The Iranian Nuclear Horn Continues to Grow: Daniel 8

Iran’s oil exports, uranium stockpile surge as Trump administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ policy hits a wall

The Bella oil tanker in an undated photo released by the Justice Department. The U.S. government sold oil seized from the tanker that it said originated in Iran and was destined for Venezuela. (Justice Department/AFP/Getty Images)

November 15, 2020 at 6:49 PM EST

Last week, as the White House digested news of a defeat at the polls, Trump administration officials were greeted with reports of troubling setbacks on two fronts in the country’s long-simmering conflict with Iran.

First came a leaked U.N. document showing yet another sharp rise in Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium Then, satellites tracked an Iranian oil tanker — the fourth in recent weeks — sailing toward the Persian Gulf after delivering Iranian petroleum products to Venezuela.

The first item was further proof of Iran’s progress in amassing the fissile fuel used to make nuclear energy and, potentially, nuclear bombs. The second revealed gaping holes in President Trump’s strategy for stopping that advance. Over the summer, the administration made a show of seizing cargo from several other tankers at sea in a bid to deter Iran from trying to sell its oil abroad. Yet Iran’s oil trade, like its nuclear fuel output, is on the rise again.

The Trump administration is entering its final months with a flurry of new sanctions intended to squeeze Iran economically. But by nearly every measure, the efforts appear to be faltering. The tankers that arrived in Venezuela in recent weeks are part of a flotilla of ships that analysts say is now quietly moving a million barrels of discounted Iranian oil and gas a day to eager customers from the Middle East to South America to Asia, including China.

The volume represents a more than tenfold increase since the spring, analysts say, and signals what experts see as a significant weakening of the “maximum pressure” sanctions imposed by the Trump administration since it withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018.

Other countries, many of them scornful of Trump’s unilateralism on Iran, are showing increasing reluctance to enforce the restrictions, even as Iran embarks on a new expansion of its uranium stockpile, according to industry analysts and intelligence officials, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive assessments.

Trump imposes more sanctions and sells off Iranian oil

As a result, Trump is widely expected to leave President-elect Joe Biden with a crisis that is worse, by nearly every measure, than when he was elected four years ago: an Iranian government that is blowing past limits on its nuclear program, while Washington’s diplomatic and economic leverage steadily declines.

“The Tehran regime has met ‘maximum pressure’ with its own pressure,” said Robert Litwak, senior vice president of the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the author of “Managing Nuclear Risks,” a book on countering proliferation threats. Far from halting Iran’s nuclear advances, Litwak said, the administration’s policies have “diplomatically isolated the United States, not Iran.”

The weakening of sanctions pressure gives Iran more time to deal with its still formidable economic challenges, without losing a step in its bid to re-create uranium assets it had given up under the terms of the nuclear accord, the intelligence officials and industry experts said. Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported to member states in a confidential document that Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium has swollen to nearly 8,000 pounds, more than 12 times the limit set by the 2015 nuclear deal. Iranian officials justify the breach by noting that it was Washington, not Tehran, that walked away from the agreement.

Even among staunch U.S. allies in Europe and Asia, dismay over the Trump approach has cooled support for the kind of broadly enforced economic boycott that might push Iran to change its behavior, analysts said.

“Many eyes may be averted now” when it comes to Iranian cheating on sanctions, said Eric Lee, an energy strategist with Citigroup in New York. “Many countries are frustrated with U.S. unilateralism, even those with well-placed misgivings about Iran.”

‘Just pure barter’

The message conveyed to Iran over the summer was anything but subtle. In a highly unusual move, the U.S. working with unnamed foreign partners seized the cargo of four tankers said to be carrying Iranian oil, including the 600-foot-long Bella, a Greek-owned vessel flying a Liberian flag.

Both Iran and the intended recipient, Venezuela, are under U.S. economic sanctions, and the decision to confiscate and sell the oil was intended to discourage governments and shipping companies from doing business with either of the two. “The United States remains committed to our maximum pressure campaigns against the Iranian and [the Venezuelan] Maduro regimes,” said State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus.

U.S. officials seize Iranian ships, push for arms embargo

Yet any pause in commerce between the countries was temporary at best. Venezuela and Iran are longtime trading partners — Venezuela, itself an oil producer, relies on Iran for refined petroleum products such as gasoline — and the two quickly found other tanker companies willing to risk the journey. Among the four tankers spotted traveling to, or returning from, Venezuela in recent weeks was the Iranian-flagged Horse, a massive ship the length of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, according to TankerTrackers.com, a private company that monitors oil shipments around the world.

The Horse dropped off 2 million barrels of Iranian gas condensate — a straw-colored liquid used as a dilutant for Venezuela’s sludgy crude oil — and picked up 2 million barrels of Venezuelan petroleum to sell abroad, said TankerTrackers co-founder Sam Madani. The ship rounded the Horn of Africa early this past week on its return trip to Iran.

“This is just pure barter,” Madani said of Iran’s trade with the embattled Venezuelans. “They need to get rid of this stuff. They send it to Venezuela, which is perfect, because it improves their oil production. And in return, they get Venezuela’s oil and they can sell it to China.”

Yet, despite its prominence, the tanker traffic between Iran and Venezuela is but one facet of an illicit trade that has grown in size and sophistication over the past year. Obtaining reliable figures for Iran’s oil industry is difficult, but multiple independent analysts calculated that Tehran exported on average 1.2 million barrels of oil a day in September, and nearly as much in October. That’s less than half the amount of petroleum Tehran was selling in 2018, but it is dramatically higher than the 70,000 barrels reported in April, when Iran was contending simultaneously with Trump administration sanctions and the devastating coronavirus pandemic.

Analysts see ‘quantum change’ in Iran’s missile capabilities

Some of Iran’s partners no longer try to keep the transactions secret. Since the summer, Iran has become increasingly open about its trade with China, which now publicly reports a portion of its Iranian oil imports, defying a Trump administration threat to retaliate against governments that allow commerce with Tehran.

But Iran conceals the bulk of its oil trade through subterfuge, with practices ranging from the simple — changing the names and registrations of oil tankers — to the complex and dangerous, such as clandestine transfers of crude oil or liquefied petroleum gas between vessels in the open sea.

United Against Nuclear Iran, a Washington advocacy group that monitors Iran’s illicit oil trade, obtained aerial photographs depicting four vessels allegedly engaged in illegal ship-to-ship transfers of Iranian oil in October. In five other instances, foreign ships were seen picking up Iranian liquid petroleum gas and transferring the fuel to other vessels bound for Chinese ports. The photographs are part of a report due to be published by UANI this week.

The tankers involved in the exchanges typically turn off their transponders, the automated radio beacons used by ships to identify one another at sea. Some engage in “spoofing,” a kind of seaborne shell game in which ships swap their transponders to make it harder for outsiders to tell where the oil is going. In other cases, a tanker’s owners simply change the vessel’s name or re-register the ship under a different country’s flag.

“It’s a very murky world,” said Daniel Roth, UANI research director, who co-wrote the report with Claire Jungman, UANI chief of staff. “There’s a lot of flag-hopping that goes on. Owners change names and registries at the drop of a hat.”

All sea lanes lead to China

A substantial share of the black-market oil eventually ends up at refineries in China, often after passing though middlemen in Malaysia and other East Asian countries, analysts say. Much of the rest finds its way to foreign markets through a variety of time-tested routes: hauled overland through Turkey; transferred to Iraq to be relabeled and sold as Iraqi oil; or exchanged for cash or in barter-style swaps with other pariah states, such as Venezuela and Syria.

Nuclear watchdog sees sharp rise in Iran’s uranium stockpile

Yet while Iran is succeeding in getting more of its oil to foreign markets, Iranian leaders also expressed hope last week that the Biden administration would return to the 2015 nuclear deal. The accord ended many sanctions against Iran in return for strict limits on its weapons program.

Under the agreement, Western countries lifted curbs on Iran’s oil exports, while Tehran dismantled its Arak nuclear reactor and agreed to limit its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to less than 300 kilograms, or 660 pounds, far short of what it would need to build a single nuclear weapon. With its current 8,000-pound stockpile, Tehran could now build a bomb in less than four months if it decides to do so, weapons experts say. Iran denies having any interest in acquiring a nuclear weapon.

But the prospects for restoring the agreement are far from clear. As a candidate, Biden pledged to reenter the agreement and conduct “hard-nosed diplomacy” aimed at extending the pact and strengthening its provisions. So far, Tehran has shown no signs of willingness to accept such terms, and in any case, it would be unlikely to do so until after next year’s presidential elections in Iran, analysts say.

If negotiations eventually resume, the “timing most likely will be a lot slower than people think, and the volume of oil exports will remain low,” said Lee, the Citigroup energy strategist.

“And even then,” he said, “it still might not work out.”

How Obama and Trump Created the Iranian Nuclear Horn

The Iran Nuclear Deal

By Jonathan Tirone | Bloomberg

New fuel rods sit in wrapping ahead of use in a storeroom beside the main reactor hall at the Dukovany nuclear power plant operated by CEZ AS in Dukovany, Czech Republic, on Sunday, April 6, 2014. CEZ AS, the largest Czech power producer, sees potential for two new reactors at its Dukovany nuclear complex once the current four units are retired in 2035. Photographer: Martin Divisek/Bloomberg (Bloomberg)

Iran’s nuclear capabilities have been the subject of global hand-wringing for more than two decades. While Iran’s leaders long insisted the country was not building nuclear weapons, its enrichment of uranium and history of deception created deep mistrust. In 2015, after more than two years of talks and threats to bomb the country’s facilities, Iran and world powers reached a deal that limited the Islamic Republic’s nuclear work in exchange for relief from economic sanctions that had cut off oil exports and hobbled its economy. After President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the pact and reinstated sanctions in 2018, Iran began violating the deal’s restrictions and, in early 2020, said it would no longer observe limits on the amount of nuclear material it produces. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who was elected Nov. 3 to succeed Trump, has said he would return the U.S. to the deal if Iran resumes complying with it. 

The revival of the nuclear agreement is not a given, despite the outcome of the U.S. presidential race. A presidential election in Iran in June may prove just as pivotal. The field is set to be dominated by conservatives whose influence has surged since the U.S. abandoned the deal, which President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, had sold to Iranians as a ticket to economic prosperity. Instead, the tighter U.S. sanctions provoked an economic contraction. A hardline successor to Rouhani may not be willing to simply reactivate the pact as is. For his part, Biden says that after rejoining the accord, the U.S. would work with its allies on additional negotiations to “strengthen and extend” the deal’s provisions, without saying specifically how. Trump’s policies produced division between the U.S. and the other parties to the accord— China, France, Russia, Germany, the U.K. and the European Union — which worked to preserve it. When the Trump administration, in an effort to bury the deal for good, pressed the United Nations to restore its sanctions against Iran in August, it was rebuffed by other members of the UN Security Council.

Iranian statements and international contacts with Pakistani scientists prompted the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to warn in 1992 that the Persian Gulf country could develop a nuclear weapon. While Iran reaffirmed its commitment to the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it wanted the country’s “right” to enrich uranium recognized before it made concessions. A breakthrough came after Iran elected Rouhani president in 2013. The 2015 deal he made recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, and Iran was allowed to keep 5,000 centrifuges to separate the uranium-235 isotope needed to induce a fission chain reaction. But Iran agreed that for 15 years it would not refine the metal to more than 3.7% enrichment — the level needed to fuel nuclear power plants — and would limit its enriched-uranium stockpile to 300 kilograms, or 3% of the amount it held in May 2015. The International Atomic Energy Agency verified that Iran eliminated its inventory of 20%-enriched uranium, which can be used to make medical isotopes and to power research reactors but could also be purified to weapons-grade material at short notice. Inspectors also confirmed that Iran destroyed a reactor capable of producing plutonium. U.S. officials under then-President Barack Obama estimated that the pact extended the time it would take Iran to produce enough fissile material for a bomb from a few months to a year. 

Trump administration officials say the 2015 deal emboldened Iranian activities that destabilize the Middle East and didn’t adequately address Iran’s ballistic missile program. They had some company in criticizing the deal. Middle East powers including Israel and Saudi Arabia say it empowered Iran’s theocratic regime to the detriment of regional security. And some members of the U.S. Congress say Iran can’t be trusted to make any fissile material, whether for energy, medicine or bombs. Like other enriching countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Japan and South Africa, the technology gives Iran the ability to pursue nuclear weapons should it choose to break its commitments. Supporters of the deal say Iran would never agree to abandon enrichment entirely and that a decade’s worth of sanctions failed to stop its nuclear program. Keeping an enrichment capability was important to Iran, for reasons of national pride and because it was previously denied access to uranium on world markets. Defending the agreement, Obama has said that it prevented another war in the Middle East. Without a deal, supporters say, Iran would have been left free to pursue its nuclear ambitions unchecked.

• Related QuickTakes on U.S.-Iran tensions, how close Iran might be to a nuclear bomb, and Iran’s proxy network. 

• Text of the July 2015 agreement and a New York Times graphic on the outcome.

• Bloomberg published a layman’s guide to the Iran talks and a timeline about the country’s history of deception.

• Council on Foreign Relations web page on the Iran nuclear talks.

• Carnegie Endowment for International Peace April 2013 report estimating the costs and risks of Iran’s nuclear program.

Biden and Obama well once again surrender to the Iranian Horn

Iran’s President Rouhani says next US administration will ‘surrender’ to Tehran

Iran President Hassan Rouhani said that it doesn’t matter who wins the US Elections because the next administration “will surrender” to the Islamic nation.

Amid ongoing US Election 2020, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on November 5 during the opening remarks at a water supply project that it doesn’t matter who wins the US Election 2020, because the next administration “will surrender” to the Islamic nation. Even though it can take several more hours to announce the results by US media networks, currently Democratic Challenger Joe Biden is leading the race with 264 electoral votes while incumbent Donald Trump is trailing at 214, as per the Associated Press. Rouhani also said that Iran will not give in to US pressures and noted that the nation has already withstood the crippling American sanctions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“It is not important who is elected (US) president, as the next US administration will surrender to the Iranian nation,” Hassan Rouhani is quoted by media outlets.

“Our nation would not buckle under the pressures. We can overcome the enemies and force them to resume honouring the law and regulations,” Rouhani added.

Iran’s supreme leader mocks US elections

After Iran’s Supreme Leader Imam Sayyid Ali Khamenei said that the United States suffers from political and moral ‘deviations’ in a statement on November 4, he mocked the American democracy. While incumbent US President Donald Trump attempted to sow doubt in the integrity of polling and has termed it ‘major fraud’, Iranian Supreme Leader called it “what a spectacle”. He noted the situation in Washington without mentioning the name of the contenders, trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

Taking a jibe at the nation while American sanctions are crippling Iran’s economy, Khamenei said that the person who is in the office after winning the election has called the same system “fraudulent” while his rival has said that US President is trying to ‘rig election’. According to the Iran Supreme Leader, “this is how” American democracy and its elections are. 

Iran and the Shi’a Horn: Daniel

Factbox: Iranian influence and presence in Syria

During the last several years, the Iranian military involvement in Syria has grown and become more visible, which has made targeting them an easy job for the Israeli air force. As a result, in 2017-2018, Iran had to find a different approach for its military involvement in order to protect its militias. Iran then began the ambitious plan of redefining its presence in Syria by creating the Local Defense Forces (LDF), supporting specific brigades within the Syrian army and, most recently, establishing local private security companies.

Iranian militias recruitment

Local Militias

Iran encouraged the Shia minority in Syria to form special militias and recruited Sunnis—especially clans—in the provinces of Aleppo, Raqqa, and Deir ez-Zor. In addition, some of the Shia militias in Syria were and continue to be recruited on a sectarian basis under the pretext of defending places considered holy by the Shia community. For example, campaigns are being conducted in the areas housing holy Shia shrines in Damascus in the Sayeda Zeinab district. 

After individuals are recruited, they are sent for about twenty-one to forty-five days of light and medium arms training and sometimes for six months for heavy weapons training. The Syrian militias backed or formed by Iran are divided into several groups.

• National Defense Forces: The formation of the National Defense Forces (NDF) began in 2012 with Iranian guidance and support in the city of Homs. It included members of all sects—Sunnis, Alawites, and Druze—and has headquarters in each province. The NDF was considered the largest Syrian militia in terms of number and outreach, with an estimated forty thousand fighters. Iran demanded that the Syrian regime legitimize these forces like the Shia Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Iraq and integrate them into the Assad regime’s military. In 2016, the regime dismantled the NDF, which forced Iran to fully neglect the militia and focus more on the LDF. It’s worth noting that the Russians started communicating with the NDF in late 2018 in order to integrate them with the Fifth Corp, so as to bring militias and ex-Free Syrian Army into Assad’s military to fight on the battlefronts of Hama, Daraa, and Homs.

• Local Defense Forces: Iran recruited fighters from the provinces of Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor, and Raqqa under the name of the Local Defense Forces (LDF). The LDF are considered part of the Syrian army and have over fifty thousand fighters. The most prominent militias within the framework are considered to be the Nayrab Brigades (Special Operations), al-Sefira Corps, al-Baqir Brigade, the Nubul and Zahra Brigades, and the Qatraji forces. 

• Syrian Shia militias: Iran recruited from the Shia minority in Syria; mainly from northern Aleppo, northern Homs, and parts of Raqqa. The Syrian Shia militias have an estimated five thousand to eight thousand fighters. The most prominent of these militias include: the Aleppo branch of the Imam al-Hajjah, the Mahdi soldiers and the Mahdi Army in Nubul and Zahra, the Damascus branch of the Rukia Brigade, the Idlib branch of the al-Waed al-Sadiq Corps, the Homs branch of the forces of Imam Reza, Zin El Abidin Brigade, the Deir ez-Zor branch of the Brigade 313 Busra al-Sham in Daraa, and Al-Mukhtar Al-Thaqafi Brigade (Lattakia and Hama), among others.  

Foreign Militias

Iran uses several mechanisms to recruit foreign fighters. It employs the ideological factor through its own “Husseiniat Scouts” to recruit Shia volunteers under the motto of “Protecting Shia shrines.” 

Iran also lures fighters to Syria with salaries. For example, every fighter in the Fatemiyoun brigade is given anywhere from $450 to $700 monthly, which makes the militia the highest paid by Iran. For other militias, Iran pays salaries between $200 to $300 and, for local militias, such as Nubl and Zahra Brigades, it gives less than $100 month. The militia salaries are funded from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) budget of approximately $7.6 billion. 

The IRGC and Hezbollah typically train members of these militias in camps in Mashhad, northeastern Iran and then transfer them to Syria either by land through Iraq or by air. When they aren’t sent to Iran, the IRGC can rely on several military bases and camps inside Syria, such as Damascus International Airport, al-Tayfour Airport, Azraa Base, Sayeda Zeinab Base, al-Kaswa Camp, Zabadani Camp, and al-Qusayr Camp. 

• Iraqi militias: Iraqi Shia militias began to appear in Syria at the end of 2012, after Iran directed them to support the Assad regime. Of note are the Zulfiqar Brigade, Abu al-Fadl Abbas Brigade, Asaad Allah al-Ghalib Brigade, the Imam Ali Brigade, and Asayeb Ahl al-Haq Brigade. However, a number of these militias were forced to return to Iraq in mid-2014 to counter the expansion of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), following its takeover of the city of Mosul. 

• Afghan militias: The IRGC recruited Afghan Shia in Iran and Afghanistan and formed the Fatemiyoun Brigade, which began to appear in Syria in November 2012. The brigade has an estimated three thousand to fourteen thousand fighters spread between three battalions in Damascus, Aleppo, and Hama provinces. Some of the leaders of the Fatemiyoun Brigade fought in the Abu Thar Brigade during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war and the Army of Muhammad during the 1979-1989 Soviet-Afghan war.

• Pakistani militias: The IRGC recruited Pakistani Shias and formed the Zaynibion Brigade, which began to appear publicly in Syria in early 2013. The brigade has an estimated one thousand to five thousand fighters deployed in Damascus, Aleppo, Daraa, and Hama provinces. 

• Lebanese militias: Hezbollah intervened early in the Syrian crisis in May 2011. The Lebanese militant group provided training and technical support to security forces and the Syrian army. Hezbollah has also launched field combat missions since 2013 and has an estimated five thousand to eight thousand fighters in Syria. 

Syrian private security companies affiliated with Iran

Before May 2013, the activities of private security companies in Syria were limited to securing shopping malls, banks, and concerts. The growing need for legal armed forces not bound by government regulation led to the issuance of Legislative Decree No. 55: a legal contract that allows militias to operate in Syria and use military force—depending on their contract—thereby allowing these entities to operate freely without needing to report to Assad’s army or security branches.

Iran used private security companies to insert Iranian influence in sensitive Syrian areas, such as the capital, Damascus, without concerns about maintaining this presence in the future, because private security companies are under the guise of a registered Syrian company. Iran found private security to be an ideal way to maintain a presence in strategic locations, like the Baghdad-Damascus highway in the eastern desert of Syria.

Iranian influence and presence beyond the military and security

The Syrian opposition forces’ gains between 2014-2015 was one of Iran’s most important triggers to strengthen its military presence and direct involvement in Syria. Map 2 shows the reality of the current territorial control and influence of Iran, as well as on its local and foreign militias.

As for the Iran-backed foreign militias, the IRGC used a completely different tactic in 2018 to mitigate the risk of Israeli airstrikes. First, it reduced the activity of these militias and used local brokers to work on their behalf, such as the Iraqi Badr Brigade. The militia still maintains three bases in southern Aleppo and near Aleppo international airport. It’s worth noting that all its social media accounts stopped posting about their activity in the area and have since worked under the umbrella of the Syrian LDF.

As the map shows, Iran’s plan was to spread in almost all parts of Syria using a combination of local and foreign militias. The following table explains the actual military strength and involvement of Iran and its allies in Syria in 2020.

The aforementioned Iranian control is no longer limited to military and security presence. Iran’s focus continues to be infiltrating Syrian society and strengthening its presence in the Syrian economic system in order to ensure its survival in Syria—especially in the event that an international agreement is made to neutralize its military presence. The following figures show Iran’s influence and the extent of its military, security, social, and economic control in various Syrian provinces. For example, when it comes to economic control, Iran reactivated the Syrian-Iranian Business Forum in 2018, which played a fundamental role in the spread of Iranian projects in various areas in Syria, mostly focusing on power generation projects.

Iran also works with charitable organizations to better integrate into Syrian society. One of the most significant Iran-backed organizations is Jihad Al-Bina Organization, which focuses mostly on the issue of restoring schools and health centers. The organization is currently active in Deir ez-Zor and Aleppo provinces.

Iran has also recently focused on education outreach, with the number of constructed educational facilities now up to seven, in addition to Iranian cultural centers, which play an important role in spreading Iranian culture in Syrian society. In 2019, Jihad Al-Bina restored sixteen schools in Deir ez-Zor alone. Each had a placard confirming that Iran had supported the operation. Jihad Al-Bina periodically distributes food aid to civilians in an effort to gain loyalty from the local population. During the coronavirus pandemic, Iran established several small medical points in Deir ez-Zor to supply civilians with Vitamin C and surgical masks. Though a minute gesture, many civilians saw the aid as a big deal, while some even saw it as a sign that Iran would never abandon them.

The spread of Iran’s influence in Syria is working accordingly, though not in a fast or clear-cut way. Iran is in Syria for the long term and is taking the time it needs to get results.

Correct: Trump is just finishing what Biden started

Biden Says Iran Closer to Nuclear Weapons Under Trump, Would Re-Enter Deal

BY DAVID BRENNAN ON 9/11/20 AT 5:15 AM EDT

On Thursday, Biden said Trump had made an Iranian nuclear weapon more likely despite his claims to the contrary. “Iran is closer to a weapon now than we were when we left office in 2017,” he said, according to a press pool report sent out by his campaign.

The former vice president defended the JCPOA, describing it as the “most intrusive inspection regime in history.”

Trump abandoned the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in May 2018, claiming the deal was too lenient and fulfilling a promise that became a key part of his foreign policy campaign strategy.

Trump withdrew despite other signatories urging him to reconsider and despite the International Atomic Energy Agency confirming that Tehran was complying with the agreement.

U.S.-Iran reactions have continued deteriorating since, with the two sides launching strikes against each other and flirting with an open conflict. Trump has maintained his “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran, seeking to undermine the regime with crippling economic sanctions.

The Trump administration has tried to rally its allies against Iran but has failed. The other signatories to the JCPOA—Russia, China, the U.K., Germany and France—remain committed, and the United Nations Security Council has rejected U.S. efforts to extend an arms embargo on Iran or re-apply the sanctions lifted by the JCPOA.

Meanwhile, Iran has ended compliance with the JCPOA’s terms. Tehran is now expanding its enriched uranium stockpile and ramping up its ability to produce more. Iran had been ending compliance piecemeal since Trump’s withdrawal, but said it would no longer respect any restrictions after the U.S. assassinated Major General Qassem Soleimani in January.

The Trump administration has accused Iran of running a clandestine nuclear operation outside of the JCPOA, citing Israeli intelligence. A nuclear-armed Iran would represent an existential threat for Israel.

Iran has denied the allegations and international inspectors repeatedly confirmed Iranian compliance in the years before Trump’s withdrawal.

Biden said Thursday he would reenter the deal if Iran “returns to compliance,” though said he would need help from the other JCPOA signatories, including U.S. rivals Russia and China. “I promise you it will be a significant initiative of mine to get back into the deal,” Biden said.

Trump has vowed to secure a new, more restrictive deal with Iran, one that would include limits on Tehran’s ballistic missile program and malign regional influence. Earlier this year, Trump urged Iran to “make the big deal” before November’s presidential election.

But Iranian officials have repeatedly refused new talks with the Trump administration, and dismissed any suggestion it would renegotiate the deal to make it more restrictive.

Khamenei is Correct: Babylon the Great is a Failed Model

US a truly failed model in running a society: Leader

TEHRAN, Aug. 23 (MNA) – Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said the US is a real model of failure in governing human society.

Mehr News Agency

Human values such as health, justice and security are being trampled on more in the United States than anywhere else,” Ayatollah Khamenei said in a video conference meeting with President Rouhani and his cabinet members on Sunday on the occasion of the National Government Week.

“The social gap in the US is terrible; the number and proportion of hungry and homeless people in the United States is higher than the rest of the world,” he added.

Referring to the statistics revealed by US presidential candidates in their campaigns, the Leader said, “One out of every five American children is hungry, while insecurity and crime rates in the United States are also very high.”

Murder, warmongering and creating insecurity are common actions carried out by the Americans in Syria, Palestine, and Yemen, and before that in Iraq, Afghanistan and areas such as Vietnam and Hiroshima.”

“The fact that the US is headed by people who are a source of humiliation for that country is another sign of the defeat of western models and the decline of western civilization in the world.”

Elsewhere in his remarks, the Leader called on the government to pave the way for boosting domestic production and reduce reliance on external sources.

“Production is key to employment, to livelihood, to reducing inflation, and to boosting the national currency’s value; therefore, we need to exert every effort possible regarding domestic production,” he said.

Addressing the cabinet members, the Leader stressed, “Try to remove the production obstacles; many of such issues pertain to excessive imports, parts [supply] challenges, and inconsistencies in downstream sectors,”

Hailing the considerable developments, including those made by the Defense Ministry and armed forces, advising to turn into domestic capabilities to supply the needs of the industry.

Iran says sabotage caused fire at Natanz nuclear site. Israel?

Iran admits sabotage caused fire at Natanz nuclear site

Iran’s nuclear body has said that a fire last month at a major nuclear facility was caused by sabotage.

But the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) did not say who it believed was behind the incident at the Natanz uranium enrichment site.

Some Iranian officials have previously said the fire might have been the result of cyber sabotage.

There were several fires and explosions at power facilities and other sites in the weeks surrounding the incident.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, a AEOI spokesperson, told state TV channel al-Alam on Sunday that “security authorities will reveal in due time the reason behind the [Natanz] blast”.

• What is behind mysterious ‘attacks’ at key sites?

• Why do the limits on Iran’s uranium enrichment matter?

The fire hit a central centrifuge assembly workshop. Centrifuges are needed to produce enriched uranium, which can be used to make reactor fuel but also material for nuclear weapons.

Mr Kamalvandi said last month that Iran would replace the damaged building with more advanced equipment, but acknowledged that the fire could slow down the development and production of advanced centrifuges “in the medium term”.

An article by Iran’s state news agency Irna previously addressed the possibility of sabotage by adversaries such as the United States and Israel, but did not accuse either of the countries directly.

Why is Natanz significant?

Natanz, about 250km (150 miles) south of the capital Tehran, is Iran’s largest uranium enrichment facility.

Earlier this month, Bloomberg published details of a report by the the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear watchdog, which concluded that Iran was attempting to boost uranium enrichment at the plant.

If true, the move would be in violation of a 2015 nuclear deal Iran signed with several world powers.

As part of the deal, Iran agreed only to produce low-enriched uranium, which has a 3-4% concentration of U-235 isotopes and can be used to produce fuel for nuclear power plants. Weapons-grade uranium is 90% enriched or more.

Iran also agreed to install no more than 5,060 of the oldest and least efficient centrifuges at Natanz until 2026, and not to carry out any enrichment at its other underground facility, Fordo, until 2031.

In exchange for concessions to it’s nuclear programme, Iran was granted relief from international sanctions.

In November, Iran unveiled advanced centrifuges at Natanz

But last year, Iran began rolling back its commitments after US President Donald Trump abandoned the nuclear accord and reinstated crippling economic sanctions.

In November, Iran said it had doubled the number of advanced centrifuges being operated at Natanz and had begun injecting uranium hexafluoride gas into centrifuges at Fordo .

Natanz is one of several facilities being monitored by the IAEA to ensure Iran’s compliance with the 2015 deal.

The IAEA’s new director general Rafael Grossi has said he will visit Tehran on Monday to request access to two suspected former nuclear sites.

The IAEA has criticised Iran for not answering questions about possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities at these sites in the early 2000s.

Iran has previously insisted its nuclear programme is not intended for military use. Officials have also denied that Mr Grossi’s visit is related to moves by the United States at the UN Security Council to reimpose international sanctions on Tehran, state media reported.

Babylon the Great Finally Leaving the Iraqi Horn

US President Donald Trump (Photo: AFP)

Donald Trump meets Iraq PM, says US troops to exit ‘at some point’

The US leader also said that military considerations as well as oil projects and development were on the agenda for his meeting with PM Kadhemi, who took office in May.

The US leader also said that military considerations as well as oil projects and development were on the agenda for his meeting with PM Kadhemi, who took office in May.

US President Donald Trump on Thursday said that American troops would leave Iraq but gave no timetable for the withdrawal, as he met the country’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi for the first time in Washington.

The meeting comes with attacks on American targets by pro-Iranian fighters on the rise and the Iraqi government facing calls to expel the 5,000 US troops deployed in the country as part of anti-jihadist efforts.

Trump said alongside PM Kadhemi at the White House, “So at some point, we obviously will be gone,”

“We’ve brought it down to a very, very low level”, he added.

The US leader also said that military considerations as well as oil projects and development were on the agenda for his meeting with PM Kadhemi, who took office in May.

PM Kadhemi said at the White House that he was “grateful” for US support in the war against the Islamic State jihadist group, which “strengthens our partnership for the best interest for our nation.”

The US military withdrew from Iraq in late 2011, leaving a small mission attached to the US embassy.

Kadhemi faces challenges from factions of the Hashed al-Shaabi, a coalition of Iraqi Shiite paramilitary groups with close ties to Iran.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that “armed groups not under the full control of the prime minister have impeded our progress,” calling for them to “be replaced by local police as soon as possible.”

On being asked about the plan for cutting the 5,000 US troops now in Iraq, Pompeo said that he had no numbers and urged people “not to focus on that.”

PM Kadhemi has angered armed groups by seizing border posts where they ran lucrative smuggling networks and imposed taxes on traders.

Attacks have risen in recent weeks, with the Iraqi army reporting another rocket attack on Tuesday evening targeting Baghdad airport, where US troops are based. The projectile did not cause damage or casualties, the army said.

Earlier in May, an American soldier and a British soldier, as well as one US contractor, were killed after rockets hit an Iraqi military base north of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Baghdad and Tehran must be “state-to-state and not via militias,” the source quoted Kadhemi as saying, adding that groups that “draw their strength from Iran” had bombed Iraqi targets and embezzled money.

In January, the attack at the Baghdad International Airport also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF).

The Iranian attack came after a US drone attacked on January 3 a convoy at Baghdad International Airport that killed Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy chief of Iraq’s paramilitary Hashd Shaabi forces.

(With inputs from agency)

How Kerry and Obama Betrayed US

John Kerry’s foreign policy wonderland

Addressing the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday, former Secretary of State John Kerry offered a rather rose-tinted history of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

His speech had a simple theme: Where all the world was bright under President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, all is now brutal and dark under President Trump. But this wasn’t an address fit for reality. Take Kerry’s rather astonishing claim that the Obama administration had “eliminated” the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

This will be news to Israel and the Sunni Arab monarchies of the Middle East. After all, the 2015 Iran nuclear accord did nothing to end Iran’s research of ballistic missiles, the key delivery platform for nuclear weapons. Nor did the deal have an open-ended timetable necessary to temper Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s nihilistic ambitions for the long term. Instead, it offered security only for 15 years into the future. And we now know that the Iranians used the time and investment rewards of Obama’s nuclear accord to advance their nuclear weaponization program. As the Biden campaign moves to return the United States to the nuclear accord, we should contemplate for a moment what that return would mean. Because it would mean salvation for Khamenei’s imploding economy and budget-stretched Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Iran would once again find sanctions relief and billions of dollars to reinvest in its malevolent theological agenda. And its nemesis, Saudi Arabia, as was recently reported by the Wall Street Journal, would find new impetus to develop its own nuclear weapons program. Not exactly a recipe for stability and peace.

Of course, Kerry couldn’t resist but regurgitate the predictable rhetoric that Trump writes “love letters” to dictators while betraying American friends. This silliness misses the nuance in foreign policy. While it’s true that Trump has some rather odd instincts toward certain foreign leaders, it’s also true that America’s allies should be judged on what they do for our alliance rather than what they say. The striking dichotomy between the vacuous rhetoric of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the fastidious friendship of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison stands out as an example here. As does the contrast between what various NATO allies contribute to our common defense.

Nor, as he attacked Trump for his Putin affections, did Kerry show any humility over the Obama administration’s record of appeasement toward China and Russia. This bears noting, in that while it’s true American allies sometimes view Trump as a president to be “laughed at,” China and Russia most certainly laughed at the relentless appeasement they earned from team Obama-Biden. On that point, it was always likely that China would prefer a Biden victory over a Trump reelection, and the National Counterintelligence Center confirmed as much earlier this month.

Foreign policy and national security are exigent issues that demand far more attention than they currently receive. Still, the former secretary of state did no service for reality with his trip through the historical looking glass on Tuesday.

Babylon the Great Concedes to Iraq and Iran

US-led site handover to Iraq proceeds after attacks by suspected Iran-allied fighters

The U.S.-backed anti-Islamic State coalition handed over an ammunition storage site at Camp Taji to the Iraqi security forces, Aug. 16, 2020. The coalition has delivered $11 million worth of ammunition to the Iraqis this year, they said in a statement.

TWITTER

The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq transferred about 50 ammunition storage bunkers and facilities to Iraqi forces at Camp Taji, part of a continuing force consolidation as the Islamic State fight wanes and conflict with Iran-backed fighters ramps up.

The handover Sunday was long-scheduled, officials said, but it came hours after two small rockets struck near the base on Saturday night, the latest attack targeting bases where coalition forces are housed, which the U.S. has blamed on Iranian proxy groups.

The rocket strike at the base north of Baghdad did not impact near coalition forces, Army Col. Myles B. Caggins III, a spokesman for the coalition, said on Twitter on Saturday.

Also last week, three rockets fell on Balad Air Base, the Iraqi government said Thursday, then on Friday three more fell on Baghdad’s international airport, it said. On Sunday, one landed inside Baghdad’s Green Zone, where diplomatic and military mission headquarters are based. None of the attacks resulted in significant damage, the Iraqi government said on Twitter.

The strikes all came after the U.S. seized more than 1 million barrels of Iranian oil from four tankers bound for Venezuela last week.

The U.S.-backed anti-Islamic State coalition handed over an ammunition storage site at Camp Taji to the Iraqi security forces, Aug. 16, 2020. The coalition has delivered $11 million worth of ammunition to the Iraqis this year, they said in a statement.

TWITTER

They also come ahead of expected U.S.-Iraq talks, which Central Command boss Gen. Frank McKenzie said would likely involve the long-term presence of American and allied troops.

“I think that is a grave concern to the Iranians because that works against what they want, which is for Iraq to be pretty directly under their control and for us to be out of the theater,” the Marine general said in an online panel hosted by the U.S. Institute of Peace on Wednesday.

McKenzie acknowledged that the rocket attacks have forced the coalition to pull back from the ISIS fight somewhat and divert resources to self-protection. He also expected Iran to launch a fresh “response” after failing to expel the U.S. from Iraq earlier this year.

“I do not know what the nature of that response will be, but we will certainly be ready for it, should it occur,” he said.

U.S.-Iran tensions have risen steadily over the past two years, as President Donald Trump’s administration has tried to pressure Tehran into renegotiating an Obama-era nuclear treaty that Trump withdrew the U.S. from.

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Sporadic rocket attacks have become commonplace since last fall, and in January a U.S. drone strike killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad, leading Tehran to respond with a barrage of ballistic missiles that hit U.S.-occupied bases in Iraq and left more than 100 American troops with traumatic brain injuries.

Meanwhile, the coalition has removed forces from smaller Iraqi bases, a long-planned effort which officials have said was sped up by the increased threat from Iran-backed militias.

Two American troops and a British soldier were killed at Taji in March, but many of the coalition troops that were once at the base to train Iraqi forces have since gone elsewhere in Iraq or been sent home. There remains a small presence of troops who coordinate logistics and security operations, the coalition said.

Some 5,200 American troops remain in Iraq, but as the government forces take on more responsibility for fighting ISIS, the number of U.S. and coalition troops is expected to shrink, McKenzie said last week.

“We don’t want to maintain a huge number of soldiers forever in Iraq,” McKenzie said.

garland.chad@stripes.com
Twitter: @chadgarland