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Trump

Iran’s Toughest Sanctions

Why is the United States imposing the “toughest sanctions in history” on Iran?

In 2018 November the United States re-imposed full sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran following Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord back in May. The US has vowed to impose and maintain the “toughest sanctions in history” on Iran.

For its part, the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has struck a defiant tone vowing to “break” the sanctions. But the reality is Iran is facing an economic siege which threatens to create instability with potentially far-reaching social and political consequences.

Realistically, there are three potential scenarios at this stage. First is that Iran hunkers down to manage the embargo by using innovative ways to evade some of the sanctions. The Iranians will be hoping to out-last Trump, whose first term expires in January 2021. However, this strategy falls apart if (as it looks increasingly likely) Trumps secures a second term in office.

The second scenario is that Iran caves in and agrees to negotiate a new deal on Trump’s terms. As Trump has repeatedly made clear the US is seeking a new deal which not only radically renegotiates the terms and conditions of the existing deal – known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – but expands it to include restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missiles programme and changes to its regional policy.

The third (and worst) scenario is that tensions do not remain at the sanctions or economic level, but that they escalate, leading to indirect and possibly even direct clashes between Iranian and American forces in the Middle East. In this scenario the provocative actions of Washington’s key allies, notably Israel and Saudi Arabia, is crucial. Iran may strike these countries directly if it perceives an intolerable provocation or it comes to believe it can force an American retreat by striking at its allies.

But how did we get to this place in the first place?

History of Iran-US relations

Prior to the 1979 Iranian revolution, the United States and Iran were allies and Washington looked to Iran to maintain peace and stability in the Persian Gulf arena. But following the revolution the new revolutionary regime in Tehran found itself at odds with the US and relations rapidly deteriorated.

The climax came with the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran by revolutionary students in November 1979 under the pretext that the embassy was a “den of espionage” and to that end it was actively working against the Iranian revolution.

The real reason relates to the US decision to grant entry to the former Shah of Iran whom the revolutionaries wanted extradited to stand trial in Tehran. There was a real fear back then that the US would attempt to reinstall its former ally by overthrowing the Iranian revolution.

This fear brought back memories of the August 1953 coup (orchestrated by the CIA and Britain’s MI6) which overthrew Iran’s first democratically elected government – led by the nationalist Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaadegh – and reinstalled the Shah who had fled to Rome (Italy).

The August 1953 coup which overthrew Mossadegh was a pivotal moment in Iran’s modern history. Mossadegh was not only democratically elected but more importantly he was an icon of Iranian nationalism and was admired by nationalists across the region and beyond. It was Mossadegh’s decision to nationalise Iran’s oil industry – which had hitherto been in the clutches of the British “Anglo-Iranian Oil Company” (later renamed British Petroleum) – which had set him on a collision course with the Western powers led by Britain.

Mossadegh’s overthrow, followed by the instalment of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as Shah, set the stage for the Iranian revolution 25 years later. It was based on this history – i.e. the US role in reinstalling the Shah and helping him to consolidate his rule for the next quarter of a century – that the Iranian revolutionaries staked out an oppositional stance vis-à-vis the United States.

Following the seizure of the US embassy in November 1979 bilateral relations were severed and the US began the long process of sanctioning virtually every aspect of the Iranian economy. The first sanctions targeted Iranian imports into the US. In addition, the US government froze $12 billion in Iranian assets. Hitherto these funds remain frozen and Iran not only seeks their return but also wants 40 years of interests to be taken into account as well.       

The next round of big sanctions came into effect 15 years later during the presidency of Bill Clinton. The latter sanctioned Iran’s oil industry by preventing US companies from investing in the Iranian oil and gas sector. A year later in 1996 the US congress went further by passing a law targeting foreign firms which invested more than $20 million a year in the Iranian energy sector.

This was the first time the US was using its clout to target non-US entities who did business with Iran. As such it was a significant escalation in America’s economic war against Iran and in hindsight it prepared the groundwork for today’s far-reaching sanctions regime.

The next round of sanctions was multilateral in nature in so far as they were prompted by United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions targeting specific features of Iran’s nuclear programme, notably uranium enrichment. The UNSC imposed its first round of sanctions – mostly targeting the nuclear sector – in December 2006.

But the US imposed additional sanctions on top and used the opportunity created by international concerns over Iran’s controversial nuclear programme to widen and deepen its own sanctions regime against the Islamic Republic.

Indeed, in October 2007, the US directly sanctioned Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) by designating its expeditionary wing, known as the Qods (Jerusalem) force as a terrorist organisation.

Moreover, in June 2010, the US exploited the international climate following the UNSC’s imposition of the fourth round of sanctions on Iran, to further target Iran’s energy and banking sectors. Then in January 2012 Washington went a step further by sanctioning Iran’s central bank.

Following the signing of the landmark nuclear deal in July 2015, much of the complex web of unilateral and multilateral sanctions that had been imposed on Iran since December 2006 were gradually eased but never fully lifted. However, the US kept in place its non-nuclear related unilateral sanctions, including wide-ranging sanctions against the IRGC on account of its alleged support for “terrorism”.

By withdrawing from the nuclear deal, the US is not only seeking to reimpose full sanctions, but is in fact going a step further by pledging to reduce Iranian oil exports to “zero”. This is a massive provocation and if the US comes anywhere near to achieving its goal then a confrontation with Iran is guaranteed.

Do Iran and America talk directly?   

In view of this bitter 40-year history, viewers would be excused in thinking that Iran and the United States rarely (if ever) talk directly. Whilst it is true that the two powers broke off diplomatic relations in late 1979 and have had no direct diplomatic representation on each other’s soils, nevertheless direct talks and even deals have materialised intermittently.

The best early example was the “Iran Gate” scandal of 1986 when the US government illicitly sold arms to Iran (in violation of its own arms embargo on the Islamic Republic) so as to secure the release of US hostages in Lebanon. The scandal had an additional illicit layer as the funds from the deal were transferred to the “Contras” rebels in Nicaragua who were fighting the leftist Sandinista government led by Daniel Ortega.

More recently Iran and the US engaged in secret talks in Muscat (Oman) in 2013 on finding a way out of the impasse presented by Iran’s nuclear programme. These secret meetings soon gave way to direct bilateral meetings between Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his former US counterpart John Kerry.

It is also worth noting that Iranian and US envoys met directly in Baghdad in July 2007 to agree to a de-escalation in the Iraqi arena. At the time Iran was accused by the US of arming anti-American militants who were resisting the US-led occupation. Although this meeting didn’t produce a breakthrough, nevertheless it showed that even under the most adverse circumstances – when Iran and the US are fighting each other indirectly via proxies – they can still meet with a view to de-escalation.

Why talks are unlikely now

Donald Trump has called for direct talks with Iranian leaders, notably President Hassan Rouhani, on several occasions. On each occasion the Iranians have publicly rebuffed his outreach on the grounds that it is spurious and insincere.

Iran’s position is clear: namely that the current nuclear deal (JCPOA) is fit for purpose and consequently Iran will not be forced to renegotiate its terms and conditions. Moreover, the 12 list of demands issued by the US secretary of state Mike Pompeo back in May are effectively a call for surrender as compliance would mean Iran effectively giving up its independent foreign policy.

Amongst other demands, Pompeo wants Iran to fully withdraw from Syria, stop supporting Hezbollah and cease playing a role in the Yemen conflict. Clearly the Iranians will never agree to these terms and to that end Pompeo’s list of demands was an incitement to confrontation as opposed to a credible negotiating position.

Will Iran and the US go to war?

To many observers it is surprising that given the depth of hostility between Iran and the US, as reflected by the events of the past four decades, the two sides have not gone to war yet. It is worth noting that the two sides have clashed militarily but stopped short of declaring war.

The most intense clash occurred in April 1988 when in the course of one day – during Operation Praying Mantis – the US destroyed a quarter of the Iranian navy. This operation was part of a broader US effort to pressure Iran into accepting a ceasefire with Iraq in the long-running Iran-Iraq War.

The power differential between the US and Iranian militaries is one of the factors that military analysts cite to explain Iran’s reluctance to engage the US militarily. But Iran has come a long way since the late 1980s and the Iranian armed forces – in particular the IRGC – have developed a wide range of asymmetric capabilities and tactics which could be used to great effect against superior military powers.

Iran’s asymmetric capabilities – in addition to the Islamic Republic’s extensive reach and influence across the Middle East – makes the US reluctant to engage Iran militarily for fear of unintended consequences.

Nevertheless, despite both sides’ reluctance to go to war, a conflict could still break out either as a result of the cumulative effect of tensions or a mistake or misunderstanding which escalates suddenly and without warning.

The next two years are the most crucial yet in the 40-year standoff between Iran and America.               

 

Does America need Saudi Arabia?

America is pretty much less dependent on Saudi oil now, but why does it still need Saudi Arabia?

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Are Saudi-Turkish relations deteriorating?

The relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia are now becoming a subject of mediatic interest following the alleged killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khoshoggi, a critic of Riyadh’s current government, in his country’s consulate in Istanbul. To better understand this event and its consequences, it is necessary to put it in the broader context of the bilateral relations between the two states, which dates back to the 1920s.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire and its aftermath.

Once the main power in the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire was dismantled in both political and territorial terms in the wake of its defeat in WWI; thus reshaping the region’s geopolitical order. Many of its former lands became de facto colonies under the rule of either Great Britain or France (on the basis of the Sykes-Picot agreement), but two cases stand out as exceptions: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Turkey.

During the Great War, Britain was fighting against the Ottoman Empire, who was allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary. In this context, the British were actively supporting an Arab uprising to weaken the Ottomans and extend their influence on the Middle East. This led to a deal with the Saud family: in exchange of aid against the Ottomans, the House of Saud would rule an independent kingdom after the end of the war.  This resulted into the establishment of Saudi Arabia (which takes its name from the ruling al-Saud dynasty) in 1932.  An important aspect of the newborns state was its affiliation to Wahhabism, a juridical and religious doctrine of Islam known for its conservatism and that became the basis of the Saudi political system. This made the Kingdom the champion of Sunni Islam, even though its adherence to Wahhabism has recently become less marked under the influence of Crown Prince bin Salman. After the discovery of huge oil reserves in the 1930s, Saudi Arabia gradually became a major producer and started accumulating wealth. During the Cold War, it forged an alliance with the United States, thus becoming (in spite of occasional divergences, like the 1973 oil crisis) one of its main allies in the Middle East. As of today, the House of Saud is still in power and its cooperation with the US remains a central element of its foreign policy.

On its part, the Ottoman Empire was weakened by war, politically delegitimized and in social unrest; and had to face the consequences of defeat. With the nationalist movement led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk gaining more and more influence, the imperial rule did not last. The last Sultan (and Caliph) was deposed, and a Republic was proclaimed. But its territory was much smaller than the pre-war Empire. Other than Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Arabia, it even lost some lands in mainland Anatolia; which it recovered after a war with Greece in 1919-22 that gave the country its current shape. Atatürk promoted westernization in the newly-born Republic, notably to transform it into a secular state after centuries of religious-based Ottoman rule.  This is a major difference from Saudi Arabia, which instead based its polity upon religious conservatism.  But like the KSA, Turkey decided to side with America after WWII, joining NATO in 1952. During the decades, the country experienced several coups, the last of which occurred in 2016 as an attempt to overthrow President Erdogan, who has held the office since 2014 after serving eleven years as Prime Minister.

The history of Turkey – Saudi Arabia relations

Official relations between the two countries were established in 1932, when the KSA was founded. During the pre-WWII era, when the Middle East was still largely influenced by European powers, their bilateral relations were stable and no major issue emerged. During the late ‘40s following the withdrawal of colonial forces, new states appeared in the region and started pursuing their own geopolitical objectives, thus complicating the regional dynamics.

A first factor of disagreement was the Palestinian issue and the creation of Israel. Turkey recognized the Jewish state and adopted a moderate stance towards it during the Arab-Israeli wars, whereas Saudi Arabia refused to establish official relation with it and actively supported the cause of Palestinians as well as that of Arab states fighting against Israel.

Relations with Iran would soon become another problematic issue. Before the 1979 Revolution that overthrew the Shah and established the Islamic Republic, Ankara maintained good relations with Teheran. The instauration of the new Iranian regime resulted into colder relations for some time (due to Turkey’s friendly ties with the US and Israel, the arch-nemesis of Iran) but then they gradually improved. Prior to the Islamic Revolution, Riyadh also enjoyed generally positive relations with Teheran, with the two main points of disagreement being religious divides (Sunni vs Shia respectively) and the recognition of Israel by the former. But this dramatically changed after 1979: the difference in faith combined with the Saudi’s amity with the US turned their mutual relations into strong hostility.

The Iran-Iraq war that raged between 1980 and 1988 saw the KSA and Turkey taking a different stance. Riyadh, in spite of strained relations with Baghdad, considered Teheran’s revolutionary regime to be the main threat to its security and therefore supported the former with financial aid. In contrast, Turkey was more conciliatory with Iran: keeping a neutralist policy, it maintained economic ties with both belligerents, thus refusing to implement the US-led embargo on Iran. The outbreak of the Gulf War in 1991 following Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait saw both Saudi Arabia and Turkey joining the US-guided coalition against Iraq.

Ankara and Riyadh also took different postures after the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq by US forces. The fact that most of the terrorist that had hijacked the planes used to strike the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were Saudi nationals caused some strain between Riyadh and Washington, but in general the Saudis cooperated with the US in the War on Terror the latter launched after 9/11. On its part, Turkey supported the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, but opposed that of Iraq in 2003 out of fears that the instability that would follow the end of Saddam’s regime would allow the Iraqi Kurds to obtain an independent state.

Saudi-Turkish relations in recent years

The year 2011 can be seen as a turning point in the history of contemporary Middle East, and the events that took place since then had a profound effect on Turkey-KSA relations. In 2011, the “Arab Spring” shook the region, leading to the outbreak of a bloody and still-unsolved civil war in Syria. The US withdrew its last combat forces from Iraq and reduced its direct involvement in the Middle East in accordance with President’s Obama “Leading from Behind” policy. Since then, the region’s geopolitical landscape has significantly changed and local actors have become more active.

Both Turkey and Saudi Arabia have supported the rebels trying to topple the al-Assad regime in Syria. The two also found some common ground in the fight against the auto-proclaimed “Islamic State”. In 2014, this Sunni extremist group rapidly seized control of considerable swathes of territory in the northern parts of Iraq and Syria. An international coalition started hitting its position with airstrikes to support the local forces on the ground. Both Saudi Arabia and Turkey have condemned the group, even though there have been allegations that wealthy Saudi nationals founded the group and that Turkey has secretly traded oil with it. The struggle against the IS also explains why both have sustained the Iraqi state, even though their involvement responds to a slightly different logic. Ankara did so to avoid that a Kurdish state may emerge from the fragmentation of Iraq, plus to prevent that Teheran may complete a pipeline that would allow it to export its hydrocarbons without having to pass via the Turkish territory; while Riyadh acted to limit Teheran’s influence in the area, given that Iraq’s population is mainly Shia. Also, in the frame of the Iran-KSA proxy war in Yemen, the two powers are both helping the government forces to defeat the Houthi rebels sustained by Iran. Finally, the Saudis promptly expressed their support for Erdogan’s government during the 2016 coup attempt.

Yet, in the broader struggle for influence over the Middle East, the divergences between Riyadh and Ankara have multiplied. First, there is some form of ideological divergence. Since Erdogan became President in 2014, he promoted a reintroduction of religious-based norms in Turkey; and many consider this as being contrary to the secular spirit that the Republic has had since its foundation by Atatürk. At the same time, Saudi Arabia moved in the opposite direction under the leadership of Prince bin Salman. Even though he centralized power (similarly to Erdogan), he lifted many of the traditional Islamic limitations in many aspects of Saudi society. But beyond that, there is much realpolitik underneath.

The two support opposing factions in Egypt: the Saudis favor the government led by General al-Sisi; whereas the Turks support the opposition forces, notably the Muslim Brotherhood. This is not a factor to neglect, because having a friendly government in Cairo makes easier the access to the Red Sea and its shipping lanes, an objective that Ankara is pursuing. In regard to Iran, the KSA maintains its longstanding hostile stance, while Turkey (in spite of the differences) has shown more willingness to cooperate with it (and Russia) in regard to Iraq and Syria. In turn, this is linked to their relations with Israel. Riyadh, considering that Teheran is the main regional rival of Tel Aviv, is unofficially but concretely establishing closer ties with the latter; all with Washington’s patronage. The Trump administration has clearly shown its willingness to support both Saudi Arabia and Israel, so this come with no surprise. At the same time, Turkey’s ties with the Jewish State have been deteriorating during the past decade, notably since Erdogan became President in 2014. Israel does not appreciate Turkey’s support for Islamic movements and for the Palestinian cause, something which recently led to a verbal escalation between Erdogan and Netanyahu. Plus, Tel Aviv does not see positively Ankara’s closer ties with Teheran. The access to offshore gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean is another factor that is straining their bilateral relations. Israel is collaborating with Cyprus and Egypt to exploit these energy resources, whereas Turkey is asserting its rights in a quite aggressive manner against other players. In this context, Tel Aviv is also fostering closer ties with Athens, whose relations with Ankara are historically problematic. Lastly, there is the Qatar issue. In 2017, the KSA and other countries (including Egypt) initiated a blockade on the small Gulf state, because of its friendly ties with Iran and for allegedly sponsoring terrorism; a move that Israel approved. Soon, Turkey showed its support to Qatar by providing economic aid and even by dispatching its troops.

The result is that an informal yet tangible entente is forming between Saudi Arabia, Israel, the US and other powers to counter Turkey, which in turn is creating closer ties with Iran (and Russia). The most recent events are to be interpreted in this context.

The current crisis: the alleged killing of Jamal Khashoggi

The Saudi-Turkish standoff that is making the headlines these days is just the latest episode of the deteriorating ties between the two countries, but relations with other powers should be factored in as well.

The Turkish authorities accuse the Saudis to have assassinated Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist known for its critic position towards the government in Riyadh, at the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. This has sparked a crisis between the two countries and has attracted much mediatic attention. One interesting thing to note is that Turkey has decided to exploit this occasion to free US pastor Andrew Brunson, who had been detained for two years over accusation of being involved in the failed 2016 coup attempt to overthrow Erdogan. It appears that Turkey is trying to exploit the Khashoggi affaire to restore its ties with the US, which have been damaged in recent years due to various issues. First, this is due to Turkey’s cooperation with Russia and Iran combined with its growing enmity toward Saudi Arabia and Israel. Second, the US refuse to extradite Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric that Ankara blames to be responsible for the 2016 coup attempt. This leads to the third factor, namely the imposition of US sanctions on Turkey, something that caused a considerable depreciation of its currency (the lira), putting the country’s economy under stress and forcing it to take restrictive economic measures in the form of higher interest rates; a measure necessary to stop the fall of the lira’s value but that will damage Turkey’s economy by adding pressure on its negative trade balance and on its external debt.

As such, the timing Andrew Brunson’s liberation now appears both as a conciliatory act towards the US in the hope of having sanctions lifted and to restore better political ties, as well as an attempt to improve its international image all while damaging Saudi Arabia’s. It is another application of Turkey’s traditional policy of tilting alternatively towards the US and then towards Russia and Iran so to keep viable relations with all and maximize its own benefit. After a period where it built its ties with Washington’s adversaries, it is therefore to be expected that Ankara will now seek a reconciliation; but this will likely be only partial. Still, the US-Saudi ties are indeed becoming more strained following the episode, but in the long term it is likely that mutual interests will prevail. What will happen next is yet to be seen, but it is certain that the complex power interplay in the Middle East will not end here.

America and Turkey, FRIENDS or FOES? – KJ Vids

The close U.S.-Turkish relationship dates back to the early days of the Cold War. That’s when Turkey sent its troops to fight alongside U.S. soldiers in the Korean War. In return, Turkey become an important NATO member and a bulwark against Soviet expansionism in the eastern Mediterranean. As of 2018, Turkey’s armed forces are the fourth most powerful in the Alliance. And the Incirlik air base in Southern Turkey serves as a critical hub for U.S. fighter jets in their Middle East missions, particularly over Iraq and Syria.

But despite the current cooperation between the U.S. and Turkey, the strategic alliance and trust between the countries began to falter with the end of the Cold War. I’m Kasim, this is KJ Vids and in this video, we will look at the US-Turkish Relationship.

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Saudi Crown Prince – Bin Salman’s Billion Dollar Shopping Spree

Saudi Crown Prince – Bin Salman’s Billion Dollar Shopping Spree

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Trump on Jerusalem – 10 Days On

Violence, protests and arrests have followed US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Donald Trump made the announcement on December 6 and said the US would begin the process of moving its embassy to the city from Tel Aviv. In this video we take a look at five key developments since his announcement.

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Top 5 Facts About Jared Kushner

Back in October, Jared Kushner made an unannounced visit to Saudi Arabia, days before Bin Salman’s purge.

Trump has given his son-in-law, overall leadership in the “peace process” between Israel and the Arab States.

In this video, you will learn 5 things about Jared Kushner.

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Donald Trump’s Base Is Shrinking

Read the original article by Nate Silver on FiveThirtyEight or read some of the key points below;

  1. “To the contrary, Trump’s base seems to be eroding. There’s been a considerable decline in the number of Americans who strongly approve of Trump, from a peak of around 30 percent in February to just 21 or 22 percent of the electorate now. (The decline in Trump’s strong approval ratings is larger than the overall decline in his approval ratings, in fact). These estimates come from the collection of polls we use for FiveThirtyEight’s approval ratings tracker. Many approval-rating polls give respondents four options: strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove and strongly disapprove.”
  2. “The bulk of the increase in Trump’s strong disapproval ratings came early in his term, over the course of late January and early February. It’s possible that this was partly a reaction to Trump’s initial travel ban on immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, which was the biggest news of Trump’s first few weeks in office.”
  3. “The number of Americans who strongly disapprove of Trump has sharply risen since early in his term, meanwhile, from the mid-30s in early February to 44.1 percent as of Tuesday. In most surveys, Trump’s strongly disapprove rating exceeds his overall approval rating, in fact.”
  4. “During last year’s presidential primaries, Trump received about 14 million votes out of a total of 62 million cast between the two parties, which works out to 23 percent of the total. So perhaps it’s not a coincidence that 20 to 25 percent of the country still strongly supports Trump; they were with him from the start.”
  5. “But 20 to 25 percent isn’t all that large a base — obviously not enough to win general elections on its own. Instead, Trump won the White House because most Republicans who initially supported another GOP candidate in the primary wound up backing him in the November election. Trump has always had his share of reluctant supporters, and their ranks have been growing as the number of strong supporters has decreased.”

 

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