The nuclear deal and the fall of Aleppo

When the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, the West looked worriedly on but did basically nothing. Oh yes, President Barak Obama did force Bashar al-Assad to desist from using chemical weapons but, on the whole, the war zones were empty of any Western influence. Assad warned the Western powers to stay out of the war while rolling out the red carpet for Tehran to take over the dirty business of a war which had ceased to be an internal “civil” war and now included Tehran’s own agenda in the area, namely supporting Assad, a Shiite-Alawite, in an effort to Export the Islamic Revolution to Syria. Tehran was only too happy to pour in Hezbollah, IRGC and Shiite militant troops while joining Assad’s warning to the West to stay clear of the region. For three years, the war trudged on with no clear winners and many losers.

In 2014, ISIS began its rampage, claiming to set up an Islamic state which would span from Syria to Iraq and inadvertently, the issue of the West’s support to ISIS in its infancy became the perfect cover-up: Tehran and Assad were killing terrorists who were backed by the Western powers and their proxies in the region, namely Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Every horrifying act of terrorism by ISIS only strengthened this narrative even though the West had stopped supporting ISIS long before it began its rampage in 2014. But Assad and Tehran weren’t only fighting ISIS – in fact, most of the war efforts were focused on eliminating any form of opposition against Assad. These efforts took a heavy toll on the Syrian civilian population and led to a massive wave of Syrians fleeing Syria and seeking refuge in Europe but the West still remained politely out of the war.

Meanwhile, the West was trying to clinch the nuclear deal which would, supposedly, keep Iran’s nuclear program in check. But the issue of the nuclear program seemed secondary to most of the EU representatives who eagerly awaited the cash in on the huge potential of the soon-to-be-opened Iranian economy. As the negotiations on the nuclear deal dragged on, the situation in Syria became worst for all sides and still, the West kept its distance, this time out of fear of endangering the nuclear deal. So while suited diplomats from all over the world haggled over the percentages of Uranium enrichment in fancy board rooms in Europe, Syrian men, women and children kept on suffering and getting killed.

The nuclear deal was finally signed in June 2015 and within four months, the red carpet was once again rolled out by Assad (and Tehran) to Moscow, Tehran’s newest and most powerful ally. Russian planes began bombing Syrian rebels while claiming, as before, that it was there for one reason and one reason only: eradicating terrorists. Moscow’s entry to the war was the beginning of the end for the Syrian rebels. It wasn’t only the issue of the Russian air force, it was the fact that such a superpower openly entered the war while the Western powers maintained their distance, demoralizing the Syrian rebels. All this was done while Assad, Tehran and Moscow continued to hypocritically warn the West to stay out of Syria.

Since day one, Tehran has claimed that the only solution to the war in Syria would be a political one and not a military one while at the same time, Tehran and Moscow have invested in the war in Syria tens of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of troops causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrians and the millions of refugees. This glaring discrepancy was once again ignored under the grand goal of eradicating terrorists and the West, once again, sat on the sidelines. As pictures, videos and information regarding the dire situation of the Syrian population leaked out to the world, the pressure on the West to take a stand increased but, once again, nothing. The danger of an escalation which might lead the West to fight against Russia was left the West frozen in indecision.

And then, the siege on Aleppo began and suddenly, the inaction of the West became more unbearable. Most of the troops involved in the siege of Aleppo were not even Assad’s: they were Shiite militants and Hezbollah troops which Tehran had organized. The city was split into two distinct areas: the Western part was pro-Assad while the Eastern part was anti-Assad. As the noose around the rebels tightened, the Russian planes kept on bombing. The war of conflicting narratives sounded like two distinctive echo chambers: One narrative spoke about “liberating Aleppo from the terrorists” while the other narrative spoke about “conquering Aleppo by Tehran and Moscow”. As the siege on Aleppo became more critical, the accusations from the West increased but apart from words, the West didn’t do a thing for fear of “rocking the boat” and being accused of supporting terrorists.

And then, Aleppo fell, or was “liberated”, depending on your point of view and this time, the war of words reached a much higher level. The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, slammed Tehran and Moscow for having “no shame” in fighting Assad’s war and victimizing millions of Syrians in the process while the Russian ambassador to the UN pointed out that the US wasn’t “Mother Theresa” and was far from being a neutral “player” in the war. What he should have done is tell Power that Moscow and Tehran are not alone in having no shame and that the US should take responsibility over the fact that it shamelessly abandoned the Syrian people to a fate in the hands of Moscow and Tehran. History might not forgive the Iranians and the Russians for what they did in Syria but it won’t forgive the West either for what it didn’t do there either or as Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.


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Extended US sanctions do not breach nuclear deal

The US decision to extend its non-nuclear sanctions on Iran for another 10 years has elicited a lot of responses from Tehran. The common denominator of all the responses is that such sanctions breach the nuclear deal, implicating the US on trying to derail the deal. Even President Hassan Rouhani joined in on the cacophony of rants claiming that the US is “the enemy” and that these sanctions will lead to “harsh reactions” from Tehran. What Rouhani and the mullahs in Tehran prefer to not mention is that these sanctions are focused only on US entities and do not affect the economic relations between Iran and the rest of the world. “But, it’s still a breach of the deal, then isn’t it?” you say. Well, here’s where it all gets tricky since the status between Tehran and Washington is still stuck where it has been since 1979. In fact, the ink had barely dried on the nuclear deal when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei decided to ban 227 US brands from the Iranian market while at the same time, forbidding the chief negotiators, FM Javad Zarif in particular, from negotiating anything with the US that wasn’t nuclear in nature and explaining why chants of “Death to America” while burning the US flag was justified.

Now some would quickly claim that even though the sanctions are not nuclear-related, they infringe on the “spirit” of the nuclear deal. They are 100% correct.

The “spirit” of the deal can be found in the mutual goal of Iran and Western countries to look to the future for peaceful relations instead of looking back to find all the reasons why Iran was isolated by the West in the first place. But from day one, such a spirit never really existed in Tehran. Tehran has always claimed that it would gladly sign the nuclear deal with the P5+1 but such a deal would not normalize in any way relations with the US.

In fact, that spirit, which President Barack Obama tried so hard to sell to the American public was cut down before it even had a chance to develop. Khamenei made sure that Tehran’s negotiating team did all it could to keep the nuclear deal focused only on nuclear issues. The P5+1, specially the US, tried to repeatedly introduce other issues such as missile tests, sponsoring terrorist organizations, supplying arms to the Bashar al-Assad in Syria and to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, harassing US navy ships in international waters etc… to no avail. The message from Tehran was clear: this was a nuclear deal and as such the only issues which would be relevant to the deal would be nuclear issues. As such, the renewed sanctions do not breach the deal itself.

So when Obama claimed that Tehran’s repeated long-range missile tests broke the spirit of the deal, Tehran loudly pointed out that such a spirit doesn’t exist. But this didn’t stop some Iranian leaders to pick up on Obama’s “spirit” of the deal to try to pressure the US to lift all sanctions which might impede the normalization of Iran’s economy.

Many people are wondering what will happen to the nuclear deal once Donald Trump takes over. One thing is certain, if there ever had been a “spirit” of the deal, it lived only in Obama’s administration and it will certainly die out under Trump.

The bottom line is this: Trump might lead the US out of the deal or he might even add a few more sanctions just to make a point. Such a move would not necessarily force any of the other co-signees of the deal to drop the deal but it would place Tehran and Washington back to where they were before the deal was signed – deep in the paranoid mentality that has been the bread and butter of relations between these two countries since 1979.

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Misinterpreting the JCPoA to Death

Misinterpretation has been a constant plague for the nuclear deal with Iran. It began at the first round of negotiations and it continues to this day. Why? Because regardless of all the millions of words in the negotiations, the Geneva accord and finally the JCPoA, the real deal remained  unwritten and unsigned and there was a veritable chasm between both sides which was never really bridged.

Tehran and the P5+1 all wanted the nuclear deal in order to finally extricate Tehran from its global pariah/hero status (depending on who was looking) but Tehran wanted the deal to maintain its status quo in regards to the nuclear program in its entirety, its military might within Iran and within countries it was fighting in, its revolutionary ideals which encouraged Tehran to export the revolution to other states and specially it anti-American sentiment. Within the P5+1, there emerged two very different camps: the Russian/Chinese camp which just wanted to get the deal inked and the US/West camp which placed more weight on Tehran’s intentions than on the content of the deal. As time ticked-tocked on, the discrepancies between all of the co-signees of the JCPoA turned into larger misinterpretations, some genuine and some politically motivated.


One Step Forward, One Step Back

Each round of negotiations ended with the habitual goodwill pictures followed by misunderstandings, double-talk and accusations. Every step forward heralded, sometimes within hours, a few steps back to the pre-Rouhani-constructive-engagement period, back to the Ahmadinejad era in which Iran was the enemy of the US and vice versa. It might be a “fact-sheet” from Washington which would highlight possible (mis)interpretations or a letter from Khamenei in Tehran which would outline his “red lines”  or  a speech in parliament or congress in Tehran/Washington which would place suspicions on the intentions of each side.

Tehran claimed it could enrich beyond the “5%” limit for research purposes while Washington said no. Tehran claimed it could maintain its heavy water plant operational despite the fact that this could offer a “plutonium route” to the bomb while Washington said no. Tehran claimed that the underground nuclear enrichment base in Fordow would remain operational while Washington said…no. Tehran claimed that all the sanctions had to be lifted immediately while Washington stood to its guns and said, once again, no. There was never anything simple or “black and white” about the deal – it was always shape-shifting, adapting to whoever was talking at the moment. Too many articles within the deal seemed open to misinterpretations, whether they were genuine or politically motivated.

Finally the deal was inked. Once again, within days, Khamenei went on his anti-American rants, IRGC generals issued their anti-western threats and the White House had to explain to Americans that just because Khamenei called the US the “Great Satan”, that he banned 244 American brands and that he supports the “Death to America” calls, the JCPoA was still good for America. Congress huffed and puffed and promised to blow the deal down but Obama threatened to use his presidential veto to uphold the deal which he thought would become his shining legacy. As sanctions were lifted, alarmists in the West pointed out that the money unfrozen by the lifting of the sanctions would be allocated to fund terrorism and subversion and the rhetoric from Tehran only fueled this sentiment: The regime in Tehran seemed happy that sanctions were gone but wanted everyone to know that it had not lost its revolutionary ideals nor its regional ambitions.

The tide swayed towards Iran: The sanctions were lifted, the trade delegations were flying in, Rouhani and  Zarif were welcomed in Western capitals all over the world and it looked like the regime in Tehran had managed to hoodwink the powers of the all of the P5+1 governments, especially the White House. In Tehran, the moderates, led by Rouhani fought it out with the hardliners led by Khamenei himself and the elections for Majlis/parliament and for the Assembly of Experts proved that there were definitely two voices emanating from Tehran.

And then, misinterpretations increased…


Missiles take center stage

During all the years of negotiations, the US tried to include other issues in the JCPoA: There were efforts to introduce issues such as terrorism, human rights etc… but these were efficiently barred from the deal by Tehran which maintained that the deal was focused only on the nuclear issue. The US did manage to include Tehran’s missile program in the JCPoA: “Paragraph 3 of Annex B of resolution 2231 (2015) calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology”. It’s important to note that the JCPoA doesn’t “forbid” but “calls upon” Iran to “not undertake” the testing such missiles and the definition of the “capability of delivering nuclear weapons” is also murky at best since Tehran claims it is not trying to build a nuclear weapon at all.

True to form, Tehran launched some long-range missile tests along with statement which reflected the hardline stance of Tehran: Tehran might have signed a nuclear agreement which it planned to uphold to the letter but nothing else in Iran would change and Tehran would keep on involving itself in its neighbor’s affairs and would keep on threatening Israel. That’s when the White House slapped some more missile-related sanctions which reminded Tehran that the deal really was only on the nuclear program and that non-nuclear sanctions were legitimate forms of pressure for what seemed to Washington as illegitimate actions on the part of Tehran.

The regime in Tehran felt free to launch missiles with threats against Israel written on them quite simply because most people in Iran felt that they didn’t need to heed what was coming out of Washington once Moscow was placing its bets on Tehran. Washington pointed out that the missile tests were in violation of the JCPoA but Tehran wasn’t listening. But what nobody in Tehran really took into account was the fact that foreign investors and global banks were not as quick to discount the US as irrelevant. Trade delegations from the West came and went, MoU’s were signed, smiling pictures were shared but money wasn’t making it through the barrier of current US sanctions and the threat of sanctions in the future.

Now it was Tehran’s turn to cry foul by claiming that the US was violating the deal by “urging” investors to stay away from Iran. What made matters worse was the fact that Rouhani was betting on the influx of foreign investments to save the Iranian economy while Khamenei kept on promoting his “resistance economy” and as long as foreign investors shied away from writing those checks, Rouhani was losing ground to the hardliners.



The spirit vs. the letter

One might say that the spirit of the nuclear deal was dead before being born. The spirit of the deal, the intentions of both sides, remained stuck in the paranoia held between Washington and Tehran, a paranoia which began in 1979 and has remained intact with the regime in Tehran and the Republican party in Washington to this day. A deal might have been signed and some of the leaders in both countries might be open to a comprehensive rapprochement but Iran and the US were not destined to become friends or allies in the near future. The breaking of ranks within the P5+1 only increased the misinterpretations: although the JCPoA was negotiated and inked by the P5+1 as a group, there was no clear unity within the P5+1 regarding Iran and the nuclear deal. Washington found itself at odds not only with Moscow but with Paris, London and Berlin as well, all of whom wanted to be at the front of the line to enter the gates of Iran’s economy.

Once again, both sides spoke about violations by the other side and the US tried to force the UNSC into agreeing that Iran had violated the JCPoA but Russia wasn’t going to let the US come between itself and its new ally and business partner. Instead, Moscow joined Tehran in saving Assad in Syria and planned to increase its regular and military trade to Tehran. Talks about circumventing the dollar and dealing in Roubles led to more agreements and more military deals including the sales of an arsenal of S-300 missiles and of Sukhoi SU-30 jet fighters. The conflict of interest between the P5+1 members became all too clear with Washington and Moscow leading the opposing sides.

So who is violating the JCPoA? Washington is pointing fingers at Tehran and Tehran is pointing fingers at Washington while Rouhani keeps getting weaker and Obama is on his way out. The deal is being misinterpreted to death as more and more leaders are criticizing the deal for not really creating the basis for old animosities to be buried. The defenders of the deal on both sides can point to the success of diplomacy but they cannot eradicate the deadly virus of mutual paranoia.

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Tehran’s Actions Contradict Its Words

The ambiguity of the relationship between Tehran and the West continues to create wave after wave of insecurity. For all intents and purposes, the signing of the JCPoA between Iran and the P5+1, was meant to herald a new paradigm which would not only end Tehran’s isolation vis-à-vis the West but actually place Tehran on the same side of its former “enemies”.

The post-JCPoA reality is strikingly different than the positive wording and the smiling handshakes of its co-signers. What followed the inking of the deal is a continuous ping-pong of accusations and counter-accusations from all sides and every step towards the normalization of the relationship between Tehran and the world is followed by a counter-step in the opposite direction.

Tehran has to decide, once and for all, if it wants to be accepted by the world as a country with the potential to become a trusted trading partner and a destination for world tourism and investments, or to continue its efforts to export its revolution and by doing so, continue to meddle in other countries’ affairs. In other words, Tehran has to choose between being a part of the current world order or to continue to strive to create a new world order based on the Islamic Revolution or as Henry Kissinger aptly put it: Iran has to choose “whether it’s a nation or a cause”.


Steps and Counter-Steps

Here are a few examples of Tehran’s steps to normalizations followed by counter-steps which increase its isolation:

  • October 7th 2015: Following the signing of the JCPoA, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made a point of congratulating President Hassan Rouhani on a great job of de-isolating Iran but immediately added a ban on any talks or negotiations with “the Great Satan” USA, a major player in the signing of the JCPoA. Why? The fear of infiltration and the dilution of the ideals of the Islamic Revolution.
  • October 12th 2015: Following the signing of the JCPoA, Iran test fired long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear war heads destined for Israel which, although not in contradiction with the JCPoA but, was in direct contradiction of UNSC resolution 2231 (2015). Why? The fear of seeming weakened by the JCPoA in the eyes of Iran’s allies and enemies.
  • November 6th 2015: Following the implementation of the JCPoA, Tehran began a massive crackdown against journalist and artists who seemed too liberal or too critical of the regime – within weeks, dozens of journalists and dozens of artists were rounded up and imprisoned on charges which reflect the nature of the arrests: “propaganda against the state”, “insulting the sacred”, “assembly and collusion against national security”. “infiltration”, “spying” etc… Why? The fear of internal criticism and the dilution of the ideals of the Islamic Revolution.
  • December 14th 2015: Following the signing of the lifting of sanctions, President Hassan Rouhani officially opened the doors of Iran’s economy to the world but within days, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made a point of banning over 227 US brands and businesses from Iran. Why? The fear of infiltration and the dilution of the ideals of the Islamic Revolution.
  • January 4th 2016: Following Tehran’s call for Muslim unity to deal effectively with a world dominated by the superpowers and the West, the regional and sectarian conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia based on accusations of meddling and proxy wars threatens to pit Muslims against Muslims in the region and in the world. Why? The fear of weakening the ideal of Exporting the Revolution.
  • March 9th: Following Iran’s elections for parliament and the Assembly of Experts in which moderates and reformists gained significant power over the ruling hardline/conservative parties, Tehran once again tested long-range missiles, this time with the words “Israel Must Be Wiped Out” written in Hebrew on the missiles. Why? The fear of losing part of its raison d’etre and its Islamic Revolutionary ideals by not threatening Israel.


Believing Words or Actions

Last Thursday, Khamenei shared his dissatisfaction regarding the fact that the 120 plus trade delegations landing in Iran over the past two years have not yielded “anything tangible”. Obviously, these trade delegations are torn between the hopes of striking gold in Iran’s economy and between the fears of a regional conflict or a return of sanctions which could wipe out their investments. He then added something which sounded rather prophetic: “Promises on paper have no value”. And therein lies the problem with Tehran.

Tehran, on paper, has huge potential for strong business and political relationships with countries around the world but Tehran in action continues to support Islamic Extremism at a time when Islamic Extremism is causing Westerners to shudder from fear. Tehran’s willingness to sign the JCPoA and the subsequent inking of numerous MoU’s with tens of countries are in stark contrast with its destabilizing actions in the region and the world.

At the same time, Western states, and specially the US, has to decide whether they want to deal with Iran if it continues its flippy-floppy strategy with the world. The missile tests are just such an example: Iran tested its missiles twice since signing the JCPoA and the US/UNSC did absolutely nothing about it for fear of destroying the achievements of the JCPoA itself. What makes matters worse is that Washington is as wishy-washy as Tehran is flippy-floppy: following the last missile tests, US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that he had communicated to Iranian FM Javad Zarif about the US’s “concern” and within hours, Tehran published a claim that no such communication had ever taken place.

Tehran’s involvement in the civil war in Syria is a prime example of the contradictions between its words and its actions: Tehran sometimes says that it has troops in Syria and then denies that it has, that its pulling out its troops and then that it isn’t. Tehran continuously calls loudly on the West to not get involved in the Syrian civil war and then applauds Russia’s efforts on Assad’s side. Tehran maintains that only a political solution can solve Syria’s civil war but then manages its own troops as well as Hezbollah’s. It’s confusing and that’s how Tehran likes it.

The key learning from all of this is simple: As long as Tehran talks of peace but walks towards war, there can never be a normalization of relations between Tehran and the West and Rouhani has to choose whether he plans to build a better future for Iranians by maintaining its Islamic Revolutionary past or by joining the global community and distancing itself from revolutionary notions such as Exporting the Revolution.

Money Time in Iran

money timeNow that the JCPoA is finally being implemented, it’s money time in Iran on two different levels: It’s time for Iran to make a lot of money and it’s time for Iran to prove to the world that it will continue to be a country which deserves to be out of isolation (which will, in turn, lead to more money).

The first part is the easiest since it is built in with the deal: Once the sanctions are lifted, approximately $100 billion in frozen assets will be released and many governments and corporations who had shied away from breaking sanctions will come knocking at Tehran’s door. Sure, there is a glut in the oil market and the implementation of the JCPoA has already brought the price of oil to a new low but where there is optimism coupled with the opening of the economy, there is money to be made.

The second part is much harder since it will depend on many factors in the future: President Hassan Rouhani and his government will have to find efficient ways to muzzle the hardliners in order to make sure that they, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, do not sabotage what has been achieved by using inflammatory rhetoric and provocative military maneuvers in and outside Iran.

Rouhani may have managed to strike the long-awaited deal but the billion dollar question is can he maintain it?


Money Time for Rouhani

On his election campaign over two and half years ago, Rouhani promised his electorate many promises. Most remain unfulfilled to this date but first and foremost among these promises was the lifting of sanctions and some form of normalization with the Western powers. As he said back in 2013, “Our centrifuges are good to spin only if people’s economy is also spinning in right direction“. The implementation of the JCPoA and the numerable trade delegations visiting Iran are a testament to the fact that this particular promise has finally been fulfilled.

In order to do so, he had to walk a political tight-rope which included being attacked by hardline Iranian skeptics for being too moderate in dealing with the West and simultaneously attacked by Western skeptics for not being moderate enough internally. Miraculously, he managed to pull through.

Now is Rouhani’s money time, not in the sense of dollars and rials, but in terms of political power. The JCPoA has proven to Rouhani’s electorate that he can deliver and his popularity levels are likely to soar at a critical time in view of the upcoming elections to the Assembly of Experts and the Majlis. He has shown that the 8 years of hardlining Iran’s foreign relations in order to maintain revolutionary ideals have led to isolation and poverty could be undone in just over two years of positive engagement and moderateness.

Rouhani may have silenced most of the skeptics outside of Iran but he now faces a much more immediate danger: All the hardliners, including Khamenei, have grudgingly accepted the nuclear deal since not accepting it would force them to explain to 80 million Iranians that spinning centrifuges were more beneficial to their welfare than a better economy.

The next month, is, more than ever, Rouhani’s real money time. If he manages to increase the power of moderates and reformists in both the Assembly of Experts and in the Majlis, he can dedicate the rest of his presidency to fulfilling his other promises and probably win the next elections. If he doesn’t he will be sidelined just as he was after the JCPoA was signed when Khamenei took over his responsibilities for the implementation of the JCPoA and foreign policy.


Money Time for Foreigners

Once sanctions are lifted, Iran’s economy will be opened to foreigners who want to invest, import or export in/from/to Iran. These investors originate from all parts of the globe but there are four groups that require special mentions:

  • Investors from Russia: Since Rouhani began the process of negotiations with the P5+1, Moscow has become Tehran’s most influential ally. This budding relationship is based on money and power: the trade between the two countries is bound to increase dramatically while both countries have agreed to “de-dollarize” trade and deal in local currencies in an effort to bypass and weaken the US dollar which was a mainstay of foreign trade up until now. But Russia is not only a huge trading partner, it also is a source for military trade (missiles, tanks, helicopters and jets for now), a source of finance (a $5 billion loan has already been inked) and a political partner in Iran’s foreign policy. This political partnership is exemplified in Moscow’s support in dealing with the US during the negotiations and in Russia’s military involvement alongside Iran, in the conflict in Syria. Despite the fact that Ruhollah Khomeini advised for Iran to look “neither East nor West“, Rouhani is shrewd enough to understand that the support of Russia at a time when the US’s influence in the Middle East is waning will give Iran a critical edge in the future.
  • Investors from the EU: Since WW2, Western European countries have been naturally allied to the US but these ties have been weakening steadily over the past decade due to the wars that the US has led in Iraq and Afghanistan, the economic crises emanating from Wall Street and the emergence of global citizenship which puts into question the current power structures. The EU followed the US in slapping sanctions on to Iran mostly out of loyalty to the US and from fear of being labelled as sanction-busters and losing American business. European countries may be worried that Iran will choose to militarize its nuclear program but they are not afraid of direct consequences as the US is: if or when Iran build a nuclear arsenal, it will force the US to get involved in order to support its allies in the region (Israel, Saudi Arabia etc…) but the EU countries are not unified in joining such a fight. In the meantime, EU corporations and governments know that a lot of money is to be made in Iran and they are in a perfect position to do so. Foreign trade delegations from Europe to Iran include Germany, France, Austria, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Greece etc…
  • Investors from Central Asia: Central Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan etc…have eagerly awaited the lifting of sanctions in order to begin trade with their neighbor. They never felt part of the group demanding sanctions but followed along anyway in order to not suffer consequences from the US. Trade between neighbors includes two main benefits: geographical proximity and shared resources. Plans for shared ports and pipelines and tax-free zones are bound to increase once sanctions are lifted. Politically, these countries would rather remain neutral since they have thrived by doing so up until now. Countries like Azerbaijan and Pakistan may find it difficult to remain neutral politically vis-à-vis Iran due to their being predominantly Muslim but for now, money is the main goal.
  • Investors from the US: US corporations will be the last in line to enjoy the benefits from the lifting of sanctions in Iran. The relationship between the US and Iran may have warmed up a bit due to the concerted efforts of President Barak Obama and Rouhani, but they are far from amicable. The US remains, according to Khamenei and his hardliners, the “Great Satan” and Khamenei banned over 200 US brands from being marketed in Iran. Furthermore, not all sanctions have been lifted and a new sanction against the testing of missiles in Iran was instated last week, and American corporations will probably choose to stay away from Iran until these issues have been cleared. Although Iranians might love some global US brands, Iranian bureaucrats will probably shy away from facilitating US investments and presence in Iran for fear of being labelled by hardliners as moderates or worse, traitors.

And still, it must be clearly understood to all foreign investors that although money is to be made, glitches and losses are to be expected in a country notorious for red tape and corruption in which the IRGC plays such a crucial role and a foreign policy which has angered its neighbors (specially Saudi Arabia) and hardliners who are eager for more crackdowns.


Money Time for Iranians?

shattered hopes in tehranThe JCPoA was meant to make the lives of the Iranians better. Without the crippling sanctions, the economy of Iran is bound to become empowered and the benefits are meant to trickle down to the average Iranian in the future.

Unfortunately, the benefits of the JCPoA are bound to reach the Iranian populace only in the mid-far future for several reasons:

  • First and foremost, such developments take time to reach the lives of each and every Iranian: debts have to be paid, infrastructures to be financed and much of the money that is to be unfrozen is already “spoken for”.
  • Second, Iran’s continued and growing involvement in conflicts in the region, predominantly Syria and Yemen, are extremely costly: It’s estimated that Iran is investing approximately $10 billion a year in Syria alone for the past 4 years and although Tehran repeatedly played down these expenses, the head of the IRGC has gone on record to state that over 200,000 troops are supported by Iran in the region.
  • Third, and most significantly, Iran’s economy is predominantly ruled by the IRGC and its myriad of companies and organizations. The IRGC was probably
    the biggest benefactor of the sanctions since it managed to turn Iran’s isolation into profitable self-sufficiency.

The low price of oil is bound to lead Rouhani to look for other ways to boost the economy and he will be probably forced to raise taxes which will mean that Iranians might actually suffer at first before they will begin to enjoy the fruits of the nuclear deal.


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Post-JCPoA Rouhani Demoted to Back Stage

good cop bad copFrom the day of his election on June 14th 2013 President Hassan Rouhani was the smiling and moderate face of Iran to the world who preached for “constructive engagement” with the West in order to reach a nuclear deal and lift the sanctions. As far as all were concerned, Rouhani was single-handedly defuisng a 35 year old bomb with the blessing of his Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

But since then, on two specific dates, June 23ed (Khamenei issues “red lines” to negotiators) 2015 and then October 21st 2015 (Khamenei pens “red lines” letter to Rouhani), he suspiciously seems to have been fulfilling his role as the “good cop” to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s “bad cop”: Khamenei allowed Rouhani to take front-stage in order to clinch a deal which would lift the crippling and humiliating sanctions but once that was attained, he was expediently demoted to the back stage.

The window of opportunity that Rouhani’s election promised is shutting down rapidly and the world will have to get used to dealing, once again, with a martyr-loving revolutionary instead of a reasonable and pragmatic diplomat.

Rouhani Enters Center Stage

Hassan RouhaniRouhani’s smiling demeanor represented a stark change from his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the West embraced him with open arms. During this time, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei seemed to have taken a back seat and allowed Rouhani to be his trusted guide in the foreign terrain of international negotiations. He offered Rouhani his quiet support, keeping the hardliners back home at bay and significantly toned down his anti-West rhetoric.

Rouhani’s moderate image improved dramatically as he championed the fight against terrorism through his War Against Violence and Extremism (WAVE) initiative which was enthusiastically adopted by the UN and which brilliantly changed Iran’s reputation from being an avid and active supporter of terrorism to being the leading fighter against ISIS and all other forms of terrorism. This repositioning allowed Tehran to claim legitimacy for its military actions in the region, actions that included supporting terrorist militias such as Hezbollah in Syria and in Yemen and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Iran, within two short years had been rebranded and the flood of foreign (specially EU) delegations into Tehran was a clear testament to the fact that Iran had successfully extricated itself from isolation.

During this time, Rouhani even managed to bypass the thorny issues of human rights and social reforms which he had promised to change during his election campaign but which had gotten worst during his presidency: Rouhani made a point of occasionally voiced his opinions against gender discrimination, against the imprisonment of journalists etc…but he never really acted on these issues. He didn’t really have to because, despite his failures in internal affairs, the promise of a nuclear deal facilitated by Rouhani’s foreign policy was perceived by the West, and by most of the Iranian people, as Iran’s best chance for a positive change.

Cue in Khamenei

This idealistic situation began to turn on June 23ed 2015 when Khamenei issued his “red lines” regarding the upcoming deal to both sides of the negotiations table. But as the details of the JCPoA which was signed on July 14th 2015 came to light, it became painfully obvious to all that some of Khamenei’s “red lines” had been crossed.

The hardliners at home immediately went on to attack the deal and even the deal-maker himself, Zarif, admitted that the deal had crossed some “red lines”, most significantly these:

  • All sanctions would have to be lifted immediately: The JCPoA states a gradual lifting of sanctions dependent on implementation of the deal by Iran.
  • Enrichment for the purposes of R&D would be unrestricted: The JCPoA allows for limited enrichment beyond the required 3.5% under supervision.
  • IAEA inspectors could not visit non-nuclear sites such as the Parchin military base: The JCPoA expressly empowers the IAEA to visit any site deemed necessary.

Despite the “weaknesses” of the nuclear deal, Rouhani and Zarif kept on riding the waves of their success: the UN and the EU lifted their sanctions, the open and active support of  Moscow, the trade delegations from the Western countries, the growing isolation of the US and Saudi Arabia…all pointed to the fact that even without a signed deal, Rouhani’s foreign policy had been a massive success.

For the next few months, hardliners in Tehran and Republicans in Washington tried to scuttle the deal and it appeared that there were two distinct voices emanating from Tehran: the voice of the revolutionary Khamenei and the voice of the diplomat Rouhani. In Washington, President Barak Obama went on a limb and after threatening to veto Congress, managed to get the deal ratified. In Tehran, Khamenei took a less positive stance: he continued to support the deal passively support but a) he allowed the hardliners to bash and criticize Rouhani, Zarif and the deal and b) he contradicted Rouhani’s demands to keep the deal out of a vote in parliament. On October 12th  2015,

the deal was finally ratified in Tehran in a close vote (139 in favor, 100 against and 12 abstained) and the JCPoA became a binding reality.

Khamenei Back on Center Stage

But Khamenei wasn’t ready to let go and on October 21st 2015, he penned an open letter to Rouhani, reinstating his red lines for the implementation of the deal – red lines which, in some cases, are in direct contradiction to the JCPoA itself. The cheers from the hardliners in Tehran could be heard around the globe and the very next day, Rouhani answered Khamenei’s letter with profuse thanks and submission  to Khamenei’s demands. Zarif’s own statement of submission quickly followed and suddenly there were two nuclear deals: the one signed by Zarif and ratified in parliament and the one that Khamenei demanded.

As far as Khamenei was concerned, the whole issue of a nuclear deal was meant to change the West’s behavior (ie: lift all the sanctions) without changing one iota of the nuclear program which he claimed would never be used to create nuclear weapons.

Since then, Khamenei has visibly returned to the spotlight and Rouhani, and Zarif,  has been demoted to becoming Khamenei’s “yes-man”. Khamenei resumed his aggressive rhetoric towards the US to a level reminiscent of the Ahmadinejad era and was echoed by other prominent leaders such as Mohammad Jafari, the commander of the IRGC. even on issues such as Syria, Khamenei set the tone.

Some might scoff and say that Khamenei never really let go of the reins and they are probably right: Khamenei is an astute leader and he was probably biding his time. Whether Rouhani was in the know and simply playing a part will not be known in the near future.

What is certain is that Rouhani’s ability to bring about positive changes in Iran has diminished drastically: The nuclear deal seems to be doomed to failure since at some time in the future, the JCPoA guidelines will clash with Khamenei’s red lines. Khamenei’s open hatred for the US is bound to strike a nerve at some time or another in Washington. Abuses of human rights are on the rise in Iran and Khamenei is making sure that no one can do anything about it.

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The Black-White Narrative on ISIS

It is impossible to find anything good to say about ISIS. Without a doubt, it has reset the bar for the levels of savagery inherent in a terrorist group: the much communicated beheadings, crucifixions, rapes, enslavements etc…have placed ISIS at the top/bottom of all the scales and have helped redefine the word “terrorism” itself.

In fact, the media hype over ISIS has been so loud that it is nearly impossible to hear anything but condemnations against ISIS and cheers for the nations and the people trying to defeat it. And as with all media hype, the message has boiled down to a very simple black and white “soundbite”. Since, there is an ongoing campaign to place the US as responsible for the birth of ISIS, the simplified narrative goes something like this: “ISIS and its real/imagined backers (US, Saudi Arabia and even Israel) as the “bad/evil guys promoting terrorism” and the anti-ISIS axis (includes nearly the whole world but is basically Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, Iraq and now Russia) as the “good/benevolent guys fighting terrorism”.

Obviously, this simplified polarized version of the situation is as far from the truth as the infamous “axis of evil” tags that President Bush was so fond of using. ISIS is definitely evil and should be eradicated but, and this is a big “BUT”, the core anti-ISIS axis poses an evil that is much larger, albeit less immediate and less graphic, than ISIS itself.


The Birth of ISIS in Many Shades of Grey

birth isisOne fact is certain: as Obama would later admit, ISIS was born as an “unintended consequence” of the US’s mismanagement in Iraq.

The birth of ISIS as it is today began in 2004 in the US-run prison of Camp Bucca in Southern Iraq: Most of the would-be commanders of ISIS were at one time prisoners at Camp Bucca and it was there that they developed their network and their extremist ideologies. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was one of the key figures but he wasn’t even close to becoming its leader.  When the US pulled out of Iraq, it left a vacuum of power that was to becoming the womb for the birth of ISI (Islamic State of Iraq). Old rivalries were set aside and new allies were created to fight different wars on a constant basis. ISI’s goals were mostly anti-Shiite and anti-US but these goals were relatively fluid depending on the environment at each moment. In fact, ISI was, at one time, supported by Assad’s own government in an effort to topple the Iraqi government. Al-Qaeda was and remained for a long time the most powerful terrorist organization that all other factions had to deal with.

In 2011, the rumbles of a civil war began in Syria and Al-Baghdadi, decided to expand ISI’s territory of operations beyond Iraq into Syria through a Syrian rebel called Abu Muhammad al-Julani who formed Jabhat al-Nusra for the purpose of fighting Assad who had refused to hold free elections and had answered local protests by killing and jailing demonstrators.

Events came to a peak when in 2013, al-Baghdadi announced that al-Nusra and ISI were one and the same, resulting in denials by al-Julani and a condemnation by al-Qaeda who felt that ISI was growing too big too fast. But by this time, al-Baghdadi felt strong enough to make his move: he led multiple raids on Iraqi prisons in order to free more than 500 hard-core prisoners who later pledged their allegiance to ISIS. By 2014, al-Qaeda broke its ties with ISI and after much infighting between al-Nusra and ISI in Syria (al-Nusra wanted to topple Assad, al-Baghdadi wanted to create a Sunni stronghold within Iraq and Syria), the two groups finally consolidated.

In June 2014, al-Baghdadi proclaimed the worldwide Islamic State and ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and ISIS’s rampage across Syria and Iraq quickly followed. Meanwhile, the civil war in Syria raged on with Syrian rebels backed by the US and Saudi Arabia fighting against Assad and Iranian-backed Hezbollah militias. Some of these Syrian rebels joined ISIS in the hope of overthrowing Assad while others fought against ISIS in a classic Middle Eastern melee.

So, who’s to blame for the birth of ISIS? Like any recipe for disaster, there are many ingredients: Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, the US invasion of Iraq, the pro-Shiite government in Iraq, the incarceration of would-be ISIS leaders in a US-Iraqi prison, the subversive efforts of Syria in Iraq, the civil war in Syria, the break with al-Qaeda, Iran’s efforts to export the Shiite revolution and many more links that would eventually become the horror that is ISIS. Sorry, no easy black/white, good/bad picture here…only many many shades of grey.


From Shades of Grey to Black and White

isis beheadingThe savagery of ISIS made huge headlines. These were terrorists who knew that a youtube video of the beheading of one single person is worth more than a bloody battle. News of the horrors of ISIS were smartly disseminated through media outlets and social media and within a few weeks, ISIS became the terrorists everyone loved to hate.

This strategy helped to build ISIS’s image but also, as a direct consequence, rebranded Assad and his supporters in Tehran as the world’s saviors who were doing what the whole world wanted to do – kill ISIS. The US joined the fray in bombing ISIS strong-holds but the involvement of the US was criticized and denigrated by Tehran as cynical (since the US was identified with the rise of ISIS) and worthless (no real examples of success). Riding this sentiment, Rouhani developed his WAVE (World Against Violence and Extremism) initiative which placed Iran and Assad in the White Corner and ISIS, the US and Saudi Arabia in the Black Corner.

The public admissions by Obama and several key US political and military leaders of being a part of the birth of ISIS weren’t balanced by admissions by Assad, Baghdad or Tehran of their own responsibility for creating ISIS or for supporting terrorism and the simplified black-white narrative of ISIS began to take traction. In such a black and white picture, there was no room for shades of grey of the massacres carried out by Assad, Hezbollah and Iran on Syrian citizens and legitimate Syrian rebels (not ISIS). The facts that Tehran had not only been a part of the birth of ISIS, has invested over $10 billion a year in the Syrian civil war and was supporting numerous terrorist militias and faction in the Middle East, Europe and the Americas were dwarfed by the world’s hope that ISIS would be destroyed – any questionable shades of grey were pushed to the extreme black-white picture of the situation.

The fact that despite Tehran’s repeated calls for foreign entities to not get involved in the civil war in Syria, Tehran dispatched 15,000 Iranian troops and increased its supplies of weapons to Syria.

Even as Syrian refugees landed in Europe, many who were escaping Assad’s coalition, and not ISIS, Rouhani continues to bang the drum of guilt over the US’s head: “Assad + Tehran = Good/White, ISIS + US = Bad/Black”, in other words, killing “bad guys” turned Tehran into the “good guys”.


Putin, The White Knight

putin 2Before Moscow joined the war, many other nations took part in trying to destroy ISIS: the US, Canada, Australia,  UK, France, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UAE have all joined in air-srikes against ISIS in Syria/Iraq while Egypt has targeted air-strikes against ISIS bases in Lybia, Germany and Italy have supplied weapons to fight ISIS and Qatar supplied humanitarian aid.

For years, Moscow watched wearily as Assad’s future dangled precariously while at the same time pressuring the US to sign a nuclear deal with Iran in order to begin a new era of trade and partnership with Iran. In June the JCPOA was finally inked and the following month, Iran’s Qods chief Suleimani visited Moscow (despite sanctions against him to travel) to convince the Russians to take a more dramatic part in saving Assad. What Suleimani showed Moscow must have been alarming and Suleimani next visit to Russia in September clinched the deal, bringing Moscow to invest its full power to support Iran and save Assad.

Within weeks, Moscow deployed its jet fighters and suddenly, Assad’s precarious fortunes turned rosier and Moscow enhanced the black-white narrative of ISIS by placing itself, together with Assad, Tehran and Hezbollah as the “good guys”. The Russian jet fighters, directed by Assad’s commands, began bombing Syrian rebel outposts regardless of whether the rebels were factioned with ISIS or not. The US looked on worriedly as Russian jets bombed US-backed rebels and pictures of Syrian casualties from the Russian bombings began flooding the media.

The EU, high on the success of the JCPOA called for diplomatic interventions to save Syria while keeping Assad in power and both the EU and the UN reinforced Iran’s role in helping to end the war, reinforcing, once again, the black-white ISIS narrative. Both Rouhani and Putin made it quite clear in their speeches at the UNGA: Assad must remain in power in order for the conflict to be resolved.

Saudi Arabia, a long term rival of Assad and Tehran called unsuccessfully on Russia to step down and even threatened to join the war against Assad but will probably not do so since it a) reinforces the blackened image of Saudi Arabia as fighting against the fighters against ISIS and b) increases the chance of turning a proxy war in Syria to into a global conflict.


No doubt about it, ISIS should be destroyed and so should Assad. But the anti-ISIS axis is much more dangerous in the long run to the West than ISIS itself. Unfortunately, in a world of simplistic media sound-bites, the grey intricacies of this war are lost. In the shorter scenario, while the West looks on, the Syrian rebels who legitimately called for the removal of Assad will die along with ISIS and the world will hail the anti-ISIS axis as its savior. The other scenario is much more worrisome: If the Russians continue to hit US interests in Syria and if their blitz turns out to a protracted war, the chances of the a global war emanating from Syria will dramatically increase. In any case, the Middle East looks like its spiraling into a “meltdown“, and the superpowers (specifically Russia and China) are jostling to fill up the vacuum.


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Internal Conflicts Over Nuclear Deal Plague Tehran

Once the deal was signed in Vienna, Kerry/Obama and Zarif/Rouhani went back home to sell the deal to the American and Iranian people respectively. To be more exact, their target markets were not the people themselves but the leaders of both countries and more specifically, the critics of the nuclear deal in both countries. As these four men can testify, the deal is no easy sell and hardliners Washington and in Tehran are simply not in a buying mood.

Washington: Obama vs. Congress

In Washington, the scenario seems set for Congress to shoot down the deal, forcing Obama to veto it, as he promised. From this point, it is impossible to speculate what will happen: the deal may rest on Obama’s veto but Congress has already made it clear that since it is not a treaty, this deal will not be binding on Obama’s successor next year and therefore, the deal’s days are possibly numbered.

Another more spectacular scenario involves Hillary Clinton spearheading a vote to override Obama’s veto by convincing at least 14 Democrats in Congress to vote against the deal. It’s a long shot but it does exist.

Tehran: Only Khamenei Knows

khamenei red In Tehran, the situation is more and less complicated. The less complicated part is that the deal rests in the hands of one person alone – Khamenei but unfortunately he hasn’t endorsed or shot the deal down…yet: He praised the negotiators, stated that Tehran will continue to act as it has in the past and that the text of the deal should be scrutinized.

Furthermore, only 4 days after the deal was signed, Khamenei let the world know that with or without a deal, Tehran continued to view the US as its enemy, gave support to “Death to America” chants and stated “we will never stop supporting our friends in the region and the people of Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon” – reminding all that Iran may sign a deal but will not change its ways.

The deal has to be ratified by the Majlis, Iran’s parliament, but everyone is waiting for Khamenei’s decision. Majli speaker Larijani stated recently that the deal will be scrutinized by Khamenei himself and the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission and that the MP’s “should not be worried about that“.

Furthermore, it is Khamenei and Khamenei alone who decided what were Tehran’s red lines for the negotiators and as Zarif briefed the Majlis, he candidly stated that he and his negotiators had done their “best to preserve most of the (Khamenei’s) red lines, if not all“…It’s the “if not all” part that is giving hardliners in Tehran the opportunity to shoot this deal down.

Rouhani vs. IRGC

Zarif may maintain that in Tehran, the military and non-military factions follow the same agenda but until Khamenei dictates what that agenda is, the realities of Iranian politics point to the exact opposite direction, especially when it comes to the IRGC.

The power of the IRGC in Iran is hard to estimate since its influence goes far beyond the sphere of the military: it is the driving force of politics and the economy and has actually gained strength due to sanctions. To date, the IRGC’s chief Jaffari is against the deal. According to him, the deal includes distinct violations of the “red lines” outlined by Khamenei and therefore “will never be accepted by us”. These red lines include long term limitations (10 years), inspections of military facilities, limitations on enrichment at Fordow, gradual lifting of sanctions, the trustworthiness of the IAEA and limits on nuclear research.

What further complicates the issue of selling the deal in-house are the ambiguities of the deal itself: Zarif told the Iranian MP’s that, according to the deal, access to military sites will be denied while the deal specifically includes such access under the “Additional Protocol” which allows access to any suspect site allowing a period of up to 24 days for such access to be allowed by Tehran.

Some believe that any nuclear deal and the consequent lifting of sanctions can only weaken the IRGC’s hold on the economy. Rouhani believes in privatizing the economy and the nuclear deal has opened up the possibility of selling state assets to foreign investors – a move which will definitely not please the IRGC.


Rouhani vs. Khamenei

Dr.-Hassan-%E2%80%AA%E2%80%8ERouhani%E2%80%ACs-%E2%80%AA%E2%80%8Einauguration%E2%80%AC-ceremony-and-his-formal-endorsement-by-Ayatollah-%E2%80%AA%E2%80%8EKhamenei%E2%80%ACRouhani would never openly oppose Khamenei for the simple reason that any such opposition will lead to his demise politically or physically.

But the deal is important enough for Rouhani to oppose Khamenei indirectly: Apart from touting the deal as a “historical victory” and a “new page in history“, he added for the benefits of the critics of the deal, including Khamenei, that the “new page in history” did not turn “in Vienna on July 14th” but in Tehran on August 4th when the “Iranians elected me as their president”. Furthermore, despite the fact that he constantly played down the effects of the sanctions as a motive for negotiating a deal, he reminded everyone that Iran’s trade had been reduced to a “stone age level” and that he was voted to the presidency on the promise of relieving Iran of the sanctions.

Evoking the support of the Iranian people is obviously meant to dampen any criticism on the deal but since Iran is led by a mixture of democratically elected politicians such as Rouhani and non-elected leaders such as the IRGC, the clerics and the Supreme leader, the support of the people may be impotent if Khamenei deems it so.

In a classic bargaining move, Tehran has wisely decided that the Majlis will vote on the deal in Tehran only after Congress has voted on it in Washington. Until then, a huge political struggle is in play in Iran and the fate of Rouhani and the Iranian people depend on what Khamenei will think at that moment.

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Hillary May Be the Nuclear Deal Breaker

hillaryThis may sound far-fetched but it really isn’t: At the end of the day, Hillary Clinton may be the only person who will decide whether to make or break a deal with Iran. This isn’t a job she might willingly take upon herself but it may simply be a case of being at the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time.

Check out this scenario and then make up your own mind.



Now that the deal is inked…

Khamenei_2162138bOn July 14th, Kerry and Zarif finally reached a formula that seemed mutually acceptable to both sides. The number of centrifuges, the levels and percentages of uranium enrichments, the protocols of access to IAEA inspectors, blocking the plutonium route etc…Pages upon pages of details meant to block Iran from making a nuclear bomb and meant to unblock money from sanctions. Both sides shook hands, smiled for the cameras and then headed home.

Based on the aftermath of earlier deals both in Geneva and in Lausanne, the two diplomats will now have to focus on pking holes in the agreement in an effort to “sell the deal” to their people. Concessions will be made to seem smaller, details will become ambiguous, conflicting fact sheets will be circulated and accusations will be heard around the globe.

Meanwhile, the deal will be placed before the Majlis in Tehran and before Congress to be ratified:

Will Khamenei council the Majlis to sign or not? Will Obama veto or not? Time will tell. If either one doesn’t, the deal dies. But if both do, they will have to deal with Hillary.


After Obama vetoes congress…

secretaryclintonheadshot.0Supposing that Obama and Khamenei decide to lead their countries to a nuclear deal.

This may be enough for Iran since the Majlis will back Khamenei in any case but this may not be enough for the US since Congress can overturn Obama’s veto with a majority of two thirds.

In comes Hillary Clinton and all the evidence point to the fact that she will probably place her weight to sway congress to veto Obama’s veto. Here are a few reasons why:

  • A “deal” and not a “treaty”: The negotiations are set to deliver a nuclear “deal” with Iran and not a “treaty”. This isn’t simply an issue of semantics: A deal is binding to the current administration, a treaty is binding to future administrations. If Hillary becomes president, she can decide whether to back the deal or not anyway.
  • It’s personal: The relationship between Hillary and Obama is strained, to say the least. Insiders say that Hillary is blaming Obama for leaking her e-mails which turned into a media sensations. Blocking Obama’s veto may be sweet vengeance for Hillary.
  • Pro-Iran & Pro-Israel: Although Obama claims to “have Israel’s back”, the whole issue of a nuclear deal with Iran was definitely a slap in the face to Tel Aviv. Hillary, on the other hand is much more pro-Israeli and much less pro-Iranian.
  • The elections are coming: Hillary hasn’t won the elections yet but there doesn’t seem to be a Republican candidate who will give her a real fight. Obama, on the other hand, is on his out of the White House. Approving a deal may antagonize some democrats but squashing a deal will rally support from the Jewish electorate as well as from some Republicans who might find her more appealing than Jeb Bush.


If the deal does ever get into Hillary’s hands, there is a good chance that she will send it crashing down in the hope of gaining more support in Congress and in the streets for her elections. Makes sense?


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8 Arguments For and Against the Nuclear Deal

pros and consThe Huffington Post ran an article on Eight Arguments Against an Iran Nuclear Deal — and Why They Are Wrong. It’s worth reading. It goes through 8 reasons why people are skeptical of a nuclear deal with Iran with rebuttals on why the nuclear deal is the only viable solution at this time.

What the people at HuffPost don’t seem to understand is that the Iranians are playing hardball while the US is still trying to figure out the rules of the game:

  1. Khamenei restated his red lines which refute all of all of the US’s demands: immediate sanction relief, no inspections, no access to scientists, no 10 year time limit, no limit on R&D.
  2. The Iranian parliament, drafted a law to ban “any inspection of military, security and non-nuclear sites as well as access to documents and scientists” making the negotiations of such inspections illegal. It should be noted that the bill breezed by easily and was followed by “Death to America” chants.
  3. Rouhani quietly stated that the nuclear deal is available IF there are no “excessive demands”, which includes any demand that deviates from Khamenei’s red lines.
  4. Zarif followed this with his “failure in talks is not the end of the world” quip leaving no doubt that Tehran is ready to leave the negotiations.
  5. On the other hand, Kerry seems to be too eager for comfort: The US seems so intent on signing a deal, any deal, that it keeps on re-accepting Iranian red lines. Here’s one of the ideas being bounced around lately: The US may be ready to trade good nukes (nuclear plant for electricity) for bad nukes (heavy water plant in Arak).
  6. Khamenei’s “nuclear fatwa” calls for blind trust above wide-eyed transparency and is seriously being considered by the US as a way to save face with Khamenei.
  7. Iran has a definite Plan B in the form of aligning itself with Russia, China and its trade neighbors (Azerbaijan, Turkey, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan etc…) thus satisfactorily circumventing of any of the effects of the remaining sanctions and placing the US between a rock and a hard place. The West, on the other hand has no viable plan B except increase sanctions, which will lose their teeth after Iran’s Plan B.
  8. And finally, Tehran is getting more and more involved in fighting in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, reminding all that it is ready to take the fight beyond its borders.

Now, to the bottom lines:

  • HuffPost: The bottom line is that this deal promises to be by far the most effective way of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and doing so moreover without recourse to military action.
  • Iran 24/07: The bottom line is that this deal cannot guarantee prevention of a nuclear Iran and if signed, will probably be short-lived because of lack of transparency and the issue of snap-back sanctions.

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