zarif said Wednesday, addressing a panel at the World Economics Forum in Davos, Switzerland. (The Wall Street Journal)
A US Navy ship fired warning shots at Iranian boats on Sunday near the Strait of Hormuz, US Defense officials said Monday. Five Iranian vessels approached the USS Mahan and two other US ships that were entering the strait, according to accounts from four sources. The Strait of Hormuz is situated between the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf. The Mahan, a destroyer, fired warning shots and used radio calls, flares, bells and whistles to signal to the ships to stay away. (CNN)
While campaigning for office, Trump repeatedly maligned the Iran nuclear deal as one of the worst in American history, and variously promised to tear it up immediately after occupying the White House. Since the election, Trump has shifted his public commentary on the subject to emphasize renegotiation, but some media analysis has pointed out how this could effectively undermine the agreement and compel the Iranians to walk away from it. (Iran News Update)
Inside the 37- Year Standoff Over Iran's Frozen U.S. Dollars
When the shah of Iran fell in 1979, the U.S. froze at least $400 million of Iranian money sitting in a Pentagon trust fund. The Islamic Republic of Iran never stopped trying to get it back.
Tehran unsuccessfully sought the money from Jimmy Carter in return for 52 American diplomats held hostage for 444 days. It asked the Reagan administration for the same money during dealings that led to the Iran-Contra scandal. The issue came up yet again during negotiations with George H.W. Bush’s White House.
No administration agreed to surrender all the money, until Jan.17, shortly after four American citizens were released from Iranian jailsin a prisoner exchange. That is when an Iranian government Boeing737 lifted off from Geneva’s Cointrin airport carrying $400 million—stacks of Swiss francs delivered on wooden pallets earlier that day by the U.S. government. (The Wall Street Journal)
President-elect Donald Trump's priorities in foreign policy have yet to be spelled out in any detail. Certainly trade matters to him, and so does going after ISIS; the events in Ankara and Berlin are sure to deepen that impulse. In that connection, he has said more than once that the Russians and the Syrians are fighting the Islamic State, and that we should take advantage of their doing so.
This is a far dicier proposition than it may appear on its face — particularly inasmuch as it may strengthen the hand of Iran throughout the Middle East. (US News)
Originally posted on The LobeLog By Shireen T. Hunter, former AIC Board Member
Last year’s nuclear agreement with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action (JCPOA), has many detractors in the United States and elsewhere, including U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. They have always maintained that the deal benefits Iran more than the United States and its allies. Many of these detractors have thus argued that the JCPOA should be renegotiated or simply cancelled.
Now, however, many of them are singing a different tune. Following the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, the possibility of a U.S. withdrawal or violation of the agreement has become real. Suddenly, many of the agreement’s earlier detractors have become its fans. They are finally admitting that the United States and other countries, which want to forestall the possibility that Iran might build nuclear weapons, actually got a good deal. Despite claims by the Iranian government that it could easily turn the nuclear switch back on, it would be hard for Iran to resume its activities without facing intensified economic sanctions, by the United States and many other countries, not to mention the serious risk of a military confrontation or even open conflict with the U.S. Perhaps because of this fact, after a meeting in Tehran with the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency Yukio Amano, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, said that Iran will not be the first to leave JCPOA.
Iran sanctions renewal becomes law without Obama signature
In an unexpected reversal, President Barack Obama declined to sign a renewal of sanctions against Iran but let it become law anyway, in an apparent bid to alleviate Tehran's concerns that the U.S. is backsliding on the nuclear deal.
Although the White House had said that Obama was expected to sign the 10-year-renewal, the midnight deadline came and went Thursday with no approval from the president. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama had decided to let it become law without his signature.
"The administration has, and continues to use, all of the necessary authorities to waive the relevant sanctions" lifted as part of the nuclear deal, Earnest said in a statement. (CNBC)
The fear that's keeping Iranian Americans from visiting their homeland
Sitting inside his empty travel agency in Los Angeles, Farhad Besharati expressed concern about the decline of his business.
The majority of his customers are older Persians who come to him when they want to purchase airline tickets to Iran. But lately, he said, some are canceling their flights, and fewer people are arranging trips.
Besharati blames recent arrests in his homeland of Iranianswho hold dual citizenship, some of whom have received lengthy prison sentences. (LA Times)
Originally posted on Dallas News By Honorary Board Member, Thomas R. Pickering
Our new president will face many tough challenges in devising a strategy to assure America's security. He will be the first since 1979 who will not have to immediately devise a strategy to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon.
The nuclear agreement with Iran provides strong assurance that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon for at least 15 years. China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. (the so-called P5+1) came together to achieve this objective by negotiating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran. Iran without a nuclear weapon is far less threatening to Israel, the region and the U.S.
Mohsen Milani details his Expectations for Future U.S. - Iran Relations in a Trump Administration
Unusual, unpredictable and inescapable in US media coverage, the American presidential election also dominated news outlets across the globe.
For the first time in history, Iran aired U.S. presidential debates, underscoring Iran’s prominence in U.S foreign policy. While contemporary analyses — especially in the wake of President-elect Donald Trump’s rise — often paint Iran as an enemy, the University of South Florida’s Mohsen Milani is quick to point out Iran’s pre-1979 amity with the United States.
“Prior to the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the U.S. and Iran were the closest of allies. More than 50,000 Americans lived in Iran. More than 65,000 Iranians students were studying in American universities. Then the Islamic Revolution came. The unfortunate hostage crisis took place. The two countries became bitter enemies,” Milani told KGOU’s World Views. (KGOU)
Originally posted on The LobeLog By Shireen T. Hunter, former AIC Board Member
Those observers in Iran who thought that a victory by Donald Trump in the US presidential race would be in Iran’s interests should by now have realized how wrong they were. It’s not just because President-elect Trump vowed during the election campaign that he would tear up the Joint Comprehensive Plan of action (JCPOA). More importantly, he has made key appointments that will have significant consequences for the future direction of American foreign policy.
Originally posted on The Lobelog By AIC Board Member, Robert Hunter
The surprise election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States has raised far more questions than it has answered about the nation’s future. It has also, not unnaturally, discomfited (or at least confused) friends and allies abroad. Except for the Los Angeles Times, the polls got it wrong, and so did virtually all the pundits, a large fraction of whom wittingly or not became cheerleaders for Hillary Clinton. But there is no point in lamentations, if such are, indeed, in order. Notably, both Trumpand Clinton demonstrated in their victory/concession statements the best of American political culture: the peaceful, even gracious, transfer of power.
To try judging what President Trump will do in foreign policy—the focus of Lobelog—we should return to “first principles.”
Originally posted on The Lobelog By Shireen T. Hunter, Former AIC Board Member
Although disappointed about the economic benefits flowing from the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran’s political leadership feels fairly certain that at least the threat of a potential U.S. military strike has now disappeared. Also, even if the United States were to re-impose sanctions, in addition to those non-nuclear related sanctions already in existence, the Iranian leadership is confident that other countries, including European states, will not follow America’s lead.
Iran’s hardliners, in particular, are pushing this line of thinking as a way to prevent any further steps to move US-Iran relations in a more positive direction. They also argue that America has suffered setbacks in Iraq and Syria and will not risk becoming entangled with Iran. In short, at least judging by various statements and commentaries, especially by hardliners, the nuclear deal has created a false sense of security in Iran.
Originally published on LobeLog By AIC Board Member, Robert E. Hunter
Despite the further stresses introduced by the Federal Bureau of Investigation last week into this most stressful of modern campaigns, Hillary Clinton is still the odds-on favorite to be elected US president. If that judgment is validated on the morning of November 9th, America’s friends and allies abroad can begin to exhale. Whatever opponents have said about Clinton in the presidential campaign, no one can honestly deny that she is smart, savvy, articulate, experienced, and, more-often-than-not, levelheaded.
But true friends of America abroad shouldn’t return to normal breathing patterns just yet.
First the good news. Despite presidential campaign turmoil and disharmony not seen since the American Republic’s early days—and politics was even rougher back then—after the votes are counted and despite whatever Donald Trump says or does, the American ship of state will, as always, soon right itself. There is also no doubt that, intellectually and temperamentally, Clinton will be a steadying influence on American politics and US engagements abroad.
Originally published on LobeLog By Former AIC Board Member, Shireen T. Hunter
In the last several years, the United States has found it increasingly difficult to gain the support of all of its allies, especially those in the Middle East, for its regional plans and policies.
A dramatic example was the disagreement between the United States and its Middle East allies over the decision to reach a negotiated settlement to the Iran nuclear file. Key American allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia openly and vehemently campaigned against the prospective agreement. The late Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud Bin Faisal, even went to Vienna in the last hours of the nuclear negotiations in order to prevent its successful completion. The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, used the UN podium and a joint session of the US Congress for his campaign against the nuclear.
Originally published in The Hill By Honorary Board member Thomas R. Pickering and Ali Vaez
The one year anniversary of Iran nuclear agreement’s entering into force on Oct. 18, 2015 was buried in the noise and news of U.S. electoral campaign, operation to liberate Mosul and tragic agonies of Aleppo. This in itself is a testament to the accord’s remarkable success in addressing a major threat to global security. But in this success lies a peril: a “done deal” mentality that diverts attention to other priorities, treats implementation as a mere technical or bureaucratic exercise, and fails to remedy its inevitable hitches. Ensuring that Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful and opening the door a crack or two for new opportunities to build balance, stability and security in the Middle East are worth fighting for.
Rushing for a plane to Tehran because of a family emergency, the Iranian-American businessman stuffed his mobile phone into his carry-on, forgetting to turn it off.
It was useless in Iran anyway, he knew. American mobile phones never worked in the country, and even after the recent nuclear deal, many economic sanctions remain in place, frustrating foreign businesses interested in cracking the Iranian market.
So it was something of a shock when, having fallen asleep after arriving at his sick grandmother’s house in Tehran, the businessman, Faryar Ghazanfari, an intellectual-property lawyer, heard a buzzing coming from the bag.
At first, he thought it was an alarm. Then he picked up. “I couldn’t believe what was happening,” he said. “It was San Francisco. A colleague wanted an update on a patent case.”
R.K. Ramazani, the University of Virginia professor known as the “dean of Iranian foreign policy studies,” has died at age 88. Courtesy of Dan Addison/The University of Virginia R.K. Ramazani, who taught at the University of Virginia from 1953 until 1998, has died.
Ramazani, who taught at UVa from 1953 until 1998, passed away at the UVa Medical Center early Wednesday morning, less than 24 hours after suffering a fall in his house.
The Iran native and Ivy resident is best remembered as an expert on Iranian history and politics — especially the turbulent relationship between the U.S. and Iran.
His death comes about a year and a half after the United States reached a deal with the Iranian government over its nuclear program — a development that gave Ramazani great hope for the future.
Long before the first newly purchased Boeing airliner lands at Imam Khomeini International Airport, Iran and the United States will have had to come to terms with a new reality: American citizens will once again be taking up residence in Tehran, the first to do so since the Islamic Revolution and subsequent hostage crisis in 1979 and 1980.
When the United States on Wednesday gave the green light for the direct sale of Western planes to Iran, much more than nearly four decades of sanctions on such deals came to an end. Not that the deals approved by the Treasury Department are insignificant: 80 Boeing jets and an initial batch of 17 Airbus planes out of a potential total of 118.
But the sale will have the important effect of ending an era of absolute isolation between the countries. Boeing will almost certainly have to open an administrative office in Tehran, and technicians will have to move here to train their Iranian counterparts in the care and maintenance of the planes. Among them, almost certainly, will be many Americans. (The New York Times)
Close encounters with Iran show need for rules of behavior: U.S. Navy
A series of close encounters between the U.S. navy and Iranian combat vessels in the Gulf show the need for Iran and the United States to agree rules of behavior to avoid risky miscalculations, the head of the U.S. Navy said on Monday.
Admiral John Richardson, the U.S. chief of naval operations, said agreements of this type between the United States and Russia and China had helped reduce such risks.
"These are some of these potentially destabilizing things, where a tactical miscalculation, the closer you get to these sorts of things, the margin for error gets smaller and the human error can play a bigger and bigger role," Richardson said. (Reuters)
By Ambassador Thomas Pickering, AIC Honorary Board Member Originally published in the Tennessean
Our new president will face many tough challenges in devising a strategy to assure America’s future security. But the president who takes office Jan. 20 will be the first since 1979 who will not have to devise immediately a strategy to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon.
The nuclear agreement reached with Iran last year provides strong assurance that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon for at least 15 years. Achieving that singular objective brought together China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. to negotiate with Iran the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran without a nuclear weapon is far less threatening.
By Shireen Hunter, Former AIC Board Member Originally published in Lobelog
Recently, the chief mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh, said that Iranians are Majus. This is the Arab name for Iran’s Zoroastrians, who were the majority of the people at the time of the Arab invasion of Persia in the 7th century AD. The mufti was implying by this statement that Iranians are not Muslims.
This belief is neither new nor limited to the Saudis or the Wahhabis. However, as far as I can recall, no significant Muslim religious leader had openly called them non-Muslims, although some secular leaders had done so before. For example, during the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam Hussein regularly referred to the Iranians as Majus, and even worse, as insects that should be sprayed with pesticides. Indeed, he did just that by using chemical weapons against them.
Iran vessel 'harasses,' sails close to U.S. Navy ship in Gulf: U.S. officials
A U.S. Navy coastal patrol ship changed course after a fast-attack craft from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps came within 100 yards (91 meters) of it in the central Gulf on Sunday, U.S. Defense Department officials said on Tuesday.
It was at least the fourth such incident in less than a month. U.S. officials are concerned that these actions by Iran could lead to mistakes.
Years of mutual animosity eased when Washington lifted sanctions on Tehran in January after a deal to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions. But serious differences still remain over Iran's ballistic missile program, and over conflicts in Syria and Iraq. (Reuters)
The Iranian public and international observers received with surprise the news that Iran had allowed Russian planes to use an airbase in its Hamedan province for bombing expeditions in Syria. The Islamic government’s emphasis on independence, the Iranian constitution’s ban on granting basing rights to any foreign country, and the Islamist opposition’s use of the presence of American military personnel and advisers as weapon against the Shah during the monarchy all made the granting of permission to Russia highly unusual. Of course, allowing the use of the airbase does not amount to the granting of basing rights, but it still is a significant departure form Iran’s past positions.
President Barack Obama has 22 weeks left in office. But in practice, his useful mandate will expire on November 9, the day after the presidential election. That does not mean he will be unable to exercise his duties as commander-in-chief for the 72 days remaining in his term. However, given his inclination not to do “stupid stuff,” he is unlikely to leave any poisoned chalices for his successor. That has happened before. In 1961 the outgoing Eisenhower administration and especially the CIA confronted the young and untested President John F. Kennedy with a plan to invade Cuba and rid it of the upstart Fidel Castro, and we all know how well that played out. At least it enabled Kennedy, early in his presidency, to become more skeptical of some of the advice he was being fed (though not skeptical enough to prevent sliding into the Vietnam morass). More recently, following the 1992 election, the outgoing George H.W. Bush administration decided to intervene in Somalia. As only the president-elect, there was not much Bill Clinton could do about that, and he inherited a mess that, with his own inexperience helping it along, led to the tragedy commemorated by Hollywood as Blackhawk Down. That chalice was indeed poisoned.
Israel minister says Iran has respected nuclear deal
Israel’s energy minister on Sunday criticized a landmark nuclear accord between the Jewish state’s arch-foe Iran and world powers but said Tehran had so far respected the deal.
The agreement, which was signed in July 2015 and came into force in January, saw Tehran accept curbs to its nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of economic sanctions by world powers.
“It’s a bad deal but it’s an accomplished fact and during the first year we spotted no significant breach from the Iranians,” said Youval Steinitz, who is close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Al Arabiya)