Tag Archive | "Iran VS USA"

If War Breaks Out with Iran, It Won’t Be an Accident


A range of U.S. policies have been deliberately designed to provoke an Iranian response.

Anti-war demonstrators gather outside Downing Street on 26 June, 2019 in London, England, to call on the government to publicly oppose the escalation of conflict between Donald Trump's administration and Iran and demand that military action is ruled out. (Photo: Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Anti-war demonstrators gather outside Downing Street on 26 June, 2019 in London, England, to call on the government to publicly oppose the escalation of conflict between Donald Trump’s administration and Iran and demand that military action is ruled out. (Photo: Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Some things are still unclear about Trump’s recent decision to bomb Iran — and his rapid-fire follow-up decision not to.

We still don’t know what he or his bomb-Iran cheerleaders — National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — thought the bombing would actually accomplish. We also don’t know why Trump decided to recall the bombers. (Trump claimed it’s because a general told him 150 people would die in the attack. But given Trump’s indifference to civilian casualties in Yemen and elsewhere, I’m willing to bet the store that had little to do with it.)

But some things are pretty clear. One is that while Trump pulled back on starting a shooting war, the administration is directly attacking millions of Iranians already.

Three sets of new sanctions, imposed in recent months, are crippling much of Iran’s economy. They’re killing Iranians, as the health care system strains to survive shortages of medicine and medical equipment. “Sanctions [are] the first problem in our country and in our system. We can’t transfer the money and make the preparations for surgery. It’s a big problem for us,” says Dr. Mohammad Hassan Bani Asad, managing director of the Gandhi Hotel Hospital in Tehran. “We have the procedures, but we don’t have the instruments. It is very difficult for patients and maybe leads to death of some patients.”

“The tensions between the two countries go back a long way, but the threat of war right now is rooted in Washington walking away from the Iran nuclear deal two years ago, not in the Iranian response to that rejection. There’s no strategic reason for either side to go to war, but war could absolutely result.”

A set of sanctions fourth was added just last week, ostensibly aimed at Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khameini. Those are likely to have less immediate impact on the public than the earlier ones, but the political impact is huge, with Iran subsequently threatening to cut off diplomatic channels altogether.

Sanctions are simply war by other means. Under the terms of the United Nations Charter, in fact, the unilateral imposition of economic sanctions may constitute an internationally prohibited act of aggression.

Meanwhile the risk of armed conflict still remains on the table.

In recent weeks, Trump sent a U.S. aircraft carrier group with 7,500 or so troops, a squadron of nuclear-capable B-52 bombers, plus another 2,500 U.S. troops to the already over-armed and over-occupied Middle East.

Meanwhile Trump administration officials blame Iran for the mine attacks on U.S.-allied oil tankers in the waters surrounding Iran — a possible pretext for an attack. These are serious escalations. Even more serious were the cyber-attacks the U.S. launched against Iran shortly afterward.

These are all actions designed to provoke Iranian responses, deliberately edging us closer to a direct military exchange that could easily lead to a full-fledged regional war. Such a confrontation doesn’t have to start with a direct U.S. military strike on Iran, although Bolton and Pompeo have certainly been pushing for that.

By now there are strong political pressures on both governments from hardline elements keyed up for a confrontation.

On the U.S. side, Trump’s under pressure from both his own hawkish advisers and from allied anti-Iranian governments in Saudi Arabia and Israel, which would be happy to see the U.S. go to war with Iran. In fact, Israel or Saudi Arabia — armed to the teeth with U.S.-provided weaponry — could even force the issue by attacking Iran and demanding that the U.S. protect them from an inevitable Iranian response.

On the Iranian side, hardliners have been pointing out that diplomatic measures like the nuclear deal, negotiated by the reformist-led government, failed to end crippling sanctions by the United States. That could make future diplomacy much more difficult, especially following Trump’s latest sanctions on the Supreme Leader.

The most immediate danger, though, lies in the narrow, crowded, hyper-militarized Strait of Hormuz off the Iranian coast, through which a huge percentage of the world’s oil and natural gas heads for global markets. It’s there we see the “what if” scenario that should be keeping us awake at night.

What if a young sailor — U.S. or Iranian — on duty in the Strait of Hormuz, late at night, sees a flare and thinks it was a weapon fired by the other side? Maybe they thought it came from one of the U.S. destroyers, or from one of the small Iranian speedboats, all of which cruise the strait. Maybe they’re scared and feel like they have to respond. Do they fire their weapon into the dark? Then what?

In Syria, the U.S. and Russia communicate military-to-military to avoid killing each other’s forces (even while continuing to kill Syrians). But there’s no such military hotline between Washington and Tehran. Small misunderstandings in the dark could spiral massively out of control, with no way to de-escalate. That’s the nightmare scenario.

The tensions between the two countries go back a long way, but the threat of war right now is rooted in Washington walking away from the Iran nuclear deal two years ago, not in the Iranian response to that rejection. There’s no strategic reason for either side to go to war, but war could absolutely result.

And with key figures in the Trump administration trying so hard to provoke Iran, it would hardly count as an accident.

Correction: An earlier version of this article mistated the number of troops and carriers in the Gulf region.

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Iran Had the Legal Right to Shoot Down US Spy Drone


The New York Times is reporting that on June 20, President Trump ordered military strikes against Iran to retaliate for its shootdown of a U.S. drone, but then pulled back and didn’t launch them. Officials told the Times that Trump had approved attacks on Iranian radar and missile batteries.

Trump tweeted,

“We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.”

Nevertheless, shortly after midnight on June 21, Newsweek reported that regional U.S. military assets have been put on 72-hour standby.

On June 19, an Iranian surface-to-air missile shot down an unmanned U.S. surveillance drone. The White House claimed that its drone was at least 20 miles from Iran, in international airspace, while Iran maintains the drone was in Iranian airspace. Iran presented GPS coordinates showing the drone eight miles from Iran’s coast, which is inside the area of 12 nautical miles that is considered Iran’s territorial waters under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Iran has the legal right to control its own airspace. The United States has no lawful claim of self-defense that would justify a military attack on Iran.

Both the U.S. and Iran are parties to the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, which provides “that every State has complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory.”

Iran’s sovereignty over its airspace includes the right to shoot down an unmanned drone present without consent.

“Although there is no black letter law on the question, state practice suggests that a state can use force against unmanned drones that have entered its airspace without consent,” Ashley Deeks and Scott R. Anderson wrote at Lawfare.

“Assuming that for once Washington is telling the truth” about how far the U.S. drone was from Iran when it was downed, “it is still undeniable that Iran has the right to demand identification from any aircraft flying this near its territory,” H. Bruce Franklin, former Air Force navigator and intelligence officer, wrote on Facebook. U.S. Air Defense Identification Zones extend 200 miles from the U.S. border. “Any unidentified drone” which flew that close to the U.S. “would most likely be shot down,” Franklin added.

Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, wrote to the Security Council that the drone did not respond to several radio warnings before it was shot down.

A U.S. Attack on Iran Would Not Be Lawful Self-Defense

If the United States attacks Iran, it would act in violation of the United Nations Charter. The Charter only allows the use of military force in self-defense after an armed attack or with Security Council approval.

The International Court of Justice held in the 1986 Nicaragua case that an “armed attack” only includes “the most grave forms of the use of force.” No one was injured or killed when Iran shot down the U.S. drone since it was unmanned. Indeed, Trump told reporters it made “a big, big difference” that a U.S. pilot was not threatened.

Iran did not carry out an armed attack against the United States. Under the Caroline case, there must exist “a necessity of self-defence, instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” There is no imminent necessity for a U.S. military attack on Iran.

Congress Has Not Authorized a Military Attack on Iran

A U.S. strike on Iran would also violate the War Powers Resolution, which lists three situations in which the president can introduce U.S. Armed Forces into hostilities:

First, after a declaration of war by Congress, which has not occurred since World War II. Second, in “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” The loss of a U.S. drone does not constitute a “national emergency.” Third, when there is “specific statutory authorization,” such as an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).

In 2001, Congress adopted an AUMF that authorized the president to use military force against individuals, groups and countries that had contributed to the 9/11 attacks. In the past 18 years, three presidents have misused the 2001 AUMF to justify multiple military interventions.

This is happening again. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has mounted a campaign to link Iran to al-Qaeda in order to make a case that the 2001 AUMF would allow the U.S. to attack Iran. But, as Johns Hopkins professor Bruce Riedel told Al-Monitor,

“Rather than being secretly in bed with each other as some have argued, al-Qaeda had a fairly hostile relationship with the Iranian regime.”

On June 19, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed a $1 trillion appropriations bill that includes a provision repealing the 2001 AUMF within eight months. Introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California), it says the AUMF “has been used to justify a broad and open-ended authorization for the use of military force and such an interpretation is inconsistent with the authority of Congress to declare war and make all laws for executing powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States.” But the GOP-controlled Senate will not pass the bill with the AUMF repeal provision in it.

The U.N. Security Council Should Act

Tensions between the United States and Iran have been steadily escalating. One year ago, the U.S. pulled out of the multilateral 2015 nuclear deal, which was working to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Trump then reimposed devastating sanctions against Iran, whose oil exports have fallen by one-half.

After Trump designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group in April, Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which one-third of the world’s oil passes. Iran’s Supreme National Security Council designated the U.S. Central Command a terrorist organization. Trump ordered 2,500 additional troops and an aircraft carrier to the region.

On June 13, two oil tankers — one Japanese, the other Norwegian with a 50 percent Russian crew — were attacked in the Gulf of Oman. The United States blamed Iran, which denied responsibility for the attack. Neither Japan nor Norway have said Iran was responsible. “That Iran would target a Japanese and a friendly Russian crewed ship is a ludicrous allegation,” Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, wrote on his blog.

Besides being illegal, a U.S. attack on Iran would prove disastrous to the entire region, and indeed, the world. Congress should repeal the 2001 AUMF and assert its authority under the War Powers Resolution. The Security Council must convene immediately and act to fulfill its duty under the Charter to restore international peace and security to the Gulf region.

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Iran and Why It Would be Insane for America to Go to War There


Is Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard the only sane voice in both Houses of the US Congress?

She says “War with Iran would make the Iraq War look like a cakewalk.”

Russian roulette is a game of chance where players spin the cylinder of a revolver with a single bullet in turns, put the muzzle against their head and pull the trigger. The player has 16.67% chances of firing a bullet into his head if there is one bullet in the 6-chamber revolver. Each player starts by spinning the cylinder, thus each player has an equal chance of being killed by the bullet.

If there can be a lethal game of Russian roulette in international politics, this is it; what just began on May 8, the first anniversary of the United States’ withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal of July 2015.

Iran exercised “strategic patience” for one full year, as President Hassan Rouhani noted, upon the request from the five remaining signatories of the nuclear deal – Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. That period has run out.

Not only have the five powers failed to persuade the Trump administration to retract from its decision, but Washington has gone on a warpath of sanctions and deployment of a formidable strike group to the Persian Gulf.

On the other hand, the five big powers couldn’t ensure that Iran got the full benefits out of the nuclear deal as envisaged under the nuclear deal, despite its full compliance with the terms of the deal, which has been acknowledged repeatedly by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Only Russia and China observed the commitments given to Iran as signatories, while the three European powers merely paid lip service.

Against this backdrop, Rouhani announced on Wednesday that if the remaining signatories fail to provide Iran with the merits stated under the deal in the next 60 days, Tehran will stop complying with its nuclear undertakings in consequent phases. For a start, Iran will cease to observe the capping on the volume of enriched uranium and heavy water reserves that it is permitted to hold.

After 60 days, if Iran’s grievances are not still addressed, it will no longer observe the restrictions on the 3.6 percent level of uranium enrichment and will resume work on its heavy water reactor at Arak. Iran has underlined that it is not withdrawing from the nuclear deal but is only taking reciprocal measures as provided under articles 26 and 32 of the agreement regarding the eventuality of one or more of the six powers failing to observe the treaty. Rouhani has specified Iran’s concerns particularly in the oil industry and the banking sector, which Washington has targeted with sanctions.

Rouhani said that after 120 days from now, even if Iran starts enriching uranium beyond the 3.6 level and resumes work in Arak, it will give yet another 60 days for negotiations before taking additional unspecified action (which could be by the yearend). Meanwhile, Iran will react strongly against any move by the western powers to approach the UN Security Council for reimposition of the old UN sanctions.

It’s an insane game that US President Trump started on May 8 last year. With Iran’s response by way of reciprocal measures, round two is complete.

The two immediate measures Iran has announced — non-observance of the capping on the volume of enriched uranium (300 kg limit) and heavy water reserves that it is permitted to hold — is not a unilateral step. It is a fait accompli that the Trump administration created last week by sanctioning other countries against holding Iran’s excess volume of enriched uranium or trading in heavy water reserves.

Trump MUST stop listening to the lies from Israel with their claims that Iran is a strategic and imminent threat to America and Trump MUST sack all NEOCONS in his Administration before June 2019, it’s that simple.

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Accusing Trump of ‘Naked Economic Aggression,’ Iran Urges UN High Court to Halt US Sanctions


“The U.S. is publicly propagating a policy intended to damage as severely as possible Iran’s economy and Iranian national companies, and therefore inevitably Iranian nationals.”

In an interview on Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif accused the Trump administration of waging a "psychological war against Iran." (Photo: PressTV)

In an interview on Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif accused the Trump administration of waging a “psychological war against Iran.” (Photo: PressTV)

Amid reports of the “devastating” impact U.S. President Donald Trump’s newly reimposed sanctions are having on ordinary Iranians’ ability to afford basic necessities and life-saving medicines, Iran accused the U.S. of “naked economic aggression” before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Monday and called on the United Nations body to order a suspension of the penalties.

“Sanctions hurt ordinary people on the streets and do not inflict pain at all whatsoever on the government. How is withholding chemotherapy from my 80-year-old grandmother helpful?”
—Meisam, Iranian-American doctor
“The U.S. is publicly propagating a policy intended to damage as severely as possible Iran’s economy and Iranian national companies, and therefore inevitably Iranian nationals,” Mohsen Mohebi, a lawyer representing Iran before the U.N.’s highest court, declared on Monday, arguing that Trump’s sanctions violate the bilateral Treaty of Amity. “This policy is nothing but a naked economic aggression against my country. Iran will put up the strongest resistance to the U.S. economic strangulation, by all peaceful means.”

As Common Dreamsreported, critics warned that Trump’s decision to violate the Iran nuclear accord and reimpose sanctions—which officially went into effect earlier this month—significantly heighten the risk of a “new war in the Middle East.”

The trade penalties are just one component of the Trump administration’s broader push to “foment unrest” in Iran, an effort that critics have condemned as a thinly veiled push for regime change.

In an interview on Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif accused the Trump administration of waging a “psychological war against Iran.”

Iran’s legal case against the U.S. sanctions comes as ordinary Iranians report being unable to access crucial medicines as a result of the Trump administration’s so-called pressure campaign.

“Sanctions hurt ordinary people on the streets and do not inflict pain at all whatsoever on the government,” Meisam, an Iranian-American doctor whose grandmother has been unable to access her chemotherapy medicine because of the new restrictions, toldThe Independent. “How is withholding chemotherapy from my 80-year-old grandmother helpful to anyone’s objective?”




The lives being affected by sanctions are not the regime, they’re ordinary people worrying for their families, lacking necessities like medicine. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/iran-us-sanctions-latest-rial-currency-protests-medicine-rouhani-khameini-a8505166.html 

“International sanctions must have a lawful purpose, must be proportional, and must not harm the human rights of ordinary citizens, and none of these criteria is met in this case,” Jazairy argued. “These unjust and harmful sanctions are destroying the economy and currency of Iran, driving millions of people into poverty and making imported goods unaffordable.”

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On Iran, Is It Trump Versus His Own Neocons?


This group has already walked back Trump’s offer for dialogue with Iran without preconditions

Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump (Photo: Department of State/Flickr)

Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump (Photo: Department of State/Flickr)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement of the creation of a new Iran Action Group at the White House–almost exactly on the anniversary of the CIA-led coup against Iran’s elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 no less–was as usual short on substance but heavy on on accusations and demands. Yet, it may still be quite significant precisely because of the growing fissures within the Trump administration in regards to Iran policy.

Hawks on Iran were caught off guard when Donald Trump announced last month that he would be willing to meet with Iran’s leaders “any time they want to” and without preconditions. The Israeli intelligence community–who otherwise have claimed authorship of Trump’s Iran policy–were “struck dumb for two days” amid fears that Trump might abandon the pressure strategy and instead seek to mend ties with Tehran. Steadfast supporters of kinetic action against Iran, such as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), nervously took to twitter to warn Trump that he should be ready “to be taken to the cleaners” unless he approached the Iranians from a position of strength.

The neoconservatives in the White House and outside proponents of war with Iran have Trump in a corner and they want to keep him there.

Trump’s surprise provided some insight into the fissures within his administration regarding Iran policy. Trump, who mindful of his fondness for summits and his desire to be seen as a deal maker probably does want to meet with the Iranians, appears rather alone in favoring a pivot to diplomacy. Here, he certainly does not have backing from John Bolton, Mike Pompeo or Brian Hook, who all the offer of negotiations as yet another instrument of pressure, rather than a genuine offer.

This group has already walked back Trump’s offer for dialogue with Iran without preconditions. And John Bolton famously wrote in a memo to Trump that as the US would increase the pressure on Iran, it should also consider “rhetorically leaving that possibility open in order to demonstrate Iran’s actual underlying intention to develop deliverable nuclear weapon.”

Against this background, one purpose the new Iran Action Group may serve is to escalate matters with Iran to the point in which any pivot to diplomacy by Trump may be rendered impossible.

Proponents of confrontation with Iran such as FDD have already once seen their pressure policy (which was designed to be irreversible) be dialed down by a President who pivoted to negotiations. This happened in 2013 under Obama, and led to many bitter public exchanges between FDD’s leadership and Obama officials. After all, the Obama administration worked closely with FDD to sanction Iran. Once Obama pivoted to diplomacy, however, FDD fell out of favor. Hawks on North Korea must have felt similarly frustrated when Trump suddenly shifted to talk to Kim Jung Un rather than threatening him with nuclear strikes.

Moreover, what has been clear from Trump’s Iran policy thus far is that much of it is rarely publicly acknowledged. But we know now per the reporting of Reuters that the Trump administration has been destabilizing Iran and that the goal with its pressure policy is to “foment unrest in Iran.” (It remains to be seen whether the US also has directly provided funding to entities involved in the unrest in Iran.)

The Iran Action group will likely lead and intensify efforts to foment unrest in Iran, further creating tensions with the EU, who view the destabilization of Iran as a direct national security threat to Europe.

Despite the absence of substance in Pompeo’s press conference, this move is yet another escalatory step by neoconservatives in the Trump administration, who are deliberately moving the US closer to war with Iran, despite Trump’s offer for talks. Trump has in the past shown himself quite capable of replacing advisors and officials who cross purpose with him. But on Iran, a pivot to diplomacy would not only cause a break with senior members of his inner circle, but also with the Prime Minister of Israel and the King of Saudi Arabia.

The neoconservatives in the White House and outside proponents of war with Iran have Trump in a corner and they want to keep him there. The Iran Action Group seems aimed at achieving just that.

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Pompeo, Religion, and Regime Change in Iran


“The Trump administration, committed to neither secularism nor freedom within the content of its own governance, is transparently adopting the form of ‘supporting Iranian voices’ for ends that cannot be genuine.”

“That Pompeo sounds like an acolyte of the Islamic Republic is of great importance to the integrity of his support for Iranian voices. It is probably even more significant than his disdain for Islam, the faith to which millions of Iranians deeply adhere even if they wish religion would stay out of politics. How can a man like Pompeo advocate for secularism?” Batmanghelidj writes. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/cc)

In his brief stint as CIA director, Mike Pompeo brought God to Langley. At least that’s how it felt it to many in the intelligence community. According to Foreign Policy, Pompeo attended “weekly Bible studies held in government buildings, referenced God and Christianity repeatedly in his first all-hands speech” and planned to start “a chaplaincy for the CIA campus like the military has.” When challenged on these matters, a CIA spokesperson countered, “Director Pompeo is a man of faith…The idea that he should not practice his faith because he is Director of CIA is absurd.”

This Sunday, Secretary of State Pompeo will give an address in “support of Iranian voices” at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi, California as part of outreach to the Iranian-American community. In a background briefing on Thursday, a senior State Department official previewed Pompeo’s message. Reflecting the upcoming anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Pompeo will “survey the last 40 years of stealing from the Iranian people, the terrorism they have committed around the region, the brutal repression at home.” He will also expose “the corruption of the regime” and highlight “religious persecution.” These issues Pompeo will raise are not fictions, but the sincerity of his support for activism may be.

As Politico’s Nahal Toosi has written, the speech is part of a wider Trump administration policy, which Pompeo defined in May by issuing “12 demands of Iran’s clerical leaders, a list so broad that some analysts say it amounts to a call for regime change.” As unrest has gripped Iran, the administration “increased its use of social media targeting Iranians…to cheer on protests in Iran, highlight the government’s economic mismanagement and, especially lately, challenge its abuse of human rights.”

The Lure of Regime Change

During Thursday’s background briefing, the New Yorker’s Robin Wright asked specifically about the connection between the list of demands and any goals of regime change. The senior state department official countered that “nobody at the time thought that those 12 demands were a proxy for regime change” and explained that “the length of the list is simply a scope of the malign behavior of Iran.” The administration has been reluctant to directly disavow the idea of regime change.

For many Iranian-Americans who yearn to see an end to the Islamic Republic, the strong political messaging from Pompeo and the wider Trump administration, particularly the avowed support for protests in Iran, has galvanized a sense that regime change is achievable. As Mariam Memarsadeghi, a co-founder of Tavaana, an organization that helps support civil-society capacity-building in Iran and receives State Department funding, has tweeted, “I’m a never-Trumper, but believe in admin’s Iran approach.” In further indication of what that approach might be, Memarsadeghi has written that “the Islamic Republic must fall.”

What should replace the Islamic Republic is a question that few regime-change proponents have been able to answer in any real detail. But, as relayed by Reza Pahlavi, son of Iran’s deposed Shah, most Iranian-Americans who seek political change in Iran can agree that the country should be “a secular, parliamentary democracy.” To this end, Pahlavi notes, it is “not the form that matters, it’s the content” and that the “final form has to be decided by the people.”

But the insistence on seeing Iran become secular does clearly indicate a concern for form. After all, the Islamic Republic is structured with the authority of clerical leadership. In Memarsadeghi’s view, “Khomeinist totalitarianism is a totalitarianism rooted in Islam.”

Pompeo’s Religious Politics

Importantly, this is a view that Pompeo shares, not only because of his long-standing animosity towards Iran, but also because of his more specific beliefs about Islam. The former Kansas congressman once told his constituents in Wichita, “The threat to America is from people who deeply believe that Islam is the way and the light and the only answer.” In this conception, if totalitarianism or terrorism is the content of the Iranian policy, then the Islamic Republic is its enabling form.

But the role of secularism as a cornerstone of regime-change advocacy makes Pompeo an unlikely ally. Whatever the content of Pompeo’s own political and governmental leadership, its form is anything but secular. This is a man who has proclaimed that “to worship our Lord and celebrate our nation at the same place is not only our right, it is our duty” and has described politics as a “a never-ending struggle…until the rapture.”

A messianic view of politics is something Pompeo shares with many figures in Iran. Though his own politics were generally more juridical than mystical, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini once exclaimed, “We place this revolution into the hands of the Mahdi: if it pleases God, let this revolution be the first step toward the appearance of The One Whom God Has Preserved, and let it pave the way for his arrival!”

That Pompeo sounds like an acolyte of the Islamic Republic is of great importance to the integrity of his support for Iranian voices. It is probably even more significant than his disdain for Islam, the faith to which millions of Iranians deeply adhere even if they wish religion would stay out of politics. How can a man like Pompeo advocate for secularism?

This question points to something of a double bind for Iranian-Americans who invite a closer dialogue with the administration on Iran’s political future. As they push for a secular Iran, they must decide whether the form of Pompeo’s beliefs, as well as those of other administration officials and Republican lawmakers, is compatible with their own advocacy, or whether content can actually overcome form.

Form v. Content

If form takes precedence, then the Iranian-American activist cannot align with this administration, which has sought to bring religious dogma into American political institutions. After all, if there is a body in Iran in which a religious form is responsible for unjust content, it is the judiciary, which enforces (and bends) the rule of law with an ideological outlook. But if proponents of regime change are to point to the judiciary to explain why secularism needs to be a cornerstone of their advocacy, they cannot in good conscience align with Pompeo. When the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2013, Pompeo released a statement declaring, “I am deeply saddened by the Supreme Court’s ruling that imposes legalized gay marriage…It is a shocking abuse of power. It is wrong. I will continue to fight to protect our most sacred institutions.” He was no doubt influenced by his participation in gatherings such as the U.S. Capitol Bible Study of Pastor Ralph Drollinger, who prepared a reading of the Book of Leviticus for members of Congress, including Pompeo, in the lead-up to the court’s deliberation, and which began with this introduction:

Surrounding the prohibited Hebrews were the permissive Canaanites who practiced same-sex marriage. Do you know any Canaanites today? How about Jewish folks? That illustrates the huge error of every society that has allowed sexual predilection to determine marriage privilege… Many are the simpletons who advocate that “love” should be the sole basis for sanctioning marriage rights. But if “love” is the reason for marriage then how can our courts deny matrimony to a petitioner who loves her cat?

Drollinger now leads the White House Bible Study Group, which includes Vice President Mike Pence, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and of course, Pompeo.

Perhaps the Iranian-American proponents of regime change can cast aside these issues on the basis that content takes precedence. In this assessment, Pompeo is advocating a sound policy on Iran, so his personal beliefs do not matter. But to assert that Pompeo is able to lead despite his personal beliefs is to concede that secularism in governance is really an institutional matter, not an ideological one. As I recently outlined in Bloomberg Opinion, aside from the judiciary, most of the relevant institutions in Iran responsible for routine state failures—chronic unemployment, environmental degradation, rampant corruption—are essentially secular spaces, neither run by religious leaders nor operated in accordance to religious prescriptions. In the American context, Pompeo’s bible study can remain a personal matter precisely because institutions create spaces that accommodate and constrain the non-secular. But as a result, the failures of the American government to meet the needs of its people, just as in Iran, ought to be attributed to the poorly functioning bureaucracies—institutions that will require slow and grinding reform even if Iran’s republic ceases to be Islamic.

Ahead of Sunday’s speech, it is dismaying to see so little critical engagement of these issues within the Iranian-American community itself. The Trump administration, committed to neither secularism nor freedom within the content of its own governance, is transparently adopting the form of “supporting Iranian voices” for ends that cannot be genuine. To adapt a revolutionary slogan about Iran being beholden to neither East nor West, the Iranian-American community must declare, “Neither Trump nor Khamenei: independent advocacy.” Until then, the calls for secularism and democracy in Iran will continue to be tainted by those to whom Iranian-Americans look for leadership.

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Iran’s Foreign Minister Warned that Trump Threats Would Backfire

In letter to EU foreign policy chief, revealed by MEE for the first time, Javad Zarif said US behaviour rendering nuclear deal ‘meaningless’

Two months into the new Trump administration, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif warned that Washington’s behaviour towards the nuclear deal threatened to “render the entire bargain meaningless,” according to a copy of a letter obtained by Middle East Eye.

“Iran cannot afford to keep implementing the deal unilaterally while a key participant persists in its systematic violation of key provisions of the JCPOA by invoking irrelevant, extraneous and unfounded excuses,” he wrote, referring to the deal, which is formally referred to as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Zarif’s letter, addressed to European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, stands in stark contrast to a celebratory letter sent by Hassan Rouhani to US President Barack Obama after the deal was implemented in early 2016 and also revealed by MEE for the first time.

The two trace the breakdown of ties between the two countries with Trump’s rise to power and show the dangerous fallout of his confrontational approach towards Iran, ratcheted up again today.

Iran has been accused of violating if not the actual terms of the deal then the spirit of the agreement, by supporting militant groups in the region and developing long-range missile technology.

However, the general consensus among most observers – and the rest of the countries which participated in the P5+1 nuclear agreement – is that the current Iranian leadership posed the best opportunity for a deal that would keep the country nuclear-free.

The two letters also illustrate, say analysts, just how far the Iranian side may have been willing to go diplomatically and how the US had squandered opportunities.

“The change in tone from Rouhani to Zarif’s letter demonstrates a proven flexibility in Iran’s position that this administration refuses to acknowledge,” said Reza Marashi,research director at the Washington, DC-based National Iranian American Council.

“I always tell people I’m as nice as you let me be and I believe that’s Iran’s policy towards the United States.”

“He clearly has a willing partner in Tehran to test the proposition of resolving problems through sustained diplomacy. Now it’s going to be really hard to get there after nine months of Trump poisoning the well, publicly and privately.”

The letters, which were leaked to MEE in advance of Trump’s speech on Friday, fit the descriptions of correspondence which several analysts said they had heard about, but had never seen in full until now.

Rouhani to Obama

In his letter sent to Obama last year after the implementation of the nuclear deal on 16 January, Rouhani says he is “very pleased” that the agreement is coming to fruition.

The agreement “proved that even the most complex of global issues can be resolved through dialogue, negotiation and constructive engagement,” he writes.

“I believe that the ‘win-win’ approach which governs the JCPOA can serve as a good model for the resolution of other disputes and international and regional crises, especially in the tumultuous Middle East – which is unfortunately slipping deeper into the mire as each day passes.”

He ends the two-page letter thanking Obama and expressing his appreciation “in advance for the appropriate instructions coupled with the timely and necessary actions that you will issue and undertake to ensure its full implementation”.

“Please accept the assurances of my highest consideration,” he wrote.”

Model for future deals?

The most striking feature of Rouhani’s letter, said Mahan Abedin, an Iranian political analyst and director of Dysart Consulting, is just how hopeful he is that the deal will lead to resolving other issues.

“That lends credence to what some of his internal opponents were saying in 2015 and 2016, especially before Trump came to power,” Abedin said.

He noted that they claimed that Rouhani saw the deal as a model for future deals which might see Iran give up its missile technology or support for Hezbollah. “This really does come out in the letter,” he said.

Also worth noting, said Abedin, is Rouhani’s tone.

“It shows he had genuine respect for Obama, and I think it also reflects his confidence in the integrity of the negotiation process,” he said.

“He’s surveyed the whole thing very closely, he had full confidence in it, and he was really pleased with the outcome and sees it as his baby,” Abedin said.

Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, said the letter stands in stark contrast to those sent in recent years by Iran’s Supreme Leader to Obama – which US officials described to him – and others sent by Iranian members of parliament to US senators which he had read.

Those letters “were just a long list of complaints with one or two sentences with a small opening,” Parsi said.

Rouhani’s letter “is nothing like that. There is not complaint. There is no going back into the history. It’s not relitigating the last 50 years … It tells you how far the US and Iran came under Obama to interact with each other in a normal way.”

Zarif to Mogherini

Just 15 months later, Zarif’s letter to Mogherini, dated 28 March 2017, accuses the US of violating the nuclear deal and treating it with open hostility that threatens “to render the entire bargain meaningless, unbalanced and unsustainable”.

The Obama administration’s implementation of the deal may have been “lacklustre,” but two months into the new administration, he writes that it is evident that the US government “has maliciously intended – since the very beginning – to prevent normalisation of trade with Iran and to deprive Iran from the economic dividends clearly envisaged in the JCPOA”.

Further proposed sanctions against Iran and reviews of sanctions already in place, he says, have created “indefinite uncertainty and fear in the global economic community about the future of economic relations with Iran,” which he says are a clear violation of the deal.

“This in fact has significant detrimental consequences,” Zarif says, specifically pointing out the difficulties of non-US firms to operate in his country as a result of US policies following the agreement.

Zarif also raises concerns about “provocative statements” that senior US administration officials – whom he doesn’t name – that threaten the deal by “further diminishing the atmosphere which is indispensable for successful implementation of its sanctions-lifting provisions”.

“These statements not only disrespect the established principles of international law … but also contravene the provisions of the JCPOA,” he writes, citing the agreement’s paragraph 28, which calls on senior officials on all sides to support the implementation “including in their public statements”.

“Iran reserves the right to take necessary measures in response to any action or omission which could in effect jeopardise the balance of ‘the reciprocal commitments’ as enshrined in the JCPOA and adversely affect its ‘balanced’ implementation,” Zarif concludes.

Quick off the mark

The issues raised in the letter are no surprise to those following the nuclear deal closely. What’s new, however, is what it reveals about Iran’s current strategy.

“In public, they are not going as aggressive on [the violations discussed in the letter], and I don’t think it’s because they don’t think they have a case,” Parsi said.

“I suspect that they have decided to play the reasonable party by not making too much noise about Trump’s actual violations in public, but instead let Trump shoot himself in the foot.”

It also, Abedin and Marashi said, shows just how quickly the Iranians started to work around the assumption that Trump was serious about his campaign threats to attempt to end the deal.

“What this letter tells you is that they anticipated this scenario that’s unfolding now and they had made preparations six months before. So Iran will be well-prepared at least diplomatically about what’s about to hit them,” Abedin said.

“The Iranians figured it out faster than the Europeans did,” Marashi said. “I talked to Iranians after Trump’s election. Within a month and a half, two months in, they knew what they were dealing with. Only now are we hearing from the Europeans.”

Marashi points out, he waited three months before privately conveying his concerns.

“That demonstrates a level of restraint predicated on keeping the deal alive,” he said.

But given the political dynamics in Iran – including continued financial restrictions – Zarif no longer had the luxury not to take a tougher stance, Abedin said.

“He’s making it clear that they weren’t happy with the Obama administration either because they were also very slow in easing the sanctions,” he said. “What’s going to happen now – now that Trump is about the decertify? People need to take strong diplomatic positions.”

MEE contacted Zarif and Mogherini’s offices for comment, but neither had responded by the time of publication.

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