Daily Briefing: The U.S. Intensifies Pressure Against Iran (May 13,2019)

 

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) underway in the Western Pacific on 21 December 2004. Abraham Lincoln, with assigned Carrier Air Wing 2 (CVW-2), was deployed to the Western Pacific 15 October 2004 to 4 May 2005. (Source: Wikipedia)

 

Pompeo Says US Doesn’t Want War With Iran But Warns Of ‘Swift’ Response If Provoked:  Nicole Gaouette, Barbara Starr and Ryan Browne, CNN, May 10, 2019 — The Trump administration doesn’t want war with Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday, but he warned Tehran of a “swift and decisive” US response to any attack.
Latest U.S. Pressure Has Iran Over a Barrel:  Ray Takeyh, Council on Foreign Relations, Apr. 22, 2019 — The Trump administration is once again turning up the heat on Iran, announcing plans to stop providing waivers to the handful of countries that still buy its blacklisted crude.
Can The US Choke Iran’s Radical Islamist Regime?: Lela Gilbert, Hudson Institute,  Apr. 26, 2019 — For four decades, the Islamic Republic of Iran has continued to be one of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.
The United States Decision to Designate the Revolutionary Guards as a Terrorist Organization:  Eldad Shavit and Sima Shine, INSS Insight No. 1160, Apr. 14, 2019 — On April 8, 2019, the United States announced that as of the following week, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) will be added to the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations (which to date includes 67 Middle East groups).
 

ON TOPIC LINKS:
 
U.S. Bolsters Its Gulf Defenses to Counter Iran:  Nancy A. Yousseff, WSJ, May 8, 2019 — The U.S. military plans to deploy a Patriot antimissile system to the Persian Gulf area and will beef up its naval presence in response to growing threats from Iran, the Pentagon said Friday.
Exclusive: U.S. Commander Says He Could Send Carrier Into Strait Of Hormuz Despite Iran Tensions:  Phil Stewart, Reuters, May 9, 2019 — The commander overseeing U.S. naval forces in the Middle East told Reuters on Thursday that American intelligence showing a threat from Iran will not prevent him from sending an aircraft carrier through the vital Strait of Hormuz, if needed.
Pompeo’s Visit to Iraq and Iranian Sanctions:  Michael Doran, John Batchelor Show, May 10, 2019 — In a radio interview with John Batchelor, Mike Doran discusses Pompeo’s visit to Iraq and Iranian sanctions.
The Art of a New Iran Deal:  Sanam Vakil, Foreign Affairs, May 9, 2019 – A year ago, U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal on the grounds that he wanted a bigger, better agreement.

 

POMPEO SAYS US DOESN’T WANT WAR WITH IRAN  BUT WARNS OF ‘SWIFT’ RESPONSE IF PROVOKED
Nicole Gaouette, Barbara Starr and Ryan Browne
CNN, May 10, 2019
 
The Trump administration doesn’t want war with Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday, but he warned Tehran of a “swift and decisive” US response to any attack. Iran “has engaged in an escalating series of threatening actions and statements in recent weeks,” Pompeo said in a statement, echoing Pentagon and unnamed US officials. He provided no specifics about the nature or scope of that threat, but other US officials have said that they’ve observed Iranian forces moving missiles around on boats.
 
“The regime in Tehran should understand that any attacks by them or their proxies of any identity against US interests or citizens will be answered with a swift and decisive US response,” said the top diplomat, who cut short overseas travel to fly back to Washington Wednesday for urgent meetings on the situation with Iran and North Korea. He warned Tehran not to mistake Washington’s “restraint” for “a lack of resolve” and closed by repeating an offer from President Donald Trump.
 
Meeting with Iran
 
“As President Trump stated yesterday, he ‘looks forward to someday meeting with leaders of Iran in order to work out an agreement and, very importantly, taking steps to give Iran the future it deserves,'” Pompeo said.
Pompeo issued his statement after the US sent a Navy strike group and bomber into the Persian Gulf, citing “specific and credible” threats against US forces. Iranian officials, however, including President Hassan Rouhani, have said they have no interest in a conflict that analysts say the country can ill afford. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has said Tehran believes some US officials are trying to provoke Iran into a conflict, portraying it as a trap Tehran means to avoid.
 
Speaking in New York on April 23 as tensions rose, Zarif said “It is not a crisis yet, but it is a dangerous situation. Accidents, plotted accidents, are possible.” Referring to a group of foreign and domestic officials that includes national security adviser John Bolton, the Iranian official added that he “wouldn’t discount the B team plotting an accident anywhere in the region.”
 
The release from Pompeo comes a day after Iran declared it would ease its adherence to the international nuclear pact that constrains its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. The Trump administration, which abandoned the deal a year ago, has made it nearly impossible for Iran to access the financial benefits of the deal. “The path we have chosen today is not the path of war, it is the path of diplomacy,” Rouhani said when he made the announcement in a nationally televised address. “But diplomacy with a new language and a new logic.”
 
The US has also taken recent measures that could make it impossible for Iran to adhere to the pact, ending non-proliferation related waivers that allowed Iran to export heavy water and low-enriched uranium to stay below levels mandated in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the nuclear deal is formally known.
 
Pompeo issued his statement as a US official with direct knowledge of the situation told CNN that the latest intelligence indicates there’s no sign of a “decrease in Iran’s posture” or the signals that prompted the US to move a Navy strike group and B-52 bombers to the region, according to a US official with direct knowledge of the latest intelligence. “There is no intelligence to indicate a decrease in Iran’s posture or intentions,” the official said.
 
Iranian commanders have not issued a “wave-off” to Iranian-backed militias and Revolutionary Guard Corps elements to stop planning for possible attacks against US forces in the region, the official added. “We are looking for anything to reflect a change in their behavior and are not seeing it,” the official said.
CNN has reported US officials’ claims that intelligence shows Iran is likely moving short-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles aboard boats in the Persian Gulf. The US military believes that cruise missiles could be launched from the small Iranian boats known as dhows. Officials have now clarified that those boats are IRGC-naval assets, not regular Iranian navy boats.
 
In addition to the threat of attack against US navy ships, these officials say Iran continues to pose a threat to US military bases and airfields in the region. Several officials tell CNN it is not clear that the central Iranian government has given orders to the militias giving them permission to attack. The US has monitored “chatter” on several different levels among Iranian players… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
 

LATEST U.S. PRESSURE HAS IRAN OVER A BARREL
Ray Takeyh
Council on Foreign Relations, Apr. 22, 2019
 
The Trump administration is once again turning up the heat on Iran, announcing plans to stop providing waivers to the handful of countries that still buy its blacklisted crude. It is the administration’s most important step yet in its unfolding strategy of “maximum pressure” on Iran. Yet although the move is likely to cause Iran further economic pain, don’t expect much of a response.
 
In May 2018, Trump pulled the United States out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear agreement that the Obama administration, alongside other major powers, had negotiated with Iran. Critics warned that Iran would rapidly escalate its nuclear activities. In their view, the United States would stand isolated in its failure to get other countries to join its sanctions regime. Yet the JCPOA continues to limp along, and many European companies have heeded the reinstated U.S. sanctions, irrespective of the European Union’s opposition. Since the United States restored the oil sanctions in November, Iranian oil sales have been halved to as low as 1.5 million barrels per day, U.S. officials say. China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Turkey have continued to buy Iranian oil under sanctions waivers granted by the United States; with the exception of China, they are now likely to comply with the sanctions once the waivers expire on May 2.
 
China could remain Iran’s lone customer.
     
Then came the United States’ unprecedented designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. Once more critics stressed that this would invite Iranian retaliation; that has yet to materialize. The Trump administration’s string of successes is likely to continue, as most countries purchasing Iran’s oil will likely look for alternatives. China could remain Iran’s lone customer, but even it will likely at least reduce its purchases as a nod to the United States.
 
Caution Ahead
 
The United States and Iran now face momentous choices. The Trump administration’s punitive strategy has gotten compliance, but it does have to be mindful of jittery global oil markets. Both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have pledged increases in production; only actual increases will reassure markets. China will present the United States with a test at a time when the two are concluding a trade agreement. That reality is likely to restrain both sides. The United States will be less inclined to sanction China, and China will be less inclined to purchase large share of Iranian oil.
 
Little Recourse for Iran
 
Iran faces even more challenges as it contends with an emboldened Trump administration riding a wave of success. At every step of the way, Iran has issued threats that it has not carried out. It promised to ramp up its nuclear activities and even leave the JCPOA if the United States abandoned the agreement, yet it continues to adhere to it. In the meantime, Iran’s commerce, which has already shrunk, is likely to take a further hit. The International Monetary Fund this spring projected Iran would experience 6 percent negative growth this year.
 
Thus far, the Iranian officialdom has decided to take the pain and await the 2020 U.S. presidential election with the hope that a less hawkish Democrat will succeed Trump. Tehran will likely stick to this strategy as it has few retaliatory options. Abandoning the nuclear agreement will not ease the economic pressure it is under. And closing the Strait of Hormuz would likely choke off its remaining trade while making it vulnerable to military retaliation. The latest U.S. provocation is likely to be met with loud speeches from Iran but little else.
 

CAN THE US CHOKE IRAN’S RADICAL ISLAMIST REGIME?
Lela Gilbert
Hudson Institute, Apr. 26, 2019
 
For four decades, the Islamic Republic of Iran has continued to be one of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom. Its cruelty has not only intensified in recent years, but the reach of its hardline ayatollahs has extended well beyond Iran’s borders into the greater Middle East, thanks to an expansionist agenda known as “Exporting the Revolution.”
 
During a February celebration of the Islamic Republic’s 40th anniversary, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s “Supreme Leader,” declared that the export of the revolution was in fact entering “Phase Two.” This was his carefully worded way of saying that the regime will be seeking greater influence and moving more aggressively beyond its borders into states like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and venues beyond the Middle East.
 
Iran’s nefarious intentions and activities are being closely scrutinized by the Trump administration and have led to crippling sanctions on Iran’s oil exports. And now U.S. waivers – which permitted eight specific countries to purchase Iranian oil despite existing sanctions – will not be renewed in May 2019. The resulting economic crisis is intended to weaken Iran’s radical Islamist regime and, ultimately, end its thinly-veiled nuclear agenda.
 
“We will continue to apply maximum pressure on the Iranian regime,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on April 22, “until its leaders change their destructive behavior, respect the rights of the Iranian people, and return to the negotiating table.”
 
Iran’s mullahcracy is reportedly in dire financial straits and their proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, have both complained that their military funding has been slashed. At the same time, the people of Iran are suffering; angry protests about the soaring cost of living have erupted in many Iranian cities.
 
The Iranian government’s response to the Trump administration’s increased sanctions was predictable: “Iranian Minister of Defense Amir Hatami, who is in Russia to attend Moscow security conference, said the most important security threat in the world is the dangerous behavior of US President Donald Trump….”
 
At the same time, other questions arise: will increased economic sanctions make life any easier for Christians, Baha’is and other harshly persecuted people of faith inside Iran? Their plight has recently become better known, thanks both to social media and closer international scrutiny. Reports from religious freedom experts have added their voices to calls for reform, along with expat Iranians who have somehow managed to escape the clutches of the brutal regime.
 
It seems that Iran’s abuses have gone from bad to worse.
 
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) stated in its 2018 report:
“Christian converts and house church leaders faced increasingly harsh sentencing: many were sentenced to at least 10 years in prison for their religious activities. Religious reformers and dissenters faced prolonged detention and possible execution, while the government’s growing ability to enforce official interpretations of religion online posed new threats to the freedom and safety of Internet users.”
Since 1999, the U.S. Department of State has designated Iran as a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).
 
In the meantime, Open Doors 2019 World Watch Report once again listed Iran as one of the world’s top 10 worst persecutors of Christians. In late 2018, in one week alone, 114 Christians were arrested, affirming a University of Qom propagandist’s claim that “fighting Evangelical Christianity is one of our core issues.”
 
The Christians most often persecuted are new converts from Islam. Under Shari’a law – Islamic religious decrees – conversion from Islam is a capital crime. And although that religious injunction is not formally enforced in Iran, it is implemented through such accusations as “acting against the regime,” “threatening national security” and, curiously, “promoting Christian Zionism.” … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
 

THE UNITED STATES DECISION TO DESIGNATE THE REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS AS A TERRORIST ORGANIZATION
Eldad Shavit and Sima Shine
INSS Insight No. 1160, Apr. 14, 2019
 
On April 8, 2019, the United States announced that as of the following week, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) will be added to the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations (which to date includes 67 Middle East groups). A statement issued by President Donald Trump described this as an “unprecedented step [that] recognizes the reality that Iran is not only a State Sponsor of Terrorism, but that the IRGC actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft.” A White House announcement said that the State Department regards the Revolutionary Guards as “the Iranian government’s primary means of directing and implementing its global terrorist campaign.” This is the first time that a US administration has imposed sanctions on a governmental arm of another country. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States would continue to impose sanctions on Iran and pressure it to “behave like a normal nation,” and called on US allies to do likewise.
 
As it had warned in advance, in response Iran’s Supreme National Security Council declared the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), which is responsible for US military activities in the Middle East, a terrorist organization. In parallel, most members of the parliament (Majlis) published letters in support of this designation of CENTCOM, some wore Revolutionary Guards uniforms as a sign of solidarity, and the announced decision was ratified as law. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif blamed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he accused of inflaming tensions. In addition, to mark National Nuclear Energy Day on April 10, President Hassan Rouhani ordered the installation of a cascade of advanced 20 IR-6 centrifuges at Natanz. That step is in keeping with the nuclear agreement and does not constitute a breach. As in the past, so too this time, a blow from the West to the regime, and especially at such a core component, has united Iranian political moderates with extremists, closing their ranks around the anti-American and anti-Israeli position.
 
The administration’s decision follows other decisions on the Iranian issue over the last two years and upholds its promise to intensify the policy of “maximum pressure” on the Iranian leadership. The current decision does not spell significant economic consequences beyond the economic pressures already leveled on Iran. Individuals and entities with links to the Revolutionary Guards were previously included in broad sanctions against Iran. Nevertheless, this decision reflects the heightened measures that the administration is prepared to take against Iran. It follows a debate within the administration that apparently focused on the possible consequences for the security of US forces, specifically those deployed in the Middle East, given concern that Iran might take action against them, either directly or through proxy groups. Also discussed were limitations that the decision was liable to place on the ability of American officials (military and diplomatic) to maintain contacts with counterparts in countries like Iraq and Lebanon with ties to Revolutionary Guards elements.
 
 
Statements by the administration emphasize that the decision is intended to impress upon Iran the costs of its support and involvement in terrorism. It is one component in a range of actions that the administration hopes will achieve its Iran objectives, and will impede any future effort to restore Iran to the international community and the global finance system. Furthermore, the administration has already announced its intent to impose additional economic sanctions, and next month will decide whether to continue granting waivers to countries whose main oil supply is from Iran. The administration recently announced that of the eight countries that received waivers six months ago, three have now reduced their Iranian oil purchases to zero. According to the administration, 23 countries that formerly imported oil from Iran have ceased doing so.
 
On a declarative level at least, the administration continues its demands, as stipulated in the 12 points published by Secretary of State Pompeo, that Iran comprehensively change its conduct in a range of areas: in nuclear technology, ground-to-ground missile development, and regional activity. President Trump has repeatedly voiced his interest in opening a dialogue on these issues with the Iranian leadership – if and when it decides that it is willing to make concessions. That said, the administration’s determination to intensify measures against Iran, even if it declares that these are meant to pressure the leadership and not the civilian population, could attest to additional intentions, not publicly acknowledged – above all, to see the pressure generate sweeping protests that would destabilize and possibly topple the regime (although the administration appears to lack the knowledge and tools required to effect a new reality in Iran). Alternatively, there may be a belief/hope that cornering the leadership would prompt it to reverse its consistent policy and leave the nuclear agreement in a manner that would compel the other parties to the deal – chiefly the Europeans – to admit the deal’s failure and thereby intensify Iran’s isolation and the pressures upon it… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]