The Best Way to Avert War with Iran? Fire John Bolton

Iran’s decision to retaliate against the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal was inevitable, so long as its back was pushed against the wall. Iran exercised “strategic patience” for the past year, hoping that the other parties to the deal would stand up to Trump’s bullying and defy U.S. sanctions if Iran remained fully compliant with the deal. Now it has decided on a measured response: to halt compliance with aspects of the accord that recent U.S. sanctions themselves obstruct but leave the window for diplomacy open.

The backdrop to Iran’s decision is incredibly dangerous brinkmanship from senior Trump officials, particularly National Security Advisor John Bolton. Even as Iran has kept open the option of climbing down the escalation ladder, war could become a fait accompli if Trump keeps Bolton in the White House.

Importantly, Iranian officials have stressed their countermeasures with respect to the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), are reversible and that Iran will not precipitate a conflict. Iranian President Rouhani was careful to state that Iran’s decision did not amount to a withdrawal from the deal, but was permitted by the agreement, in particular its clause that Iran will treat the reintroduction or reimposition of sanctions “as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.”

Read the full article on Newsweek.

At NIAC Congressional Panel, Experts Warn Trump is Taking Iran Diplomacy Off the Table

“Beyond just violating the deal and unilaterally abandoning it, I think what the Trump administration is trying to do is make it impossible or next to impossible for a future Democratic administration to re-enter [the Iran nuclear deal],” said Ned Price, a former CIA and White House official now with National Security Action who was speaking on Iran policy on Wednesday. The Trump administration’s designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) is the “clearest example” yet, he said, of the White House seeking to tie the hands of a successor administration.

Price was speaking at a briefing hosted by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) on Capitol Hill addressing the one-year anniversary of President Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The panelists, which also included Jamal Abdi, President of NIAC; Suzanne DiMaggio, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and Asieh Namdar, anchor and journalist for CGTN, argued that the next administration must return the U.S. to its JCPOA commitments.

On what the Trump administration is hoping to achieve, “it really depends on who you talk to in the administration and on what day,” DiMaggio said. “If the goal of U.S. policy is to get the Iranians back to the negotiating table, then the policy is a failure.” Similarly, if the goal is “the fulfillment of Secretary Pompeo’s 12 goals,” DiMaggio warned, “the Iranians read the 12 goals as regime change.” Rather than send signals that the U.S. is pursuing “flatout economic warfare” that could lead to the use of military force, DiMaggio advocated for more engagement. She warned that as the maximum pressure campaign goes on, “with each pressure point, we are making it impossible for the Iranians to even consider to come back to the table.”

Price added similar warnings, noting that “the fatal flaw in the administration’s policy is that coercive sanctions cannot have the intended effect when the ultimate goal is regime change in everything but name.” In contrast to the Obama administration, which had the backing of the international community in first enforcing sanctions and then negotiating a final nuclear agreement, he outlined how the Trump administration has pursued a unilateral approach. When asked how much of Trump’s latest policies since leaving the JCPOA, including designating the IRGC as a FTO and the Muslim Ban, can be undone, Price was optimistic. “I think if Donald Trump has taught us one thing, it is that you can do a lot, especially in the realm of foreign policy, as long as you explain yourself.”

Abdi, meanwhile, warned that Trump’s policies are undermining the constituency inside of Iran for negotiations. “I think what we are seeing inside of Iran is, at least among the political class, a real consolidation around a more hardline position,” Abdi said. He said the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign is intended to push Iran to leave the JCPOA. In such a case, Iran may lose the international community’s support and the moral high ground.

Noting that National Security Advisor John Bolton has been a long-time proponent of military force against Iran, Abdi warned “If Iran can be goaded to leave the nuclear deal, then I think you will see some of the things that John Bolton had been advocating for potentially to come to fruition.” The Trump administration’s latest escalations are alarming because they have begun to “institutionalize that diplomacy with Iran is off the table.” Abdi argued that the U.S. must uphold its international commitments by returning to compliance with the nuclear deal. “When Pompeo talks about Iran behaving as a normal country, well, the United States is not operating as a normal country, and typically the United States derived its power from the international order and the notion that diplomacy works.” The Trump administration’s current strategy is such a departure from those norms, he said, that “regime change” may have already occurred in the U.S.

The panelists unanimously agreed that the current U.S. strategy toward Iran is not only self defeating but dangerous, including by signaling to other nations that the U.S. is unreliable. Moreover, while Abdi emphasized that Iranians clearly recognize that their government is behind a lot of the suffering inside Iran, he warned that the U.S. has given “the Islamic Republic a pretty compelling narrative for how it is the U.S. to blame for economic challenges in Iran.”

Returning to the negotiating table with Iran would help restore faith in U.S. leadership, but with the current administration, the future remains uncertain, and there may eventually not be a table to return to. Abdi warned that there is work to be done to ensure that “regime change” in the United States is not permanent, “and that the United States returns to being a responsible actor that the U.S. derives so much influence and power from for so many years.”

Sanctioning Iran’s Climate

REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl (IRAN ENVIRONMENT TRANSPORT)

Emblazoned across the jerseys of Iran’s 2014 World Cup soccer team is a symbol of national pride: the endangered Asiatic cheetah. Iranian conservationists have worked for years to reverse the cat’s dwindling population, and sadly their critical efforts are hampered by forces both in and outside of Iran. The world celebrated Earth Day on April 22, 2019 with its theme Protect Our Species; a reminder of the devastating impacts of climate change for species unable to adapt.

Iran’s climate change struggles are nothing new. Eager to develop infrastructure and technology as a way of catalyzing immediate economic benefits, the government paid little attention to long-term environmental impacts. Domestically, the Iranian government is failing to tackle this challenge and instead persecutes environmental conservations, which serves to further damage the environmental movement. On an international scale, additional US sanctions also continue to hamper Iranian efforts to combat current and future effects of climate change.

Iran needs a portfolio of solutions to approach climate change—one grounded in a re-evaluation of its resource management practices, and bolstered by international assistance. Until both domestic and international policies are overhauled, the fate of Iran’s changing climate and its people, looks grim.

Read more on MENASource from the Atlantic Council.

Growing U.S. Pressure is Emboldening Iranian Hardliners

The ingredients for a war with Iran are falling into place. The Trump administration’s termination of oil waivers for importers of Iranian oil and designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a branch of Iran’s state-run military, as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) are dangerous acts of escalation. Surprisingly, the Iranian reaction to the IRGC designation has been restrained as Tehran’s top decisionmakers remain committed to waiting out the Trump administration and not being baited into conflict. However, their approach is under immense domestic challenge—and could soon become unsustainable.

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and his reformist and moderate allies continue to prefer to minimize foreign tensions through diplomatic engagement. Despite President Donald Trump’s abrogation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal and the reimposition of hard-hitting unilateral sanctions, Rouhani has won elite consensus on refraining from retaliatory actions that could spur a multilateral front against Iran or risk conflict.

Rouhani has pushed for a policy that is best described as strategic patience. It has been marked by continuing to adhere to the JCPOA, reticence to escalate regional tensions, and preserving ties with Europe in the face of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign. While Rouhani and other senior officials have ruled out talks with the Trump administration, they have left the door open to engaging a future White House that renters the JCPOA.

“[The U.S.] has burned the bridge,” Rouhani declared last August, “Now, the U.S. is standing on the other side … If it is honest, it should fix that bridge again.” In February, Rouhani reiterated that Iran would be willing to engage the United States “if America reverses its course.”

Read more on the National Interest.

NIAC Update on Flash Flooding in Iran

According to the latest report from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), over 2 million people in Iran require humanitarian aid. Roughly 10 million Iranians in over 2,000 cities and villages in 31 provinces were impacted by the floods and heavy rains. IFRC further stated that based on the latest information, 78 people were killed, 1136 injured, and over half a million displaced as a result of the floods.

NIAC continues to support relief efforts for those impacted by the terrible flooding. We are urging the Treasury Department, State Department, and members of Congress to press for humanitarian exemptions so that U.S. sanctions and the U.S. trade embargo on Iran does not impede relief efforts. We also are supporting key organizations— which have proof of OFAC licensing— to encourage donations to relief efforts, including Moms Against Poverty, Children of Persia, and Child Foundation. Currently, these fundraisers are the best way for members of the Iranian diaspora to make a contribution to help those who need humanitarian aid in Iran.

Warren Proposes Return to JCPOA in Senate Hearing

“If Iran maintains itself in compliance, then I believe the President should reverse his reckless decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions because the deal makes America safer and the world safer,” declared Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) at a Senate Armed Services Committee nomination hearing on Tuesday morning.

The comments from Warren, widely viewed as a top contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, follow her articulation of a “progressive foreign policy” in a speech at American University last week. In a report released earlier this month, NIAC called on legislators and 2020 Presidential contenders to commit their support to returning to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and to take additional steps to rein in Trump’s reckless Iran policy.

Sen. Warren questioned Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the nominee for commander of U.S. Central Command, if he agreed with the Director of National Intelligence’s 2018 Worldwide Threat Assessment that the JCPOA has “extended the amount of time Iran would need to produce fissile material for a weapon from a few months to about one year and has enhanced the transparency of Iran’s nuclear activities.” McKenzie responded affirmatively, prompting Sen. Warren to ask whether the Iranian government had “reduced its destabilizing” activities as a result of the Trump administration’s abrogation of the JCPOA, a key selling point for Trump’s decision. McKenzie replied that “Iranian destabilizing activities across the region were active before, during, and after the nuclear deal.”

In response to a question from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) about whether Iran’s government is on the brink of collapse, McKenzie stated, “I haven’t seen anything that I would characterize as spreading or essentially threatening the fundamental nature of the Iranian regime.” In response to a question from Cruz on Iran’s missile program, McKenzie responded that Iran had “chosen to substitute ballistic missiles, both short, medium and long-range for their paucity of aviation assets.”

With respect to regional issues, Sen. Tim Kaine questioned whether the Trump administration was authorized to continue operations in Syria, highlighting comments by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that “part of the mission in Syria is to provide a check against Iran.” McKenzie said in response: “Senator that may possibly be a derived effect of our presence on the ground, but that is not a mission that we are undertaking.”

On Yemen, Sen. Warren asked McKenzie whether the U.S. provides intelligence support and military advice to the Saudi-led coalition, including refueling aircraft that “bomb these targets in Yemen.” McKenzie stated that Warren was correct, leading her to call for a reassessment of the U.S.-Saudi relationship: “I think it’s time to reevaluate our relationship with Saudi Arabia in light of its actions not only in Yemen, but with the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.  And we need to ask ourselves if the benefits of this relationship with Saudi Arabia is worth the costs, if this kind of behavior continues.”

Mohammed bin Salman Is the Next Saddam Hussein

“Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is reportedly shocked over the backlash to his government’s killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. In a recent phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, according to the Wall Street Journal, his confusion over official Washington’s furor “turned into rage,” as he spoke of feeling “betrayed by the West” and threatened to “look elsewhere” for foreign partners.

Saudi Arabia’s indignation at the United States would not be the first time an autocratic U.S. ally in the Middle East has assumed it could act with virtual impunity due to its alignment with Washington in countering Iran. Indeed, the Saudi prince’s meteoric rise to power bears striking similarities to that of a past U.S. ally-turned-nemesis whose brutality was initially overlooked by his Washington patrons: former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein…”

Read more on Foreign Policy.

The Ahvaz terror attack in Iran may drag the US into a larger war

In this photo provided by Fars News Agency, a woman takes her children to shelter as an army member tries to help them, during a shooting at a military parade marking the 38th anniversary of Iraq’s 1980 invasion of Iran, in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, Iran, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Gunmen attacked the military parade, killing several and wounding others, state media said. (Fatemeh Rahimavian/Fars News Agency via AP)

Iran has been hit by yet another terrorist attack. At least 29 people were killed in the southwestern city of Ahvaz when gunmen opened fire on a crowd watching a military parade on Iran’s equivalent of Memorial Day. But unlike previous terror attacks, this one may spark a much larger regional conflagration – involving not just regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, but also the United States. In fact, it may have been designed to trigger just that.

The terrorist attack, which was first claimed by an Arab separatist group with alleged connections to Saudi Arabia, the Ahvaz National Resistance, did not occur in a vacuum. Iran’s regional rivals, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have increasingly taken their decades-long behind-the-scenes pressure on the US to bomb Iran into the open.

What used to be said in private is now increasingly declared in public. Moreover, these monarchies are no longer limiting themselves to pushing the US to take military action, but are announcing their own readiness to attack Iran.

Saudi and UAE threats towards Iran

Only a year ago, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman explained in an interview that Saudi Arabia would take the fight to “inside Iran“.

“We won’t wait for the battle to be in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “Instead, we will work so that the battle is for them in Iran.” His statement was widely interpreted as a sign that Riyadh would dramatically escalate tensions with Iran and intensify its support for various armed groups opposing the government in Tehran.

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, an adviser to the Abu Dhabi government, justified the Ahvaz attack on Twitter, arguing that it wasn’t a terrorist attack and that “moving the battle to the Iranian side is a declared option“. Attacks of this kind, he ominously warned, “will increase during the next phase”.

If the terrorist attack in Ahvaz was part of a larger Saudi and UAE escalation in Iran, their goal is likely to goad Iran to retaliate and then use Tehran’s reaction to spark a larger war and force the US to enter since Riyadh and Abu Dhabi likely cannot take on Iran militarily alone (indeed, after spending roughly $6bn a month, they have failed to defeat the Houthi guerillas in Yemen).

If so, the terrorist attack is as much about trapping Iran into war as it is to trap the US into a war of choice. As former secretary of defense Bob Gates said in 2010, the Saudis “want to fight the Iranians to the last American“.

Iran hawks inside Trump’s administration

But the Trump administration may not be innocent bystanders to such a scheme. Trump’s own actions and the close coordination we have seen between his administration, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Israel on Iran raises the prospects of a different explanation: one in which the US itself is actively pushing its allies and being pushed by its allies towards war with Iran.

The Ahvaz attack comes only one day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a strong threat to Iran, declaring it would be held “accountable” if there were any more attacks on US consulates in Iraq.

The US consulate in Basra, Iraq, has come under attack in the past week allegedly by Iraqi Shia forces close to Iran. The Trump administration has not presented any evidence that Iran had any involvement in that attack, but has declared that it will attack Iran if any more such attacks take place.

The Iranian consulate in Basra, in turn, has been attacked several times during this same period, with Tehran laying the blame at the feet of the US (also without clear evidence).

‏The difference being that the US has issued a stern threat declaring it will take action against Iran for events neither Washington nor Tehran can provide any evidence for.

This pattern of bellicose statements and actions fits well with a memo National Security Adviser John Bolton – who has a history of manipulating intelligence in order to drag the US into war – wrote in August 2017, before he joined the Trump team.

The memo details how the US should coordinate with Israel and Saudi Arabia to build support – domestically and internationally – for a withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and a much more aggressive policy on Iran.

It specifically mentions “providing assistance” to Khuzestan Arabs – the minority group in Iran that the Ahvazi attack perpetrators claim to represent. Bolton also argues that the Trump administration should demand payment from Iran for its non-existing role in the 9/11 September attacks while disingenuously offering Iran dialogue amid a policy of confrontation.

The Trump administration’s Iran policy is following the Bolton memo almost point by point. The plea to provide assistance to Khuzestani separatists is particularly damning. This raises legitimate suspicions that if the terror attack has Saudi and UAE fingerprints on it, it may not be so much an attempt by them to drag the US into war as Trump operating in the driver’s seat.

For Saudi Arabia and the UAE, this makes strategic sense. Their ability to compete with the much larger and more cohesive Iranian state in the long run is highly questionable. If they can trap the US into doubling down on its military presence in the Middle East, however, then they can use American power to balance Iran.

For America, which is already overextended in the Middle East at the expense of its strategic interest in Asia as well as at home, this makes little to no sense.

This post originally appeared on Middle East Eye.

Experts Push Back on White House Statement Blaming Iran for Recent Attacks in Iraq

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, September 11, 2018
CONTACT: Brett Abrams | brett@unbendablemedia.com

WASHINGTON, DC — Earlier today, the Trump Administration issued a statement blaming Iran for recent attacks in Iraq. Over the weekend, Iraqi protesters, angry over economic conditions and poor public services, burned the Iranian consulate. Unknown assailants also reportedly fired rockets as Basra airport, which houses the US consulate, and at the Green Zone in Baghdad, which houses the US embassy. There is no evidence that Iran contributed to these attacks in anyway.

In reaction to the White House’s statement this afternoon, Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement:

“The White House statement this afternoon blaming Iran for attacks in Iraq in recent days ominously highlights the Trump administration’s eagerness to cross tripwires for conflict with Iran.

“The administration preemptively blaming Iran for future attacks on U.S. government facilities or personnel in Iraq invites any group eager for a U.S.-Iran war to plant the seeds for a disastrous conflict. It is critically important for all actors to step back from the brink and initiate backchannel dialogue to prevent escalation.

“The fact that the administration is stacked with those who have advocated war with Iran, including John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, should heighten scrutiny over the administration’s claim of Iranian responsibility for failing to rein in its proxies.”

 

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Skip the War, Save the Environment

In the past few months, President Trump has withdrawn from the multilateral nuclear accord with Iran, re-imposed sanctions, and threatened to bomb Iran on Twitter. But while many have written on the military, humanitarian and economic impact of war with Iran, not much has been said on how it will impact the environment. A look into America’s past wars offers disturbing insights into what the disastrous environmental impact of war with Iran could have.

The first threat to the environment is oil. During the Persian Gulf War, oil refineries were the target of constant bombings and over 700 oil wells were destroyed in Kuwait alone. Over the years, the equivalent of 60 million barrels of oil polluted the soil, driving air toxicity to hazardous levels. In Baghdad, air pollution reached 705% of pre-war levels. Given that Iran’s oil reserves exceed those of Iraq and Kuwait, the potential fallout of an Iranian war could be even greater.

Burnings and bombings are symptomatic of modern warfare. Both release hazardous compounds in the air, and are a primary contributor to the increased frequency of wildfires in the region. During the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban became notorious for its “scorched-earth” tactics, meaning that they burned anything potentially useful to the enemy. As a result, the nation lost a substantial percentage of its forests to combustion––a disruption in the ecosystem that, on top of worsening air quality, led to the deaths of countless endangered animals.

Iran already suffers from severe environmental stressors and a war could be the breaking point. The region’s air is dense with pollutants, especially in cities. The country faces severe drought and an ongoing water shortage, with Lake Urmia, the largest saltwater lake in the Middle East, having shrunk 90% since the 1970s. Instead of cracking down on these issues, the Iranian government’s response has been to jail and exile its scientists––both local and foreign––for “spying”, among other bizarre accusations. It is nothing short of naive to believe that during wartime, when these respective crises are escalated, there will be any significant allocation of government resources into the environment rather than the war effort. If a war takes place in Iran, the government will either be apathetic to the cause, or could collapse entirely as happened in Iraq.

Already, continued international isolation and conflict with the U.S. has exacerbated the situation. In 2010, when Obama’s international sanctions coalition was at its height, Iran was no longer able to import refined oil. As a result, the nation needed to refine its own oil quickly and cheaply to keep up with the rising demand. Carbon emissions skyrocketed, causing immense damage to the environment.

Climate change is a global issue––war never stays confined to one space, and always outlives its time. In Syria, six million Syrians have fled the country since the beginning of the war, entering other nations in a way that isn’t sustainable to their respective societal infrastructures and provoking right-wing backlash. A war in Iran, exacerbating pollution and water shortages, will likely also produce an exodus of refugees. Given that Iran is over four times more populated than Syria, a refugee crisis of similar proportions would put further strains on political systems and humanitarian resources.

War is already a horror, but when factoring in the environmental devastation, there is one more reason for policymakers in Washington and Tehran to avoid it.

Iran’s Fundamentalists Overplay their Hand Amid Continued Calls for Change

Week of August 20, 2018 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

  • Official statements and reports address size, scope, and triggers of August and January protests
  • Prominent political and civil society activists release open letter calling for major reforms driven by domestic forces
  • Fundamentalist Jebhe Paydari leading calls for Rouhani’s removal despite Supreme Leader’s recent rebuke against resignation or impeachment
  • Anti-Rouhani forces accused of overreach in Qom gathering, elicit backlash over threats to Rouhani and attacks on traditional clergy
  • Officials view State Department’s “Iran Action Group” as a sign of desperation over failing to mobilize international support for sanctions

Iran continues to grapple with fallout from widespread protests, the first wave of reimposed U.S. sanctions, and major addresses by President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. The fast-moving developments have been treated as an opportunity by some, including Rouhani’s bitter rivals in a reclusive, but powerful and increasingly forthright hardline faction. Meanwhile, the country’s embattled activists continue their efforts to foster political change as officials respond to the creation of the State Department’s “Iran Action Group” and brace for the Trump administration’s economic siege.

Aftermath of Early August’s Protests

On August 21st, Interior Minister Rahmani Fazli gave an interview with Iran newspaper—the official outlet of the Iranian presidency—offering details on the protest wave that hit parts of the country in late July and early August. “In the recent protests, in 27 cities in 13 provinces there were gatherings of between 20 and 500 people. The largest gathering was of 500 in Eshtehard in Karaj,” Fazli stated. “In total, around 3,800 people participated according to our reports.”

The Rouhani administration official added that the protests reflected “social tensions” and were not a “security issue.” However, amid increased clashes with Iraq-based Kurdish militants on Iran’s western border, including a July skirmish that saw ten Iranian soldiers killed, Fazli stated that Iran has observed a growth in the “training, equipment, ammunition, and financial and intelligence backing” of “terrorist groups” in the past six months.

While the protests have tapered for the time being, calls for change from the country’s dissident voices have not. On August 10th, a group of prominent political and civil society activists, including political prisoners, wrote an open letter highlighting 12 areas of governance in need of far-reaching reform. They characterized their action as a continuation of Iran’s struggle for a constitutional republic that was set into motion by Iran’s 1906 Constitutional Revolution and carried forward by events such as Mohammad Mossadegh’s premiership, the 1979 revolution, the reformist movement, and the Green movement. “One path is to deny everything. Not recognize any achievements and yet again, demand to break from our historic trajectory,” the letter stated. “The other path is to reread history and see the weak roots and build on the achievements of our ancestors.”

The authors went on: “We choose the second path, not just to draw on our experiences and energies, but to support the century of struggles of our ancestors and see the saving on Iran on a continuous path of wisdom of the freedom-seekers of the homeland.”

The dissidents also stressed the need make their voices heard to offset the ability of hostile outside powers to make inroads into Iran: “Independent movements cannot and should not remain silent and passive so that foreigners become tempted to fill this void with dependent forces and puppets. So we will follow the path of our ancestors and we will pursue the demands we see as necessary to save Iran.”

In other protest-related news, prominent Iranian sociologist Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi argued in a August 16th column for the reformist Etemad that historically, populations do not rebel due to poverty or hunger, but due to losing their agency and trust in the state. Tabrizi stated. “The designers of sanctions hope that with these pressures to weaken Iran’s political system and create an irreversible cleavage between the people and the state.” He added: “The only way to confront this aim is to create trust and reciprocal respect between the people and the state through increased transparency in the executive and judicial functions of the state.”

On August 29th, Fatemeh Zolghahr, deputy head of the parliament’s cultural committee, said the committee had approved the private sector entering the TV and radio market. The private sector will be able to produce radio and TV stations, she said, provided it abides by regulations set up by a new trustee board for state TV comprised mostly of figures selected by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Hardliners Put Rouhani in their Crosshairs

The Trump administration’s reneging on the nuclear deal has debilitated centrist President Rouhani, who invested much of his political capital pushing for diplomatic engagement with the U.S. and negotiating the nonproliferation agreement. Since Trump decertified the deal last October and wavered on renewing sanctions relief waivers in January, Rouhani has faced increased calls for his resignation or impeachment.

An August 16th editorial in Etemad asked: ” Who was the intended audience for the Leader’s remarks regarding those who want Rouhani removed?”—referring to Ayatollah Khamenei’s recent address where he denounced those calling for Rouhani’s removal as “playing a role in the enemy’s plan.” The column traced the roots of the call to MPs belonging to the far-right Jebhe Paydari (The Front for Preserving the Islamic Revolution) political faction.

It stated: “In February, Ahmad Saleh, a current MP of the same mindset as Koochakzadeh [a former Jebhe Paydari MP who also called for Rouhani’s removal], repeated this matter again and from his parliamentary perch, and in mid-April began talk of bringing down the Rouhani administration … it was at least the beginning of using distinct keywords such as “Rouhani’s inadequacy [to be president.].”

Meanwhile, Jebhe Paydari’s spiritual leader, fundamentalist cleric Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, proclaimed in an August 19th speech that Iranian officials must admit they made a mistake in agreeing to the JCPOA. The hardline cleric, who critics describe as seeking the “North Korea” model for Iran, also warned against trusting any foreign powers. “We must confess and say God, we made a damn mistake. Please forgive us for being optimistic about the JCPOA and negotiations with the enemy … Please forgive us for being optimistic towards the Europeans,” he stated. “Some have tied their hearts to Russia and China, they are making a mistake as well.”

Mohammad Rahim Norouzian, the deputy governor for political, social, and political affairs of Razavi Khorasan province, home of Iran’s second-largest city Mashhad, said in an August 20th press conference that “hardline oppositionists” started the protests that began in Mashhad last December and spread to other parts of the country. “Some of the late December, early January protests were organized by irrational hardline oppositionists, who created space for the enemy,” Norouzian stated. “Some believe they had good intentions, but in reality they had an incorrect understanding of the environment.”

Norouzian went on to announce that specific locations will be set up in Iranian cities to hold protests, including two locations for Mashhad. “These locations cannot be inaccessible, must not disturb people’s movements and activities, and must be inside the cities,” he stated. “We will soon announce locations for the people and different groups who have grievances, to get a permit to protest their grievances at these locations.”

He added: “This action is being implemented by the [Rouhani] administration, but we won’t allow whoever wants to create chaos to threaten the security and stability of the city.”

Outcry over Anti-Rouhani Gathering in Qom’s Feyziyeh Seminary School

An August 16th gathering at a seminary school in Qom organized by anti-Rouhani clerics, mostly from the fundamentalist Jebhe Paydari faction, spurred widespread outrage after a placard at the event went viral. The sign implied that former President Hashemi Rafsanjani—who died in January 2017 after swimming in a facility that was formerly a palace of the late Shah’s wife Farah Pahlavi—was killed and that Rouhani would meet a similar end. It read: “Oh you whose slogan is negotiations, Farah’s pool is your fate.”

The event triggered sharp condemnation from two senior Ayatollahs, Naser Makarem Shirazi and Hossein Noori Hamedani. Makarem Shirazi described the gathering as a “catastrophe” and demanded answers from officials and the Revolutionary Guards. He said, using an Iranian expression, that the episode “threw water in the enemy’s watermill” by advancing the cause of creating division and discord amongst Iran’s ruling elites.

Tehran MP Fatemeh Saeedi said she and other MPs had signed a letter for the impeachment of Interior Minister Rahmani Fazli over the “Qom gathering and the threat against the president.” She stated: “It has to be made clear who these people are who allow themselves to threaten the president.” Centrist MP Ali Motahari also stated:
“The intelligence ministry should take up this issue and reveal its results to the nation. Maybe the issue of the sudden and unbelievable death of the head of the Expediency Council [Rafsanjani] will be cleared up.”

In response to the outcry, the Revolutionary Guards released a statement that denied any role in organizing the event and “strongly condemned some of the slogans and placards of the cleric in Qom.”  The Governor of Qom also stated that he had sent a report on the event’s slogans to senior provincial officials and that security services were following up on the issue. Meanwhile, Revolutionary Guards-affiliated Fars News reported that the two individuals who held up the placard were confronted immediately by the organizers at the event, who “took and ripped up the placard.”

The Qom gathering also elicited controversy over remarks by a keynote speaker, Hassan Rahimpour Azghadi, who accused the clerical establishment and seminaries of opening the door to secularism in the country. Azghadi opined: “Figh [religious law] that has no connection to daily life results in daily life that has no connection to figh. Seminary lectures that don’t theorize governance and religious civilization. They are implicitly pursuing a secular figh.”

Azghadi’s comment amounted to an unprecedented right-wing rebuke of Iran’s clerical establishment, in effect arguing it had failed to turn Iran into a proper theocracy four decades after the Islamic revolution. In response, Ayatollah Noori Hamedani proclaimed that the seminary “is not secular, has never been secular, and never will be. Why do they bring someone to the seminary who knows nothing about it?”

In an August 20th column, reformist journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi discussed the Qom event and how it marked a new stage in the relationship between the traditional clerical establishment and “a group that is visible and invisible and that in times of crisis tries to take political initiatives”—which he identified primarily as Jebhe Paydari.

Zeidabadi explained: “It seems that because of the recent public and explicit support of Hassan Rouhani’s administration by the leader of the Islamic Republic, this current with the cover of being revolutionary and even of ‘defending velyate-faqih,’ is trying to take advantage of the intricate current political and economic climate of the country, and trying to discredit and potentially collapse the Rouhani administration.”

Zeidabadi added that the anti-Rouhani forces had overreached this time. “The reaction of Misters Makarem Shirazi and Nouri Hamedani shows that this time, the political system will not allow them to take the initiative and if they try to put their feet past their rug [overreach] and insist on their position, they will be eliminated from the circle of power.”

Official Reactions to the State Department’s “Iran Action Group”

Iranian officials responded to the State Department’s August 17th announcement on creating an “Iran Action Group” by framing it as a  sign of desperation from a U.S. side that was having difficulty in getting other countries on board with renewed sanctions. “After great efforts by America to get other countries to join it in reimposing sanctions against Iran, America has been met with complaints and has been isolated,” declared MP Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, a member and former spokesman for the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi stated in a press conference that the “Iran Action Group” should be viewed from a “psychological angle” and in terms of the “economic warfare” waged by Trump. He proclaimed: “This is more of a game and psychological warfare that the war-mongers in Trump’s team have undertaken—especially given it coincides with the 1953 coup anniversary, which this reminds us of.”



Below please find a summary of key developments in Iran:

On August 21st, Interior Minister Rahmani Fazli gave an interview with the Rouhani administration outlet Iran Newspaper in which he gave statistics regarding the country-wide protests that occurred in late July/early August, discussed how security services should view the protests, and warned of the rise of terrorist groups in the country.

  • “In the recent protests, in 27 cities in 13 provinces there were gatherings of between 20 and 500 people. The largest gathering was of 500 in Eshtehard in Karaj. In total, around 3800 people participated according to our reports.”
  • “The recent protests reflected social tensions. We still do not view or identify them as a security issue. We also don’t categorize every act of violence as a security issue.
  • “In the past six months we have seen a rise in terrorist groups, a growth in their training, equipment, ammunition, and financial and intelligence backing. We see the terrorists’ footprints in the smuggling of fuel, drugs, and even humans.”

On August 10th, a group of prominent political and civil society activists wrote an open letter highlighting 12 areas of governance in need of far-reaching reforms and echoing a recent speech by former President Mohammad Khatami.

  • “The national movement under the leadership of Dr. Mossadegh was a revival of the constitutionalist movement and emphasized the nation’s independence. The 1979 revolution was also a call against tyranny and against the destruction of the constitutionalist movement’s principles, even though in its thunderous roar it undid some of its achievements. The reformist movement and after it, the Green movement, were two other upheavals for a return to the true spirit of the rule of law and tried to—while preserving previous achievements—focus only on shortcomings and take a more gradual path towards reaching constitutionalist demands.”
  • “One path is to deny everything. Not recognize any achievements and yet again, demand to break from our historic trajectory. The other path is to reread history and see the weak roots and build on the achievements of our ancestors. We choose the second path, not just to draw on our experiences and energies, but to support the century of struggles of our ancestors and see the saving on Iran on a continuous path of wisdom of the freedom-seekers of the homeland.”
  • “Mr. Khatami’s suggestions bring a vision that supersedes partisanship or political differences and that all people who care for the country can support in its totality and approach.”
  • “Our answer is that same as what Mir Hossein Mousavi said in his 9th statement: ‘It is our historic responsibility to continue our protest and not stop from striving for the rights of the people.'”
  • “Independent movements cannot and should not remain silent and passive so that foreigners become tempted to fill this void with dependent forces and puppets. So we will follow the path of our ancestors and we will pursue the demands that we see as necessary to save Iran.”

On August 20th, former reformist MP and current editor-in-chief of the Etemad newspaper Elias Hazrati gave an interview to the online news outlet ILNA in which he discussed former reformist President Mohammad Khatami’s recent speech on the need for far-reaching reforms and stated that the media ban on the former president has been relaxed.

  • “What he said was vital even though Khatami himself has no official position in the country anymore. With his apology to the people, Khatami wanted to show that the path to dialogue with a people who are angry, frustrated, worried and are bearing immense pressures is to first apologize.”
  • “Despite us reformists having serious issues with Rouhani and his decisions, but we clearly and explicitly declare that we do not regret our votes and support of him.”
  • “In the current climate and Trump’s rock-throwing, the president must more seriously carry out his duties and must talk to the people so they feel there is a strong umbrella above their heads protecting them.”
  • In response to a question regarding Rouhani’s first Vice President Ishaq Jahangiri recently stating an opportunity may be arising on Khatami’s limitations: “From what I’ve heard and have knowledge about the efforts that have been taken to remove the limitations on Mr. Khatami have reached a result.”

On August 16th, Iranian sociologist Behrooz Ghamari Tabriz wrote an op-ed in the reformist Etemad arguing that historically, populations are driven to revolution not by poverty or hunger, but by losing their trust in the state and their agency.

  • “History shows that people rarely take to the streets over hunger and revolt. In history we have many examples of the majority of people in a society going hungry but not rebelling.”
  • “People rebel when their social consciousness is under pain. Seeking justice is main driver of any social rebellion.”
  • “Officials should know that is it not the ‘stomach pains of hunger’ that creates protests, but rather distrust and disbelief in the promises and commitments that brings people to the streets.”
  • “The designers of sanctions hope that with these pressures to weaken Iran’s political system and create an irreversible cleavage between the people and the state. The only way to confront this aim is to create trust and reciprocal respect between the people and the state through increased transparency in the executive and judicial functions of the state.”

On August 29th, Fatemeh Zolghahr, deputy head of the parliament’s cultural committee, said that cultural committee had approved the private sector entering the TV and radio market:

  • “Approval of the Parliament’s cultural committee: the private sector can with permission from state TV [Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, IRIB], create TV and radio broadcasts.”
  • “Fatemeh Zolghadr, deputy head of the parliament’s cultural committee: based on today’s approval of the cultural committee, a trustee board for IRIB will be created comprised of the follows: head of the IRIB, four legal persons selected by the Supreme Leader for 5 years. And the head of the trustee board, who will one of the people selected by the leader.”
  • The private sector with the permission of IRIB will be able to enter all areas of media, based on the regulations of the trustee broads, and produce radio and TV stations.”

On August 16th, an editorial in the reformist Etemad newspaper asked, “Who was the intended audience for the Leader’s remarks regarding those who want Rouhani removed?” It investigated calls for Rouhani’s removal in the past six months and identifies the principal accusers as members of the far-right Jebhe Paydari (The Front for Preserving the Islamic Revolution).

  • “The Leader of the revolution referred to one of the keywords used against the Rouhani administration in recent months, and fully came out against these types of attacks. The Leader emphasized: ‘Those who say the administration must be impeached are playing a role in the enemy’s plan … The government must stay in power and with strength accomplish its responsibilities to alleviate problems.”
  • “He also discussed the rights and responsibilities of the administration and the parliament, stating:  ‘Both branches, while practicing their rights, respect the other branch’s dignity and the 3 branches must cooperation to end the problems of the people.'”
  • “Seeing the narratives and controversies in the media over the past months against the Rouhani administration shows that the Leader’s emphasize on this matter was extremely important. The undeniable importance of this may have been why the Leader made these remarks at the end of his speech as part of the conclusions of this historic address.”
  • “If we are to talk about a person who initially started talking about Rouhani’s ‘inadequacy [to be president]’ the holder of this prize would be Mehdi Koochakzadeh, the Jebhe Paydari MP representing Tehran, who said this until he lost his seat [in the 2016 parliamentary elections].”
  • “In February, Ahmad Saleh, a current MP and of the same mindset as Koochakzadeh, repeated this matter again and from his Parliamentary perch, and in mid-April began talk of bringing down the Rouhani administration—which if we don’t say it started at this time, it at least was the beginning of using distinct keywords such as “Rouhani’s inadequacy [to be president.].”
  • The hand of this stand of Rouhani’s opponents was fully revealed when Hossein-Ali Haji-Deligani, a Jebhe Paydari MP representing Shahinshahr in Isfahan province, talked of the activities of his like-minded colleagues to implement the plan regarding ‘Rouhani’s inadequacies].’ He told Etemad Online in June: ‘When we took the bill for the impeachment of the economic minister to get signed by different MPs, they told us why don’t you bring the bill on Rouhani’s inadequacy?'”

On August 19th, Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, the spiritual leader of the Jebhe Paydari movement, said in a speech that Iranian officials should admit they made a mistake in agreeing to the JCPOA and warned of trusting foreign powers.

  • “We must confess and say God, we made a damn mistake. Please forgive us for being optimistic about the JCPOA and negotiations with the enemy.”
  • “Please forgive us for being optimistic towards the Europeans.”
  • “Some have tied their hearts to Russia and China, they are making a mistake as well.”

On August 20th, Mohammad Rahim Norouzian, the deputy governor for political, social, and political affairs of Razavi Khorasan province, gave a press conference where he discussed in part how the January protests were started by “hardline currents”:

  • “Some of the late December/early January protests were organized by irrational hardline oppositionists, who created space for the enemy. Some believe they had good intentions, but in reality they had incorrect understanding of the environment.”
  • Norouzian also announced that in Mashad two locations will be set up for protests with permits, and other cities will each have one designated location. “These locations cannot be inaccessible, must not disturb people’s movements & activities, and be inside the cities.”
  • Norouzian: “We will soon announce locations for the people and different groups who have grievances, to get a permit to protest their grievances at these locations.”
  • Norouzian: “This action is being implemented by the [Rouhani] administration, but we won’t allow whoever wants to create chaos to threaten the security and stability of the city.”
  • Norouzian: “Our current conditions aren’t worse than the past & the period of UNSC resolutions. Then, we had all the UNSC resolutions and countries against us, now there is division both within America & with its allies … the international space is not good for the US, it’s better for us now.”
  • Norouzian: “A psychological atmosphere has been created that wasn’t strong during the peak of the previous sanctions & the previous [Ahmadinejad] admin, even though our conditions are better, there is this psychological atmosphere.”
  • Norouzian: “If we can manage and direct this psychological atmosphere, we won’t have a problem with the sanctions.”

A rally in Qom organized by anti-Rouhani clerics, largely from the fundamentalist Jebhe Paydari faction, spurred outrage after a placard held up at the gathering read: “Oh you whose slogan is negotiations, Farah’s pool (where Rafsanjani died) is your fate.”

  • Two senior Iranian Ayatollahs condemned the event and the slogans used: Ayatollahs Naser Makarem Shirazi and Hossein Noori Hamedani. Makarem Shirazi described the gathering as a “catastrophe” and demanded answers from government officials and the Revolutionary Guards.
  • Makarem Shirazi further stated–using an Iranian expression–that the event & slogans “threw water in the enemy’s watermill”–i.e. worked to advance cause of creating division & discord amongst Iran’s ruling elites
  • After the outcry from the senior Ayatollahs and other officials, the Revolutionary Guards have released a statement saying the event was spontaneous and organic and denied any role in organizing the event.
  • The Revolutionary Guards statement “strongly condemned some of the slogans and placards of the clerics in Qom.”
  • The Governor of Qom has since also stated he has sent a report on the event’s slogans to senior provincial officials and that security services are following up on the issue.
  • Tehran MP Fatemeh Saeedi: “Today we have signed the impeachment of the interior minister over the Qom gathering and the threat against the president. It has to be made clear who these people are who allow themselves to threaten the president.”
  • Fars news: at the beginning of the gathering, two people held up the placard saying “…” and immediately the organizers confronted them and took and ripped up the placard.”
  • Ali Motahari: “This slogan can be a clue for the way the late ayatollah which for many minds remains a mystery. The meaning of this slogan is that the president, the same way we took hasemi’s head under the water, we’ll take yours. The intelligence ministry should take up this issue and reveals its results to the nation. Maybe the issue of the sudden and unbelievable death of the head of the expeiendicy council will be cleared up.”

On August 20th, reformist journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi wrote of the gathering:

  • In my assessment, it shows new developments in their relationship [senior Ayatollahs] with a group that is visible and invisible who in times of crisis tries to take political initiatives.
  • These clerics and clerics-in-training, mostly of whom are in the Paydari front, introduce themselves as the “only revolutionary force” in relation to other governmental forces—such as reformists, government bureaucrats, moderate principlists, traditional seminary clerics—and seek to confront them and portray them as irremediable in order to remove them from the circle of “revolutionaries” and ultimately, the political system.
  • Important representatives of this forces, especially in recent years, target traditional movements in the seminary by accusing them of “secularism.
  • It seems that because of the recent public and explicit support of Hassan Rouhani’s administration by the leader of the Islamic Republic, this current with the cover of being revolutionary and even of “defending velyate-faqih,” is trying to take advantage of the intricate current political and economic climate of the country, and trying to discredit and potentially collapse the Rouhani administration.
  • However, the reaction of Misters Makarem Shirazi and Nouri Hamedani shows that this time, the political system—because of the heightened sensitivity of current circumstances and potential for an uncontrollable crisis emanating from these forces—who have a presence in different institutions—will not allow them to take the initiative and if they try to put their feet past their rug [overreach] and insist on their appoint, they will be eliminated from the circle of power.

Hassan Rahimpour Azghadi, a religious and political speaker who spoke at the Qom gathering, also spurred the ire of the Ayatollahs for saying that Iran’s seminaries had opened the door to secularism

  • “Figh [religious law] that has no connection to daily life, daily life that has no connection to figh. Lessons that don’t theorize governance and religious civilization. They are implicitly pursuing a secular figh. A personal figh … that has nothing to say about economics, politics, banking and international relations. This is secularism. Everyone talks about secularism in the universities. The roots of secularism are in our seminaries.”

Ayatollah Nouri Hamedani responded that the seminary “is not secular, has never been secular, and never will be. Why do they bring someone to the seminary who knows nothing about it?”

Conservative MP Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, a member and former spokesman for the Iranian Parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee on the State Department’s new “Iran Action Group”.

  • Hosseini suggests the Iran Action Group was set up because Trump administration in was meeting severe pushback from other countries in trying to sanction Iran, and that it will try to coordinate efforts to reimpose sanctions.
  • Hosseini: “After great efforts by America to get other countries to join it in reimposing sanctions against Iran, America has been met with complaints and has been isolated.”
  • Hosseini: “Today, the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee will discuss the Iran Action Group to find solutions to any actions it might take.”
  • Hosseini went on to express disappointment at European efforts to salvage the JCPOA and said time is running out on Iran deciding what to do in response Trump’s JCPOA withdrawal.
  • Hosseini: “Time has run out for the Europeans. They must announce their position on the JCPOA soon so that Iran can make the necessary decision on this issue.”

On August 20th, Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi held a press conference where in part he discussed the State Department’s “Iran Action Group” and Iran’s view of the progress in talks with Europe to salvage the nuclear deal:

  • “This [The Iran Action Group] is more from a psychological angle and the economic war and must be viewed in this way. It is in contravention to all international rules. As in the past, this will not lead to anything and will be defeated with the Iranian peoples’ resistance and the options that are available. This is more of a game and psychological warfare that the war-mongers in Trump’s team have undertaken—especially given it coincide with the 1953 coup anniversary, which this reminds us of.”

 

 

On Iran, Is It Trump Versus His Own Neocons?

Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump (Department of State via 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.

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.

This post originally appeared on LobeLog.