Iran 2019

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Iran 2017-2018
Trump’s Iran Reversal Raises Allies’ Doubts Over His Tactics, and U.S. Power (23 June)

20 June
Is Iran Close to Collapse? Three Things You Need To Know about the U.S.-Iran Showdown.
Washington must hold its red lines while not giving in to Tehran’s wishes or escalating into a shooting conflict.
By Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
1) Pressure can work on Iran
2) Personnel is policy. In the U.S. military, most admirals and generals hold specific jobs for just a couple years. Few flag officers remain in their position longer than the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who serves a four-year term. In Iran, however, senior officials serve longer.
3) We could be witnessing the death throes of the Islamic Republic. The Islamic Republic is in a perfect storm, and sanctions have hurt their economy. The problem is not just economic, however. The Islamic Republic’s old guard is dying of old age, and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei realizes he may not be far behind.
Both Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards know that they are largely unpopular inside Iran. But, as Iranians resent the ruin brought to their country by forty years of clerical rule, they remain fiercely nationalistic. Khamenei and the IRGC, therefore, might try to precipitate a crisis with which they can rally Iranians around the flag.
That is the dynamic which should most concern the Trump administration now, for it is essential to maintain the pressure on Iran without playing into the hands of a regime that may want conflict. Let’s hope President Donald Trump is wise enough to allow his “maximum pressure campaign” to work without giving authorities in Tehran either a diplomatic out or resorting to military force that will backfire in the long-term.

18 July
US shot down Iranian drone in Strait of Hormuz, says Trump
(BBC) President Donald Trump has said the US Navy shot down an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz.
He said the USS Boxer amphibious assault ship “took defensive action” on Thursday after the drone came within about 1,000 yards (914m) of the vessel.
Iran said it had no information about losing a drone. In June, Iran downed a US military drone in the area.
Earlier, Tehran said it had seized a “foreign tanker” and its 12 crew on Sunday for smuggling fuel in the Gulf.

8 – 9 July
Europeans call for urgent meeting of Iran nuclear deal parties
Britain, Germany, France, Russia, China and Iran are the remaining parties to the deal – known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) – which was abandoned by the United States last year.
“These compliance issues must be addressed within the framework of the JCPoA, and a Joint Commission should be convened urgently,” the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, plus the European Union’s top diplomat, said in a statement.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu warns Iran as nuclear deal unravels
Netanyahu issues threat to the regional rival amid heightened uncertainty over future of the historic 2015 agreement.
Trump warns Iran ‘better be careful’ on nuclear enrichment
US warning comes after Iran announces it will begin enriching uranium beyond a cap set in the 2015 nuclear deal.
(Al Jazeera) On Sunday, Iran said it was hours away from passing the 3.67 percent uranium enrichment cap set in the deal, and threatened to keep reducing its commitments every 60 days unless the remaining signatories to the accord – United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia and China – protected it from US sanctions.
Winners of the Nobel Peace Prize: Here’s How to Stop War With Iran
Iran wants its economic sanctions lifted. The United States wants an assurance that Iran will not acquire nuclear weapons. It is time to talk.
By Shirin Ebadi and Jody Williams
(NYT) On Sunday, Iran announced that it had breached the limit on uranium enrichment — fissile purity of 3.67 percent required for electricity generation — detailed in the 2015 nuclear deal with the United States and other international powers. It has threatened to go further.
President Hassan Rouhani had said on Wednesday that Iran would enrich uranium to “whatever levels it needs.” The Trump administration had responded that it would continue its “maximum pressure” policy of stringent economic sanctions until Iran “ends its nuclear ambitions and its malign behavior.”
The Trump administration’s maximum-pressure policy has brought us to the cliff of an armed confrontation and further inflamed the Gulf region. Although Tehran is far from producing a nuclear weapon, a failed agreement with Washington could lead it to pursue its nuclear program more aggressively. This could set a dangerous global precedent, potentially leading to unregulated proliferation of nuclear weapons.  …. On Wednesday, President Rouhani had made it clear that Tehran’s measures were fully reversible: “All of our actions can be returned to the previous condition within one hour.” His statement indicates a willingness to negotiate.
Iran Is Right
Thanks to Trump’s violation of the nuclear deal, the U.S. is no longer in a position to criticize the mullahs’ nuclear program.
By Fred Kaplan
(Slate) First, and most obviously (though it’s surprising how few news stories mention this up high, if at all), Iran was not the first country to breach the deal’s terms. In May 2018, President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal, for no good reason other than he didn’t like it, despite the fact that international inspectors had repeatedly attested that the Iranians were in compliance with its terms. Then Trump not only re-imposed economic sanctions, which had been lifted with the signing of the deal, but also imposed “secondary sanctions” on any country that did business with Iran—even the five powers (Britain, France, Russia, China, Germany, along with the European Union) that had co-signed it.

5 July
Politico: “Iran threatens British shipping in retaliation for tanker seizure,” by Reuters’ Kate Holton in London and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai: “An Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander threatened on Friday to seize a British ship in retaliation for the capture of an Iranian supertanker in Gibraltar by Royal Marines.’If Britain does not release the Iranian oil tanker, it is the authorities duty to seize a British oil tanker,’ Mohsen Rezai said on Twitter.
“The Gibraltar government said the crew on board the supertanker Grace 1 were being interviewed as witnesses, not criminal suspects, in an effort to establish the nature of the cargo and its ultimate destination. British Royal Marines abseiled onto the ship off the coast of the British territory on Thursday and seized it. They landed a helicopter on the moving vessel in pitch darkness.” Reuters

23 – 25 June
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani calls new US sanctions ‘outrageous and idiotic’
Rouhani noted that Western banking restrictions are unlikely to affect Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, saying the 80-year-old leader of the Islamic Revolution isn’t getting rich off of Western bank accounts. Imposing sanctions on Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif doesn’t equate with Trump’s stated willingness to negotiate without preconditions, Rouhani added.
Trump appears to name the wrong Iranian leader when announcing sanctions on Iran
“Sanctions imposed through the executive order that I’m about to sign will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader’s Office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support. The assets of Ayatollah Khomeini and his office will not be spared from the sanctions,” Trump said at the signing of an executive order to impose the sanctions.
The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was Iran’s Supreme Leader from 1979 to 1989. He died in 1989 and was succeeded by the current Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.
Trump Imposes New Economic Sanctions on Iran
President Trump announced on Monday that he is imposing new sanctions on Iran, stepping up a policy of pressuring the nation’s leaders and the crippled Iranian economy in retaliation for what the United States says are recent aggressive acts by Tehran.
He said the order would bar Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, and his office from access to the international financial system. The Treasury Department said it also was imposing sanctions on eight Iranian military commanders, including the head of a unit that the Americans say was responsible for shooting down an American drone last Thursday.
Why Trump Is So Confused About His Own Iran Policy
By Jonathan Chait
So our one goal is preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, or funding terrorism, or disrupting oil markets, or terrorizing its own people. (Terrorizing the Iranian people is our job.) In negotiating with Iran, our chief weapon is surprise. Surprise and fear.
It is possible Trump has cleverly designed an intricate diplomatic plan to confound Iran with an array of ever-shifting demands. But the best explanation of Trump’s behavior on almost any issue is usually the dumbest one. It is far more likely that Trump himself is simply confused, and what he wants is to rebrand the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran as his own.
Max Boot: With Iran, Trump needs to put up or shut up
(WaPo) if Trump has no intention of attacking Iran, he should not pursue a policy of exiting the nuclear deal and imposing punishing sanctions, pushing Iran into a corner and making conflict much more likely. He should not keep senior advisers (read: Bolton) who, he says, are “disgusting” because they “want to push us into a war.” And he should not issue bloodcurdling threats such as: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”

19-21 June
Urged to Launch an Attack, Trump Listened to the Skeptics Who Said It Would Be a Costly Mistake
By Peter Baker, Maggie Haberman and Thomas Gibbons-Neff
(NYT) He heard from his generals and his diplomats. Lawmakers weighed in and so did his advisers. But among the voices that rang powerfully for President Trump was that of one of his favorite Fox News hosts: Tucker Carlson.
While national security advisers were urging a military strike against Iran, Mr. Carlson in recent days had told Mr. Trump that responding to Tehran’s provocations with force was crazy. The hawks did not have the president’s best interests at heart, he said. And if Mr. Trump got into a war with Iran, he could kiss his chances of re-election goodbye.
However much weight that advice may or may not have had, the sentiments certainly reinforced the doubts that Mr. Trump himself harbored as he navigated his way through one of the most consequential foreign policy decisions of his presidency. By his own account, the president called off the “cocked & loaded” strike on Thursday night with only 10 minutes to spare to avoid the estimated deaths of as many as 150 people.
Trump Approves Strikes on Iran, but Then Abruptly Pulls Back
President Trump approved military strikes against Iran in retaliation for downing an American surveillance drone, but pulled back from launching them on Thursday night after a day of escalating tensions.
As late as 7 p.m., military and diplomatic officials were expecting a strike, after intense discussions and debate at the White House among the president’s top national security officials and congressional leaders, according to multiple senior administration officials involved in or briefed on the deliberations.
Trump Confronts Iran—Without Allies, a Defense Secretary, or a Coherent Policy
(Mother Jones)  Early Thursday morning, the United States military accused Iran of an “unprovoked attack” on a Navy drone flying over international waters, spurring President Donald Trump to tweet that the Islamic Republic had “made a very big mistake.” Iran’s Revolutionary Guard acknowledged the attack but said the drone had been positioned over Iran, an allegation the Pentagon flatly rejected. The Associated Press summed up the dispute this way: “The different accounts could not be immediately reconciled.” In this tense, uncertain moment for both countries, the precise location of a US drone—be it over the Strait of Hormuz or in Iranian airspace—is just one of several events of international importance that American allies, experts, and government officials can hardly reconcile. The US has accused Iran in recent weeks of bombing at least six oil tankers in the region and using its proxies in Yemen to attack Saudi Arabia. But Thursday’s incident marked a frightening turning point, with Tehran taking responsibility for an attack on a US military asset.
No policy consensus has emerged from the Trump’s ramshackle team, which has not included a permanent Defense secretary for more than 170 days. In that vacuum, uniformed military officers have spearheaded the administration’s Iran work, alongside Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, who both argued repeatedly before joining the administration for the possibility of a first strike against Iran.
Simon Tisdall: The Iran crisis was created in Washington. The US must be talked down
President Trump claims he doesn’t want conflict, but his actions could accidentally trigger another Middle East war
(The Guardian) The crisis has been building inexorably since President Trump’s foolish renunciation last year of the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, his imposition of swingeing sanctions, and a campaign of “maximum pressure” to isolate and weaken Iran’s leadership. It looks and smells like a crude bid for regime change. And although Trump insists he does not want it, his actions could soon trigger another calamitous Middle East war.
That’s not a risk most people or states are ready to countenance. And so far, at least, Washington’s parallel, virtual battle for consent and support is not going the way American hawks hoped. Mike Pompeo, the bully-boy evangelist who doubles as US secretary of state, rarely loses an opportunity to demonise Iran. Aware of post-Iraq scepticism over US intelligence claims, he noisily insists, with a creeping tinge of panic, on the accuracy and veracity of his “evidence”.

18 June
Jeremy Kinsman and Larry Haas devoted their most recent CTV Diplomatic community session to Iran – not a cheerful take.

17 June
Gwynne Dyer: Hopefully Iran is behind tanker attacks because the alternatives are worse
Attacks carefully avoided human casualties, so if they were Iranian, what was their goal?
If it was Iran, the answer is obvious. Iran would be reminding the United States that it may be utterly outmatched militarily, but it can do great damage to the tankers that carry one-third of the world’s internationally traded oil through the Strait of Hormuz.
…maybe the current pinprick attacks on tankers are just a general warning not to push Iran too hard. They would still dangerous, because people could get killed and the situation could easily spin out of control. But the opposite hypothesis — that the attacks are a ‘false flag’ operation — is much more frightening, because it would mean somebody is really trying to start a war.
Who would be flying the ‘false flag’? The leading candidates are Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the two Arab countries that are doing their best to push the United States into a war against Iran on their behalf. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would also love to see the U.S. attack Iran, but one doubts that Israel’s de facto Arab allies would want Israeli special forces operating on their territory.
Which brings us to the weirder part of the story. All six tankers that have been attacked sailed from ports in Saudi Arabia or the UAE. The attacks have all reportedly been carried out using limpet mines, which cling to ships’ hulls by magnetic force but have to be placed by hand. That means they were probably placed while the ships were in port.
It’s almost impossible to place a limpet mine once a ship is underway. Other boats cannot come close enough without being spotted, and swimmers (including scuba divers) cannot keep up. So is security in Saudi and UAE ports so lax, even after the first attacks in May, that foreign agents can plant limpet mines on tankers before they sail?

15 June
Trump’s Iran Accusations Put U.S. Credibility on the Line
(New York) Yesterday, the internet was full of Iran experts and defense wonks pointing out that Iran is fully capable of blowing up oil tankers, that the nation and its proxies have done far worse and would no doubt do so again.
But you couldn’t find people unaffiliated with the administration coming out with confidence to back Secretary Pompeo or to agree that the photos released this morning sealed the case.
The cautious responses coming from the European Union, Japan, Norway, and elsewhere reflect a shared concern that a spiral of attacks and allegations will lead to a full-blown war in the Gulf, or even something lesser but still profoundly damaging to the global economy, and perhaps unleash a new round of extremist violence outside the region. By Friday morning, though, oil prices were holding steady, and Reuters reported that insurance for tankers in the region had risen by 10 percent and was headed higher, as analysts said instability had reached levels not “seen since the U.S. war in Iraq in 2003.” Even as the Japanese tanker was attacked, Tokyo’s prime minister — a close partner to Trump and the leader of a country that is profoundly dependent on the steady flow of oil out of the Gulf — was in Iran trying to lower tensions.
The World Is Getting Sucked Into U.S.-Iran Tensions
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran for the latest tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman.
(The Atlantic) Oil tankers burned in the Gulf of Oman today in attacks that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo quickly blamed on Iran. In May, U.S. officials also pinned attacks on oil tankers to Iran (though an international investigation found only that an unnamed “state actor” was to blame). But the U.S. and Iran are far from the only characters on stage: The crowded waterways of the region ferry sailors and commuters, on top of a significant percent of the world’s oil supply. Just in today’s ship attacks, Japan, Panama and the Marshall Islands, and Taiwan and Singapore were affected.

14 June
Richard N. Haass: Taking on Tehran
Forty years after the revolution that ousted the Shah, Iran’s unique political-religious system and government appears strong enough to withstand US pressure and to ride out the country’s current economic difficulties. So how should the US minimize the risks to the region posed by the regime?
(Project Syndicate) The Trump administration’s criticism of the JCPOA was more right than wrong. While the agreement did reduce Iran’s nuclear capabilities and increase the time it would need to develop nuclear weapons, the constraints it accepted were relatively short-lived, due to expire over the next decade. At that point, Iran could remain within the accord yet put into place all it would need to build a nuclear inventory with little or no warning. This did not justify US withdrawal from the JCPOA, especially given that Iran was in compliance with it, but it does make a strong case for renegotiation.That opportunity still exists. Despite the failure of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent attempt to mediate between the US and Iran, diplomatic prospects have arguably improved, in part because the sanctions are biting. The Trump administration has expressed a willingness to talk with Iran’s government without preconditions. Iran has so far rejected talks, but that might change if the US indicated that a degree of sanctions relief would be on the table.
Was Iran Behind the Oman Tanker Attacks? A Look at the Evidence
By Eliot Higgins, managing director of the investigative collective Bellingcat.
Internet databases confirm much about the incident, but the Trump administration hasn’t provided convincing evidence of Tehran’s culpability.
With tensions rising in the region since attacks on four tankers off the United Arab Emirates in May, understanding what happened and who is to blame is crucial.

13 June
Noah Weisbord: What does the Trump administration want from Iran?
Two oil tankers were attacked on June 13 off the coast of Oman, forcing the crew members of one burning ship to flee. It was the latest in a series of assaults on tankers transporting oil through the Gulf. In May, Saudi, Norwegian and Emirati oil tankers were attacked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, causing damage but no casualties. The attacks have gone unclaimed, so the perpetrator is unknown – at least publicly.
U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, blamed the Iranian government and called the May attacks “naked aggression.” Saudi King Salman asked the international community to “use all means” to punish Iran. U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, who has called for bombing Iran to cripple its nuclear program, has maintained that Iran is “almost certainly” responsible for the attacks. In May Bolton announced the deployment to the Persian Gulf of a carrier strike group and a nuclear-capable bomber task force, America’s most formidable military assets.
The purpose: “to send a clear and unmistakable message” to Iran.
But the White House is squabbling over its objectives, which are far from clear.

2 June
Pompeo says U.S. ready to talk to Iran with ‘no preconditions‘,
(AP) Matthew Lee : Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that the Trump administration is ready for unconditional discussions with Iran in an effort to ease rising tensions that have sparked fears of conflict. But the United States will not relent in trying to pressure the Islamic Republic to change its behavior in the Middle East, America’s top diplomat said.
“Pompeo repeated long-standing U.S. accusations that Iran is bent on destabilizing the region, but he also held out the possibility of talks as President Donald Trump has suggested. ‘We’re prepared to engage in a conversation with no preconditions,’ Pompeo told reporters at a news conference with his Swiss counterpart. ‘We’re ready to sit down with them, but the American effort to fundamentally reverse the malign activity of this Islamic Republic, this revolutionary force, is going to continue.’
While the latest offer may not pan out, Pompeo made it during a visit to Switzerland, the country that long has represented American interests in Iran.

23 May
Analysis: Iran supreme leader comments signal strategy shift
(AP) — For years, Iran’s supreme leader only criticized the West over Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. Now, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is publicly chastising the country’s elected president and his foreign minister as the accord unravels amid heightened tensions with the U.S.
By naming President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as failing to implement his orders over the deal, Khamenei is signaling a hard-line tilt in how the Islamic Republic will react going forward.
That will include how Iran handles the ongoing maximalist pressure campaign of President Donald Trump, who has piled on new sanctions and dispatched an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers to the region over still-unspecified threats the White House perceives to be coming from Tehran. Now U.S. officials say the Pentagon will present a plan to the White House on Thursday calling for sending as many as an additional 10,000 troops to the Middle East over Iran.

22 May
US Democrats raise alarm over Trump’s increasing threats to Iran
(Al Jazeera) US Democratic politicians expressed scepticism and alarm after receiving closed-door briefings from key Trump administration officials on Tuesday about escalating tensions with Iran.
The briefings were given by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, Chairman of Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford and an official from the US Defense Intelligence Agency.

21 May
Gwynne Dyer: An unwinnable war
“After a long debate, the highest levels of the military could not forecast a way in which things would end favourably for the United States,” said Richard Clarke, counter-terrorism adviser in the White House under three administrations
This was all back in the days when various people in the West were talking far too loosely about war with Iran, because the Iranian president at the time was a loud-mouthed extremist named Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Then he lost the 2013 election and was replaced by a moderate reformer, Hassan Rouhani.
Rouhani stopped all the aggressive talk, and in 2015 he cut a deal with most of the world’s major powers to put Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions, if any, on ice for at least 15 years. Everything then went quiet until another loud-mouthed extremist, Donald Trump, tore up the 2015 agreement and began talking about war with Iran again.

19 May
Tweet from Trump: ‘If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran’
U.S. House Democrats have invited former CIA director John Brennan to speak about the situation in Iran next week.
Brennan, an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, is scheduled to talk to House Democrats at a private weekly caucus meeting Tuesday, according to a Democratic aide and another person familiar with the private meeting. Both were granted anonymity to discuss the meeting.
The invitation to Brennan and Wendy Sherman, a former State Department official and top negotiator of the Iran nuclear deal, offers counter-programming to the Trump administration’s closed-door briefing for lawmakers also planned for Tuesday on Capitol Hill. Democratic lawmakers are likely to attend both sessions.

17 May
John Bolton, the Saudis and the hawkish forces pushing the White House toward a war with Iran
Bolton, the president’s national security adviser, once endorsed a plan to ‘bomb Iran’
(CBC) This week, the U.S. dispatched an aircraft carrier and several B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf. The U.S. is reportedly drawing up plans to deploy 120,000 troops to the Middle East in the event that Iran attacks American forces in Iraq. The New York Times reports that intelligence officials have declassified a photo of a purported Iranian missile on a boat in the Persian Gulf.
In another ominous development, the U.S. State Department this week ordered all non-emergency staff out of Baghdad, a move interpreted by analysts as a precaution ahead of possible fighting in the region.
Before his appointment as Trump’s chief adviser on national security, Bolton authored a 2015 op-ed in The New York Times articulating his solution for preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb: “Bomb Iran.”
Bolton holds sway, too. Under his counsel, Trump reneged on his promise to withdraw troops from Syria. Although Trump objected to regime change in Venezuela, he heeded Bolton’s advice to push for an uprising to oust dictator Nicolas Maduro. When that uprising failed, a peculiar thing happened: The president told reporters he needed to rein in his national security adviser.
While Trump has long criticized Iran and campaigned for president on a promise to leave the Iran nuclear deal, his opposition to the Islamic republic has veered toward more militaristic measures since Bolton’s appointment last year, said retired army lieutenant-colonel Danny Davis, a fellow with the Defense Priorities think-tank in Washington.
Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” has escalated to the point where Iran is now in a chokehold. The U.S. aims to stop Iran’s exports of oil to other nations, threatening penalties for Iran’s customers. Applying such pressure without offering a release valve could cause the Iranians to lash out in a way that could spark a war, Davis said.

15 May
The Hidden Sources of Iranian Strength
Iran’s ties with its proxies are far deeper than the Trump administration understands.

14 May
The Knowns and Unknowns of What’s Happening With Iran
Conflicting signals from both sides could be read as a march to war or business as usual
.
(The Atlantic) Still unknown is what precise intelligence precipitated last week’s announcement from National Security Adviser John Bolton that the U.S. is sending a carrier strike group to the region in the face of “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings.” Still unknown is who exactly was behind the tanker explosions, for which Iran has denied responsibility but which U.S. officials suspect to be their work. Still unknown is what exactly prompted the embassy evacuation order, and how much Iran-backed militias in Iraq are posing more of a threat to American forces following Washington’s “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran.

Iran and the West: Can Europe restrain the US?
The EU seems to be the only major power willing to stand up to the US on Iran. But does it have the strength to do so?
by Marwan Bishara
(Al Jazeera) Both the US and the EU would like to see the Ayatollahs’ Iran contained and constrained, preferably under new leadership … but as in the past, they disagree on how to go about it. To put it simply, it is a dispute over … whether to bring Iran to its senses or bring it to its knees.
The Europeans want to compel the Islamic Republic to change its behaviour using trade and investments in accordance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), while the US wants to coerce it into a much more debilitating deal through tough sanctions and the threat of force.
As the crisis deepens, the disagreements between the US and Europe are also worsening in tone and substance.
Brussels hopes President Donald Trump is pursuing a new deal not a new war, but his senior administration officials may be itching to teach Iran a lesson by forcing it to make an impossible choice between total surrender and total defeat. The Trump administration’s reliance on the coercive power of its military and economic dominance and its use of the same prisms and pretexts as the Bush administration in 2003 could push the crisis down a slippery slope towards confrontation – one that promises to be far more costly than the Iraq war. (see also: Iran suggests oil attacks orchestrated to spark conflict — FM Javad Zarif says his country anticipated ‘activities to escalate tension’ by ‘hardliners’ in the US and Middle East)

13 May
White House Reviews Military Plans Against Iran, in Echoes of Iraq War
At a meeting of President Trump’s top national security aides, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented an updated military plan that envisions sending as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack American forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons, administration officials said.
The revisions were ordered by hard-liners led by John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser. They do not call for a land invasion of Iran, which would require vastly more troops, officials said.
The development reflects the influence of Mr. Bolton, one of the administration’s most virulent Iran hawks, whose push for confrontation with Tehran was ignored more than a decade ago by President George W. Bush.
Pompeo crashes Brussels meeting of E.U. diplomats but changes few minds on Iran
(WaPo) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo crashed a meeting of European foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday to push for a united transatlantic front against Tehran and its nuclear program. But he failed to bend attitudes among leaders who fear that the United States and Iran are inching toward war.
Pompeo’s last-minute decision to visit the European Union capital, announced as he boarded a plane from the United States, set up a confrontation between the top U.S. diplomat and his European counterparts, who have been scrambling to save the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal last year. At least one, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, said he feared that unintentional escalation from the United States and Iran could spark a conflict — an unusually bold statement that appeared to assign equal culpability to Washington and Tehran.
Pompeo was rebuffed on even some basic requests in Brussels. While his plane crossed the Atlantic, European diplomats haggled over how much to accommodate him. Although Mogherini managed to find time, initially she said she had a busy day and that the pair would talk “if we manage to arrange a meeting.”

10 May
Can Anyone Save the Iran Nuclear Deal?
Maybe Europe — if we’re lucky.
By Ariane Tabatabai, political scientist who focuses on the Iran nuclear agreement
(NYT) On Wednesday, Mr. Rouhani announced that Iran would stop adhering to some of the deal’s provisions. Iran’s goal, though, is not to find a quick exit — or any exit at all — from the deal, but to signal to the European countries that also signed it that they can no longer sit by as the United States imposes sanctions and more generally piles pressure on Tehran.
The nuclear deal is, like most international agreements, far from perfect, but the rest of the parties to it — and most countries in the world — see it as critical to regional stability and international security, which is why they have tried to keep it alive in the face of the Trump administration’s efforts to destroy it.
Mr. Rouhani is sending Europe a clear signal: If Iran doesn’t get any benefits from its participation in the agreement, neither will Europe. That’s why he announced Iran will hold on to its excess enriched uranium and heavy water — both of which could potentially be used in building nuclear weapons — rather than sell them to other countries, as is required by the agreement. He is also giving the Europeans 60 days to take steps to help Iran’s economy, which has been crippled by the American sanctions. If he doesn’t get those things, he says, his country will take additional steps that violate the deal and eventually pull out altogether.

7 May
Iran announces partial withdrawal from nuclear deal
A year after Trump pulled the US out of the 2015 agreement, Iran takes ‘reciprocal measures’
(The Guardian) President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran will stop exporting enriched uranium stocks as stipulated by the 2015 agreement and warned it would resume higher uranium enrichment in 60 days if the remaining signatories did not make good on promises to shield its oil and banking sectors from sanctions.
Wednesday’s measures, announced by Rouhani in an address to the nation, were formally conveyed to ambassadors to countries remaining inside the deal – France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia. Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif separately set out the technical and legal details in a letter to the EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini.
Rouhani said Iran wanted to negotiate new terms with remaining partners in the deal, but warned that the situation was dire. “We felt that the nuclear deal needs a surgery and the painkiller pills of the last year have been ineffective … This surgery is for saving the deal, not destroying it.”
The move is bound to be seized upon by Washington as proof that the nuclear deal – which the US violated in May 2018 – has collapsed and is no longer worth pursuing.
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo is bound to seize on Tehran’s move as a lever with which to prise Europe away from its support for the deal, which was seen as a high-water mark of European diplomacy.
European diplomats are left to manage an often contradictory Washington foreign policy, but broadly fear that the US national security adviser John Bolton is pursuing a strategy of regime change in Iran that will only backfire, ushering in a more hardline stance.

6 May
The Many Ways Iran Could Target the United States
The White House is citing unspecified threats from Iran. The specifics are murky, but the potential for escalation is real.
(The Atlantic) In the year since President Donald Trump left the Iran nuclear deal, his administration has steadily ratcheted up economic pressure against the Iranian regime, deploying an unprecedented number of sanctions to throttle its oil exports and punish its support for regional proxies. With Sunday’s announcement, though, Bolton invoked unspecified Iranian threats to the U.S. and its regional allies, while hinting at a more serious step: the threat of violence.
Administration officials have not so far disclosed what exactly prompted the worries about Iran targeting the U.S. or its allies, with Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, for instance, only citing “indications of a credible threat by Iranian regime forces.” Still, the dynamics of the region, and especially how deeply entrenched both Iranian and U.S. forces are there, have left the Iranian

29 April
The High-Stakes Confrontation Between Trump and Khamenei
Neither leader appears to want escalating conflict—yet that’s precisely where things seem to be headed.
By Karim Sadjadpour, Senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
(The Atlantic) Put yourself in the shoes of Iran’s 80-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. His regime is beset by nearly 50 percent inflation, a collapsed currency, persistent labor strikes, and an irrepressible women’s-rights movement. Epic floods recently killed more than 75 people and caused nearly $3 billion in damage. A locust plague is threatening 300,000 hectares—$9 billion worth—of farming land. “Things have never been this bad” is a refrain commonly heard from Iran these days.
Against this backdrop, a U.S. president whom Khamenei has described as “mentally retarded”—Donald Trump—is pursuing a relentless economic-pressure campaign seemingly intended to force either Iran’s capitulation or its collapse. First, in May 2018, Trump unilaterally pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. In April 2019, the State Department officially designated Iran’s most powerful political and economic institution—the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)—a terrorist organization, further rendering that group an international pariah. And now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced that no countries will be granted further exemptions to import Iranian oil, an attempt to choke the lifeblood of Iran’s economy.
Trump has repeatedly expressed an aversion to greater U.S. involvement (including conflict) in the Middle East, and his affinity for autocrats makes clear that he has no interest in democracy promotion or regime change in Iran. He has made numerous unreciprocated efforts to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and has told aides and foreign leaders that his “maximum pressure” campaign is designed to be a prelude to diplomacy, not conflict.
Bolton, by contrast, has a long history of advocating both military strikes and regime change against Iran. Pompeo has sought to reconcile these contradictory impulses by focusing on the means—that is, by raising the pressure—rather than the endgame. “The worst fear of Bolton and Pompeo,” a senior State Department official told me, “is that the Ayatollah [Khamenei] writes Trump a letter, suggesting a get-together. They know the president would jump at such an opportunity.”

11 March
Iranian lawyer who defended women’s right to remove hijab gets 38 years, 148 lashes
(Women in the world.com) After two trials described by Amnesty International as “grossly unfair,” Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has been sentenced to a total of 38 years in prison and 148 lashes.
Sotoudeh, who has dedicated her life to defending Iranian women prosecuted for removing their hijabs in public, has been in the crosshairs of Iran’s theocratic government for years. In 2010, she was convicted of conspiring to harm state security and served half of a six-year sentence. Then, in June of last year, she was rearrested on an array of dubious charges. Tried in secret, details of her ordeal have often come via her husband, Reza Khandan, who wrote of her new, much harsher sentence on his Facebook page on Monday.

8 March
America’s torch song for Tehran
By Kenneth M Pollack
(Brookings) Of the seven American presidents to serve since the Iranian revolution, at least four and arguably five wanted an end to the hostilities with Iran and made real efforts to bring that about. In most cases, they paid a considerable political price to do so. And while there certainly have been many Iranians, many Iranian officials, and at least three Iranian presidents who seemed to want the same, the Iranian regime as a whole and its two supreme leaders—Iran’s equivalent to the American president—have never shown the least interest. Instead, they have systematically shut down every effort toward meaningful peace between the two countries.

27 February
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani rejected the resignation of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, standing by a moderate ally long targeted by hardliners in factional struggles over a 2015 nuclear deal with the West. This is after U.S.-educated veteran diplomat who helped craft the pact that curbed Iran’s nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief – announced his resignation on Instagram.

15 February
The Trump Administration Can’t Get a United Front Against Iran
But the Warsaw conference did bring together Gulf Arabs and Israel against their common enemy.
Mike Pence traveled to Warsaw to deliver a scathing message to European allies for not standing with America against Iran. “The time has come for our European partners to stand with us and the Iranian people,” he declared.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heralded the breadth of the Middle East conference, citing representatives present from “60-plus” countries around the world. The absences were telling: Foreign ministers from Germany and France declined to show, sending lower-level officials instead. The EU’s foreign-affairs chief had a scheduling conflict. Representatives for key players in the Middle East—including the Palestinian Authority, Iran, Russia, and Turkey—also weren’t there. The last three were at a conference of their own, where they lauded the U.S. withdrawal from Syria and said Syrian troops should replace the Americans.
… But if the Iran issue divides traditional allies, it unites traditional adversaries. What were perhaps the summit’s most significant moments of unity came from improbable places, namely between the Israelis and the Arabs. Netanyahu noted as much in an unfortunately phrased tweet on Wednesday, where he cited Israel and Arab countries’ “common interest of war with Iran”—before reissuing the tweet with a softer “combating Iran.”

10-12 February
After 40 years, is Iran’s revolution unravelling?
(Brookings) For Iran’s leadership, the annual commemoration offered a reminder of the regime’s endurance and an opportunity for reassurance after an annus horribilis. Last year opened with an intense spasm of protests across the country, then was punctuated by the American withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal and re-imposition of economic sanctions, and ended with the
demise of yet another mandarin of the revolutionary leadership who was once seen as a contender for the regime’s senior post.
While the epic volley of demonstrations that rocked the country last winter has mostly faded from the headlines, the convergence of pressures from within and without is pushing Iran’s post-revolutionary system steadily toward the brink. The tempo may have slowed and the furies seemed to ebb, but the upheaval laid bare public frustrations with the stalemate over Iran’s future that lies just beneath the fractious partisanship of its political establishment.
Like any dogma, the gospel of the Islamic Republic’s durability is vulnerable to the inconvenient forces of reality. The presumption of Iranian stability is always true, until it is not, since it is challenged by recurrent convulsions that are never anticipated by the cognoscenti. Iran’s contested internal landscape, with a fractious elite and routine opportunities for limited political voice, may be the Islamic Republic’s hidden strength, but the deep challenges to the existing order have never been fully suppressed or satisfied. And just as in the 1970s, Americans tend to overestimate the continuing resilience of the regime.
For this reason, the prospect of meaningful change in Iran forever lies somewhere between unthinkable and inevitable. At the moment, signs suggest that the pendulum may be swinging toward change.

The Iranian Revolution at 40: From Theocracy to ‘Normality’
By Thomas Erdbrink
(NYT) In February of 1979, Tehran was in chaos. A cancer-stricken Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Western-backed autocrat, had gone into exile in mid-January, leaving behind a rickety regency council. On Feb. 1, Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the godfather of the revolution, returned from exile in Paris. And in the Iranian version of “Ten Days That Shook the World,” street demonstrations raged until the government collapsed on Feb. 11.
Forty years ago, Iranians swelled with pride, hope and the expectation of a better future. Dreams of freedom and independence from the United States fired up the revolutionaries. But great, rapid change can leave deep and lasting wounds. There were lashings, hangings, amputations and mass imprisonment. Thousands of people died and hundreds of thousands left the country, some fleeing for their lives, never to return.
… over the years, as the early revolutionary fervor gave way for most people to a yearning for a more normal existence, the rules became negotiable. While the political system is basically the same as those early years, the society changed slowly, at times almost imperceptibly. Those changes have been enormous, and Iran today is closer than most outsiders generally appreciate to being that “normal” country Iranians want.
… Politics in Iran are a different story. There was the Green Revolution of 2009, when people rose up to protest a fraudulent election. But that was violently suppressed, and the group of people making the decisions has remained largely unchanged over the years, even narrowing some. Yet after allowing so many social taboos to slip, Iran’s leaders face a growing dilemma of whether to start translating the social changes into new laws and customs or try to hang on to the 40-year-old ideals of the revolution.
Anguish, hope and resistance: 40 years since the Iranian Revolution
(CBC) In a special one-hour broadcast, The Sunday Edition explores the lesser-known history of how a CIA coup, crowded poetry readings, a repressive secret service, a lavish birthday party, a badly-timed editorial, and a horrific government crackdown all gave birth to the revolution.
Historian Ervand Abrahamian explains why Iranians from different walks of life rose up against the shah, and how Khomeini used vague populist slogans to convince Iranians that an Islamic Republic would deliver independence from Western domination and an end to class inequality.

3 January
Shaparak Shajarizadeh and the fight for women’s rights in Iran
In an interview with Céline Cooper, the Iranian activist speaks about her protest against the compulsory hijab and why she finally left her home for Canada.

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