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Unbalanced Balancing: Domestic Support in Iran for the JCPOA

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Even before an official announcement was made that an agreement had been reached on the JCPOA, it was evident that any negotiation would inevitably bring mixed public opinion around the world. In his Arms Control Today article, Kimball identified that some would complain that ‘the nuclear deal does not address human rights concerns, eliminate Iran’s ballistic missile program, or put an end to Iranian support for terrorism.’

Others also complained that the deal falls short of their expectations for limiting Iran’s nuclear potential and that tougher sanctions could be used to coerce Iran into further limiting its nuclear program. Kimball discussed fallacies with these likely outcomes: the goal of these nuclear negotiations and any subsequent deal was not to address any concerns other than those specifically dealing with Iran’s nuclear development program. Furthermore, the terms of an agreement should be judged as a whole concept focused on reducing Iran’s nuclear capacity and improving the ability to evaluate the possibility of any future nuclear weapons programs. It should not be evaluated solely on the basis of any one feature of the agreement. Kimball also identified that to sustain implementation of an agreement there must be a sufficient amount of domestic support both in Iran and in the United States. So far that support is unbalanced at best, in both places.

The vision of the P5+1 and the EU in implementing the JCPOA was for renewed confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. The JCPOA allows Iran an opportunity to move forward with its nuclear program as long as it remains consistent with the considerations of the agreement – “gradual evolution, at a reasonable pace.” Iran also views this as an opportunity for the international community to restore its confidence in the Islamic Republic by showing it is capable of cooperating with international partners to improve both global and regional security. In exchange for its guarantee to pursue only the peaceful use of nuclear energy, the JCPOA implements a process to lift all UN Security Council, multilateral and national sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program development. The removal of these sanctions will eventually allow Iran to have full access in areas of trade, energy, finance and technology.

The Hope of Improved Domestic Conditions

Many Iranians were on the edge of their seats as they awaited the outcome of the nuclear negotiations. A combined public opinion poll conducted by the University of Maryland and the University of Tehran concluded that most ordinary Iranians approved of the JCPOA. Immediately after the announcement that Iran had negotiated and finalized a nuclear program agreement with world powers, Iranians took to the streets proudly waving victory signs. Those supporting the agreement, according to the poll, include moderates inside the government, many opposition leaders, a majority of Iranian citizens, and many in the Iranian-American diaspora.

Iranians have much to gain from this new agreement. According to a poll conducted by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, sixty-one percent of respondents believed that reaching this nuclear deal “should facilitate progress toward greater rights and liberties” and that the attention of the nation “previously monopolized by the negotiations could now turn to critical domestic issues” to include the state of basic freedoms. Furthermore, as discovered by the University of Maryland/Tehran opinion poll, fifty-seven percent of Iran’s people fully support limiting its nation’s nuclear centrifuges and stockpile to a level commensurate to support nuclear energy, all while accepting more extensive inspections, in exchange for the lifting of the crushing economic sanctions and expanding nuclear cooperation.

Fear and Mistrust Takes Root

Conversely, the Universities of Maryland and Tehran identified that those opposed to the new nuclear agreement were “the most militantly authoritarian, conservative, and anti-Western leaders and groups within Iran.” They believed that imposing limits on nuclear research activities and dismantling half of Iran’s centrifuges was “unacceptable.” Economic sanctions and international isolation have deeply affected Iran’s domestic infrastructure and economy and many Iranians have sought to blame the US and the West for Iran’s domestic turmoil. There is a significant level of mistrust. These conservative Iranians are doubtful that the sanctions will actually be lifted. Past and present US policies toward Iran and cultural/religious differences leave many Iranians with a very negative opinion of the US government. They believe that the negotiations have little to do with nuclear proliferation and are more an attempt to “dominate Iran or block its development.” Others feel that the US is trying to change “Iran’s domestic political order.” Others fear that the agreement has a potential to fail and the result would be a drastic increase in social hopelessness across Iran:

“People would once again lose their motivation for reforms… The atmosphere for cultural activities and journalism would become tremendously more difficult… A continuation of sanctions would place the country in a defensive mode…and the domestic security organs would increasingly pressure the media and journalists in order to silence any voices of dissent” – anonymous Iranian journalist

Since its inception, the Iranian nuclear program has been the center of international attention. Iran’s nuclear research and development has severe implications for both global and regional geopolitics. Many feared that no agreement would ever be reached and that Iran would leave the negotiations in a worse global position than when talks began. When negotiations were finally reached and the P5+1 announced the birth of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iranian people took two opposing stances. Those that supported the agreement were optimistic of the changes it could bring to Iran – lifted sanctions, improved social conditions, and the ability to focus on Iran’s domestic issues. For those that were reluctant to get on board or that expressed their anti-American sentiments, opinion polls found the majority of their opposition was rooted in fear and mistrust of America and the West. Such powerful emotions that took decades to build cannot easily be changed, most certainly not overnight. But through successful implementation of the terms of the JCPOA and the exchanges promised to Iran, there is room to believe that those opposed may find hope as well. Only in undoing this unbalanced balancing can the maximum potential of the JCPOA be realized and the optimal benefits to the global community emerge.

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Middle East

US-Iran Tension: Avert any big disaster to humanity

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US-Iran tension is growing to a dangerous level. Irrespective of who is right and who is wrong, but everyone agrees that it is leading toward a big disaster. Human life and natural resources are at stake. Irrespective, who will suffer more and who will suffer less, but it is human life, which is the most precious thing in this world, is at stake.

Middle-East is an oil and gas-rich area and meets the major portion of world energy demand. Any disturbance in this region will have a severe impact on the global economy. Whether one is right or wrong, will be the victim of this crisis directly or indirectly.

This war will be not like the Iraq war or the Libya War. As at that time, there was only one superpower and the world was unipolar. There was no resistance from any corner of the world. US and allies, without any resistance, conducted the war and achieved their desired results. But a lot of resistance was witnessed in case of Syrian War. The whole scenario has been changed, the calculated results were not achieved yet. Finally, the US has decided to pull back its troops. Similarly, Afghanistan case is not ideal, after spending trillion dollars, and fighting for 17 years, not gains on the ground and finally has to pull back.

It may not be limited to only US-Iran but may engulf the whole region. As traditional rivals are waiting for an appropriate opportunity to settle their old disputes. Whether, it is Arab-Iran, or Israel-Iran, or Arab-Israel enmity, may it spread to a much wider sphere than expected. It is in control of a few countries to start or refrain the escalation, but once it has been broken, it may be beyond the control of either country.

Especially, Russia and China are not sleeping at this time. They are in a strong position to offer resistance. It should not be taken an easy task like Iraq or Libya war. It is difficult to predict the exact reaction of Russia or China, but anticipated resistance.

If we expect, US or Iran to avert this foreseeable war will be not a realistic approach. As if they were to avoid any disaster, they should not have created so hype and should not have moved to this stage. They may not accept total hegemony of the US in this part of the world. They have heavy stakes in the middle-East and cannot be spectators only.

Geopolitics has been changed, regional alliances have emerged, and nations have re-aligned themselves. Much more complex changes have been witnessed after the war on terror. Public awareness has been enhanced, maybe some of the governments in this region have a different outlook, but public opinion is much more realistic and may play a vital role in the days to come. Old time’s friends may stand on the other side of the table. Some radical changes may be visible on grounds.

UN role was ineffective in the past and a little is expected in the future. In fact, the UN has been hijacked and curtailed to a very limited role practically. While one of its major mandates was to resolve the disputes among nations and avoid wars or war-like situations.

Under this serious scenario, there is a hope that all peace-loving nations and individuals, may peruse the UN and International Community do something to avert this bid human disaster.  We all share one world, we have the responsibility to save this world. Any loss of human life in any part of the world is considered the loss to the whole of humanity. And the destruction of natural resources may be considered a loss to humanity. Any damage to Environment or ecology or biodiversity may be a net loss to humanity. We all are son and daughter of ADAM and share a common world, common environment, common resources. We need to protect humanity, environment and natural resources.

It is strongly appealed to the UN, International Community and all individuals who believe in Peace, must act, and must act now, and must act strongly, to avert any bid disaster to humanity.

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Middle East

Chinese purchases of Iranian oil raise tantalizing questions

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A fully loaded Chinese oil tanker ploughing its way eastwards from two Iranian oil terminals raises questions of how far Beijing is willing to go in defying US sanctions amid a mounting US military build-up in the Gulf and a US-China trade war.

The sailing from Iran of the Pacific Bravo takes on added significance with US strategy likely to remain focused on economic rather than military strangulation of the Iranian leadership, despite the deployment to the Gulf of an aircraft carrier strike group as well as B-52 bombers and a Patriot surface-to-air missile system.

As President Donald J. Trump, backed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appears to be signalling that he is not seeking military confrontation, his administration is reportedly considering a third round of sanctions that would focus on Iran’s petrochemical industry. The administration earlier this month sanctioned the country’s metals and minerals trade.

The sailing raises the question whether China is reversing its policy that led in the last quarter of 2018 to it dramatically reducing its trade with Iran, possibly in response to a recent breakdown in US-Chinese trade talks.

“The question is whether non-oil trade remains depressed even if some oil sales resume, which I think it will. That’s the better indicator of where Chinese risk appetite has changed. Unfortunately Iran‘s reprieve will be limited—but better than zero perhaps,” tweeted Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, head of Bourse & Bazaar, a self-described media and business diplomacy company and the founder of the Europe-Iran Forum.

A Chinese analyst interviewed by Al Jazeera argued that “China is not in a position to have Iran’s back… For China, its best to stay out” of the fray.

The stakes for China go beyond the troubled trade talks. In Canada, a senior executive of controversial Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei is fighting extradition to the United States on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran.

Reports that Western companies, including Kraft Heinz, Adidas and Gap, wittingly or unwittingly, were employing Turkic Muslims detained in re-education camps in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang, as part of opaque supply chains, could increase attention on a brutal crackdown that China is struggling to keep out of the limelight.

The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized the crackdown but has stopped short of sanctioning officials involved in the repressive measures.

Bourse & Bazaar’s disclosure of the sailing of the Pacific Bravo coincided with analysis showing that Iran was not among China’s top three investment targets in the Middle East even if Chinese investment in the region was on the rise.

The Pacific Bravo was steaming with its cargo officially toward Indonesia as Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was touring his country’s major oil clients, including China, in a bid to persuade them to ignore US sanctions.

A second tanker, the Marshal Z, was reported to have unloaded 130,000 tonnes of Iranian fuel oil into storage tanks near the Chinese city of Zhoushan.

The Marshall Z was one of four ships that, according to Reuters, allegedly helped Iran circumvent sanctions by using ship-to-ship transfers in January and forged documents that masked the cargoes as originating from Iraq.

The unloading put an end to a four-month odyssey at sea sparked by buyers’ reticence to touch a cargo that would put them in the US crosshairs.

“Somebody in China decided that the steep discount this cargo most likely availed … was a bargain too good to miss,” Matt Stanley, an oil broker at StarFuels in Dubai, told Reuters.

The Pacific Bravo, the first vessel to load Iranian oil since the Trump administration recently refused to extend sanction exemptions to eight countries, including China, was recently acquired by China’s Bank of Kunlun.

The acquisition and sailing suggested that Bank of Kunlun was reversing its decision last December to restrict its business with Iran to humanitarian trade, effectively excluding all other transactions.

The bank was the vehicle China used in the past for business with Iran because it had no exposure to the United States and as a result was not vulnerable to US sanctions that were in place prior to the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.

China’s willingness to ignore, at least to some extent, US sanctions could also constitute an effort to persuade Iran to remain fully committed to the nuclear accord which it has so far upheld despite last year’s US withdrawal.

Iran recently warned Europe that it would reduce its compliance if Europe, which has struggled to create a credible vehicle that would allow non-US companies to circumvent the sanctions, failed to throw the Islamic republic an economic lifeline.

In a letter that was also sent to Russia and China, Iran said it was no longer committed to restrictions on the storage of enriched uranium and heavy water stocks, and could stop observing limits on uranium enrichment at a later stage.

Russian president Vladimir Putin warned in response to the Iranian threat that “as soon as Iran takes its first reciprocal steps and says that it is leaving, everyone will forget by tomorrow that the US was the initiator of this collapse. Iran will be held responsible, and the global public opinion will be intentionally changed in this direction.”

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Middle East

The Iran Question

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Will there be war with Iran?  Will there not be war with Iran?  The questions are being asked repeatedly in the media even though a single carrier task force is steaming up there.  The expression is old for the latest carriers are nuclear powered.  Imagine the mess if it was blown up.

There are two kinds of weapons in the world … offensive and defensive.  The latter are cheaper, a fighter plane compared to a bomber.  If a country does not (or cannot afford to) have offensive intent, it makes sense to focus on defense.  It is what Iran has done.  Moreover, its missile centered defense has a modern deadly twist — the missiles are precision-guided. 

As an Iranian general remarked when questioned about the carrier task force:  some years ago it would’ve been a threat he opined; now it’s a target.  Iran also has a large standing army of 350,000 plus a 120,000 strong Revolutionary Guard and Soviet style air defenses.  In 2016 Russia started installation of the S-300 system.  It has all kinds of variants, the most advanced, the S-300 PMU-3 has a range similar to the S-400 if equipped with 40N6E missiles, which are used also in the S-400.  Their range is 400 km, so the Iranian batteries are virtually S-400s.  The wily Putin has kept trump satisfied with the S-300 moniker without short-changing his and China’s strategic ally.  The latter continuing to buy Iranian oil.

Iran has friends in Europe also.  Angela Merkel in particular has pointed out that Iran has complied fully with the nuclear provisions of the UN Security Council backed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action i.e. the Iran nuclear deal.  She is mustering the major European powers.  Already alienated with Trump treating them as adversaries rather than friends, they find Trump’s bullying tiresome.  President Macron, his poll ratings hitting the lowest, is hardly likely to engage in Trump’s venture.  In Britain, Theresa May is barely able to hold on to her job.  In the latest thrust by senior members of her party, she has been asked to name the day she steps down.

So there we have it.  Nobody wants war with Iran.  Even Israel, so far without a post-election government does not want to be rained upon by missiles leaky as its Iron Dome was against homemade Palestinian rockets.

Topping all of this neither Trump nor Secretary of State Pompeo want war.  Trump is as usual trying to bully — now called maximum pressure — Iran into submission.  It won’t.  The wild card is National Security Adviser John Bolton.  He wants war.  A Gulf of Tonkin type false flag incident, or an Iranian misstep, or some accident can still set it off. 

In Iran itself, moderates like current President Hassan Rouhani are being weakened by Trump’s shenanigans.  The hard liners might well want to bleed America as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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