TBR News May 12, 2018

May 12 2018

The Voice of the White House  

Washington, D.C. May 12, 2018:” The U.S. intelligence community, the FBI, the CIA and the NSA uses Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to conduct surveillance on foreign targets outside the country. Emails are routinely intercepted and entered in data bases and checked by personnel for information. In September of 2017, an email send to Slovenia by the wife of the President was intercepted and filed and eight months later, retrieved and read. In this message, according to an official who has seen and read it, she wished to return to her home in Yugoslavia and bring her young son with her. She stated various reasons for her wishes and also was most emphatic as to why she did not want her son anywhere near her husband. This intercept is now making the rounds in official Washington and at least one reader plans to post it, in toto, on the Internet. Considering all the factors involved, this does not seem like a successful plan.”


Table of Contents

  • The Broken Encirclement Plan: Nato in Eastern Europe
  • Torture? Let’s Also Not Forget Assassination
  • Israel Nudges Trump Towards War With Iran
  • Trump approaches geopolitics like The Apprentice – but this is not his show
  • White House official mocked ‘dying’ Senator McCain: media
  • Germany seeks Russian support after Donald Trump’s Iran decision
  • Trump Strikes a Deep Blow to Trans-Atlantic Ties


The Broken Encirclement Plan: Nato in Eastern Europe

May 12, 2018

by Christian Jürs

The first serious, and successful, U.S. direct interference in Russian leadership policies was in 1953. An ageing Josef Stalin, suffering from arteriosclerosis and becoming increasingly hostile to his subordinates, was poisoned by Laverenti P. Beria, head of his secret police. Beria, was a Mingrelian Jew, very ruthless and a man who ordered and often supervised the executions of people Stalin suspected of plotting against him, had fallen out of favor with Stalin and had come to believe that he was on the list of those Stalin wished to remove. With his intelligence connection, Beria was contacted by the American CIA through one of his trusted agents in Helskinki and through this contact, Beria was supplied dosages of warfarin  The first drug in the class to be widely commercialized was dicoumarol itself, patented in 1941 and later used as a pharmaceutical. potent coumarin-based anticoagulants for use as rodent poisons, resulting in warfarin in 1948. The name warfarin stems from the acronym WARF, for Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation + the ending -arin indicating its link with coumarin. Warfarin was first registered for use as a rodenticide in the US in 1948, and was immediately popular; although it was developed by Link, the WARF financially supported the research and was assigned the patent.

Warfarin was used by a Lavrenti Beria to poison Stalin. Stalin’s cooks and personal bodyguards were all under the direct control of  Beria. He acknowledged to other top Soviet leaders that he had poisoned Stalin, according to Molotov’s memoirs. Nikita Khrushchev and others to poison Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Warfarin is tasteless and colorless, and produces symptoms similar to those that Stalin exhibited. Stalin collapsed during the night after a dinner with Beria and other Soviet leaders, and died four days later on 5 March 1953.

Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, in his political memoirs (published posthumously in 1993), claimed that Beria told him that he had poisoned Stalin. “I took him out,” Beria supposedly boasted. There is evidence that after Stalin was found unconscious, medical care was not provided for many hours. Other evidence of the murder of Stalin by Beria associates was presented by Edvard Radzinsky in his biography Stalin. It has been suggested that warfarin was used; it would have produced the symptoms reported.

After the fall of Gorbachev and his replacement by Boris Yeltsin, a known CIA connection, the Russian criminal mob was encouraged by the CIA to move into the potentially highly lucrative Russian natural resource field.

By 1993 almost all banks in Russia were owned by the mafia, and 80% of businesses were paying protection money. In that year, 1400 people were murdered in Moscow, crime members killed businessmen who would not pay money to them, as well as reporters, politicians, bank owners and others opposed to them. The new criminal class of Russia took on a more Westernized and businesslike approach to organized crime as the more code-of-honor based Vory faded into extinction.

The Izmaylovskaya gang was considered one of the country’s most important and oldest Russian Mafia groups in Moscow and also had a presence in Tel Aviv, Berlin, Paris, Toronto, Miami and New York City. It was founded during the 1980s under the leadership of Oleg Ivanov and was estimated to consist of about 200 active members (according to other data of 300–500 people). In principle, the organization was divided into two separate bodies—Izmailovskaya and Gol’yanovskaya  which utilized quasi-military ranks and strict internal discipline. It was involved extensively in murder-for-hire, extortions, and infiltration of legitimate businesses.

The gangs were termed the Oligarchy and were funded by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Israeli-owned Bank of New York all with the assisance of the American government.

The arrival of Vladimir Putin as the new leader of Russia was at first ignored in Washington. A former KGB Lt. Colonel who had been stationed in East Germany, Putin was viewed as inconsequential, bland and colorless by the purported Russian experts in both the Department of State and the CIA.

Putin, however, proved to be a dangerous opponent who blocked the Oligarchs attempt to control the oil fields and other assets, eventual control of which had been promised to both American and British firms.

The Oligarchs were allowed to leave the country and those remaining behind were forced to follow Putin’s policies. Foreign control over Russian natural resources ceased and as both the CIA, various foreign firms and the American government had spent huge sums greasing the skids, there was now considerable negative feelings towards Putin.

The next serious moves against Russia came with a plan conceived by the CIA and fully approved by President George W. Bush, whose father had once been head of the CIA.

This consisted of ‘Operation Sickle’ which was designed to surround the western and southern borders of Russia with states controlled by the United States through the guise of NATO membership. Included in this encirclement program were the Baltic States, Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia and a number of Asiatic states bordering southern Russia. It was the stated intention of the NATO leadership to put military missiles in all these countries. The so-called “Orange Revolution” funded and directed by the CIA, overthrew the pro-Moscow government in the Ukraine, giving the United States theoretical control over the heavy industrialized Donetz Basin and most importantly, the huge former Soviet naval base at Sebastopol.

The Georgia Train and Equip Program (GTEP) was an American-sponsored 18-month, $64-million program aimed at increasing the capabilities of the Georgian armed forces by training and equipping four 600-man battalions with light weapons, vehicles and communications. The program enabled the US to expedite funding for the Georgian military for Operation Enduring Freedom.

On February 27, 2002, the US media reported that the U.S. would send approximately two hundred United States Army Special Forces soldiers to Georgia to train Georgian troops. The program implemented President Bush’s decision to respond to the Government of Georgia’s request for assistance to enhance its counter-terrorism capabilities and addressed the situation in the Pankisi Gorge.

The program began in May 2002 when American special forces soldiers began training select units of the Georgian Armed Forces, including the 12th Commando Light Infantry Battalion, the 16th Mountain-Infantry Battalion, the 13th “Shavnabada” Light Infantry Battalion, the 11th Light Infantry Battalion, a mechanized company and small numbers of Interior Ministry troops and border guards.

Eventually, responsibility for training Georgian forces was turned over to the US Marine Corps in conjunction with the British Army. British and American teams worked as part of a joint effort to train each of the four infantry battalion staffs and their organic rifle companies. This training began with the individual soldier and continued through fire team, squad, platoon, company, and battalion level tactics as well as staff planning and organization. Upon completing training, each of the new Georgian infantry battalions began preparing for deployment rotations in support of the Global War on Terrorism

The CIA were instrumental in getting Mikheil Saakashvili, an erratic policician, pro-West, into the presidency of Georgia but although he allowed the country to be flooded with American arms and “military trainers” he was not a man easily controlled and under the mistaken belief that Ameriacn military might supported him, commenced to threaten Moscow. Two Georgian provinces were heavily populated by Russians and objected to the inclusion in Georgia and against them, Saakashvili began to make threatening moves.

The 2008 South Ossetia War or Russo-Georgian War (in Russia also known as the Five-Day War) was an armed conflict in August 2008 between Georgia on one side, and Russia and separatist governments of South Ossetia and Abkhazia on the other.

During the night of 7 to 8 August 2008, Georgia launched a large-scale military offensive against South Ossetia, in an attempt to reclaim the territory. Georgia claimed that it was responding to attacks on its peacekeepers and villages in South Ossetia, and that Russia was moving non-peacekeeping units into the country. The Georgian attack caused casualties among Russian peacekeepers, who resisted the assault along with Ossetian militia. Georgia successfully captured most of Tskhinvali within hours. Russia reacted by deploying units of the Russian 58th Army and Russian Airborne Troops in South Ossetia, and launching airstrikes against Georgian forces in South Ossetia and military and logistical targets in Georgia proper. Russia claimed these actions were a necessary humanitarian intervention and peace enforcement.

When the Russian incursion was seen as massive and serious, U.S. president George W. Bush’s statement to Russia was: “Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century.” The US Embassy in Georgia, describing the Matthew Bryza press-conference, called the war an “incursion by one of the world’s strongest powers to destroy the democratically elected government of a smaller neighbor”.

Initially the Bush Administration seriously considered a military response to defend Georgia, but such an intervention was ruled out by the Pentagon due to the inevitable conflict it would lead to with Russia. Instead, Bush opted for a softer option by sending humanitarian supplies to Georgia by military, rather than civilian, aircraft. And he ordered the immediate evacuation of all American military units from Georgia. The huge CIA contingent in the Georgian capital fled by aircraft and the American troops, mostly U.S. Marines, evacuated quickly to the Black Sea where they were evacuated by the U.S. Navy. British and Israeli military units also fled the country and all of them had to leave behind an enormous amount of military eqipment to include tanks, light armored  vehicles, small arms, radio equipment, and trucks full of intelligence data they had neither the time nor forersignt to destroy.

The immediate result of this demarche was the defection of the so-called “NATO Block” eastern Europeans from the Bush/CIA project who saw the United States as a paper tiger that would not, and could not, defend them against the Russians. In a sense, the Russian incursion into Georgia was a massive political, not a military, victory.

The CIA was not happy with the actions of Vladimir Putin and when he ran for reelection, they poured money into the hands of Putin’s enemies, hoping to reprise the Ukrainian Orange Revolution but the effort was in vain and eventualy the Russian parliament developed a bill designed to hamper and frustrate civil society groups that accept money from abroad.


Torture? Let’s Also Not Forget Assassination

by Jacob G. Hornberger

May 10, 2018

The nomination of CIA operative Gina Haspel to be CIA director has, fortunately, given rise to powerful arguments against the U.S. government’s participation in torture, a practice that is common to tyrannical regimes. The critics of Haspel’s nomination are right: The United States should never be engaged in evil conduct, and the torture of a human being is without any doubt whatsoever evil conduct. That’s why torture is inevitably associated with such regimes as Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and North Korea. It has no place in a country whose very own founding document, the Constitution, expressly prohibits the federal government from inflicting “cruel and unusual punishments” on people.

Unfortunately, though, hardly anyone is talking about assassination, which is another core program of Haspel’s CIA, one that involves murdering people. One might be tempted to say that assassination is “legalized murder” but actually that wouldn’t be correct. It’s not that assassination is legal, it’s that there is no one who is willing to prosecute anyone for it, especially given the overwhelming power that both the CIA and the Pentagon have long wielded within America’s federal governmental structure.

Keep in mind that when the Constitution called the federal government into existence, it enumerated the powers that the federal government could lawfully wield. The idea was that if a power wasn’t enumerated, it couldn’t lawfully be exercised.

When one closely examines the powers that the Constitution delegated to the federal government, one thing is clear: Assassination, like torture, wasn’t among them. The Framers had decided not to give federal officials the power to assassinate or the power to torture people.

Even that wasn’t good enough for the American people, however. They remained convinced of the danger that federal officials would begin torturing and murdering people because that’s what the British government, which had been their government only a few years before, had done when it owned and controlled its New World colonies.

That’s what caused the American people to demand the passage of the Bill of Rights as a condition for agreeing to approve the Constitution. They wanted to make certain that federal officials got the message: No cruel and unusual punishments and no murder. They were concerned that without the express prohibitions found in the Bill of Rights, federal officials would inevitably start torturing and killing people.

Here is how our American ancestors phrased the restriction on murder committed by federal officials: “No person shall be … deprived of life … without due process of law.”

Proponents of assassination assert that since the CIA and the Pentagon are assassinating foreigners, that particular restriction doesn’t apply. They say that the Constitution applies only here in the continental United States.

But that’s not what the restriction itself states. The restriction states “No person.” The framers of the Fifth Amendment obviously had a mastery over the English language. If they had wanted the restriction on murder to apply only to American citizens, they would have written, “No person except foreign citizens shall be deprived of life without due process of law.” Their intent clearly was to prohibit the federal government from murdering anyone.

What is “due process of law”? No, it’s not a room full of CIA officials, Pentagon officials, and members of the National Security Agency getting together, reviewing the evidence, and voting on who is going to be assassinated. Instead, due process of law means a formal accusation, such as a grand-jury indictment, and a judicial trial before an independent judge and the right of trial by jury, where evidence has to be produced showing that the person to be killed has, in fact, committed a crime and, if  convicted, is deserving of the death penalty.

There is no due process of law when it comes to the CIA’s and Pentagon’s assassination program. They decide among themselves who is going to be assassinated. No indictment. No judge. No jury. No testimony. No due process of law.

What is the justification for these state-sponsored murders? The CIA and the Pentagon say that the victims are evil or that they are involved in “terrorism” or both. But who made the CIA and the Pentagon the arbiters of evil? Moreover, what the CIA and Pentagon describe as “terrorism” is oftentimes nothing more than resistance to U.S. imperialist and interventionist activities in foreign lands, much like people under the yoke of the Soviet and British empires resisted them (and were labeled as “terrorists” as well). Or the victim is simply aligned with a group that is acting contrary to a foreign regime that is being run as a loyal puppet regime of the U.S. Empire, much like Eastern European countries were governed under the Soviet Empire.

It’s probably worth noting that the Pentagon’s and CIA’s power to assassinate people now also extends to Americans, notwithstanding the restriction on assassination in the Fifth Amendment. That’s what the Anwar al-Awlaki case was all about. Following their long-time deference to the supreme authority of the national-security branch of the federal government, the federal judiciary confirmed that it would not step in and interfere with the assassination of any American at the hands of the national-security establishment. For that matter, they held the same thing with respect to the CIA’s and Pentagon’s power to torture Americans, which was what the Jose Padilla case was all about.

One thing is indisputable: If our American ancestors had known that they were calling into existence a federal government with the power to torture and murder people, they would never in a million years have approved the Constitution, the document that called the federal government into existence in the first place.



Israel Nudges Trump Towards War With Iran

Can a devastating conflict be avoided? The best hope may lie with—of all people—Vladimir Putin.

May 11, 2018

by Robert W. Merry

The American Conservative

Donald Trump has put America on a path to war in the Middle East. Future historians will look back on his decision to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal, and related actions, as a folly akin to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. The consequences could be equally catastrophic.

If you wish to understand what’s really going on, don’t just keep your eye on Trump, whose zigzag pronouncements on Mideast strategy have demonstrated a characteristic lack of intellectual coherence. Instead watch Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who thinks in straight lines. His aim is to get America to curtail Iranian power and influence in the region—a level of power and influence, it should be noted, that was greatly heightened by America’s 2003 Iraq invasion, supported avidly at the time by none other than Benjamin Netanyahu.

In other words, Netanyahu wanted the United States to get rid of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in the interest of Israeli security—and now wants us to risk another war to take care of the fallout from that destabilizing misadventure.

All this is evident in the Wall Street Journal’s lead article for Thursday, entitled “Israel Strikes Iranian Targets in Syria as Regional Tensions Mount.” The subhead: “Move is retaliation for Golan Heights rocket fire; escalating clashes come as Trump tries to get allies to join the U.S. in confronting Iran across the region.”

The piece, by Dov Lieber and Dion Nissenbaum, doesn’t spell out explicitly what’s going on. But the message becomes clear once the fragments of the story are pieced together.

The writers begin by reporting that Israel carried out strikes against Iranian targets in Syria after Iranian forces in that war-torn country, according to Israel, fired rockets at Israeli soldiers in the Golan Heights. The piece quotes an Israeli military spokesman as saying his country’s strikes against Iranian logistics, intelligence, and ammo-storage facilities were, as the reporters put it, the “largest-ever operation against Iranian positions in Syria.”

Lieber and Nissenbaum then note “a separate incident” in which Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a barrage of missiles into Saudi Arabia. They write: “The pair of attacks were an early indication that Iran and its allies are flexing their muscles in the Middle East after Washington’s move [to withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal]. The strikes heightened tensions in a region already on edge and underlined the risk of direct confrontation between Iran and Israel following the U.S. exit from the nuclear agreement.”

This passage gives the impression that Iran initiated a coordinated effort to demonstrate a feisty response to Trump’s action. This is nonsense. The Houthi rebels, who are only nominally backed by Iran, have sought in the past to lob missiles into Saudi Arabia, which is brutalizing Yemen in an ineffective effort to dislodge them. Such actions had nothing to do with Trump’s decision or with Iran. And it was Israel, not Iran, that first initiated military action in the ongoing tensions between the two countries.

This becomes clear as the story unfolds and the context comes into focus. The reporters note that:

  • Until now, Iran had “held back from any retaliatory response to recent Israeli strikes on its assets in Syria”;
  • Israel is bent on preventing Iran from establishing any permanent military presence in Syria that stems from its current support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war there;
  • Israeli strikes in Syria have killed at least 24 Iranians, according to a UK monitoring group called the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights;
  • Trump officials have given Israel “unequivocal support” for its strikes against Iranian positions in Syria;
  • Trump, in announcing his decision on the nuclear deal, revealed that he had directed U.S. military leaders to promulgate plans “to meet, swiftly and decisively, all possible modes of Iranian aggression against the United States, our allies and our partners”;
  • Officials harbor concerns about “dangerous blowback to thousands of U.S. forces working in Iraq and Syria” if serious hostilities commence between the two countries.

So what does all this add up to? In pulling the United States out of the international nuclear deal, Trump has heightened tensions with Iran on a number of issues unrelated to whatever nuclear ambitions that country may have. Netanyahu, who hated the nuclear deal from the start because it eased tensions and diminished pressure on Iran, now sees his opportunity to goad the Islamic Republic with pinprick airstrikes against Iranian positions in Syria. With Israel killing Iranians, a retaliatory response is inevitable, which is what Netanyahu wants. In this dangerous escalation of tensions, Trump has positioned his country on the side of Israel and against Iran; this will encourage further provocations by Netanyahu.

You don’t have to be Count Metternich to perceive where this is leading. It’s difficult to see how, under these circumstances, war can be avoided, while it’s easy to see how events could flip out of control and lead to war.

But there is a wild card: Vladimir Putin. Russia has also positioned itself in Syria and, like Iran, is an Assad ally. Thus could Israel’s goading of Iran, with America’s tacit assent, run afoul of Russian interests, risking a much broader war with a much more potent enemy. Netanyahu knows this, which is why he rushed to Moscow following his airstrikes on Iranian positions and sat next to Putin at Wednesday’s big Red Square military parade. He even pinned to his lapel the black and orange St. George’s ribbon, a symbol of Russia’s martial heritage.

Wall Street Journal reporter Yaroslav Trofimov, writing from Moscow, explained what was going on, and his report dovetailed nicely with the piece by Lieber and Nissenbaum. Netanyahu, wrote Trofimov, had “deadly serious business to transact.” Trofimov states flatly that, with Trump pulling out of the nuclear deal and with “Israeli strikes in Syria gathering pace,” the Middle East is “sliding toward war.” Netanyahu’s fear is that some of those huge weapons on display Wednesday in Red Square could end up in Assad’s hands, “constraining Israel’s ability to operate in Syrian skies.”

Netanyahu wants assurances that Putin won’t oppose Israel’s aggressive actions in Syria so long as the Jewish state doesn’t bother Assad. Trofimov quotes a former Israeli defense official as saying, “The Russians are worrying that we may go after Assad, and we are telling them that we are not going to go after Assad unless he allows the Iranians to go after us.”

Aha! There you have it. But left unsaid here is that Israel wants to reach this accommodation so it can target Iranians without having to worry about retaliation.

Fat chance. Trofimov quotes a Russian foreign policy intellectual, Andrey Kortunov, as saying that one of Putin’s greatest fears is a direct confrontation between Israel and Iran. That would destroy not only his plans for a settlement of the Syrian Civil War but also his hopes “for reaching any kind of stability in the region.” Kortunov adds, “I think Putin will do everything possible to prevent it.”

Trofimov speculates that Putin could emerge as an interlocutor between Israel and Iran in efforts to mediate the tensions between them. But it’s an open question whether Putin has any real incentive to pressure Iran, its ally in the Syrian fight against Islamist radicals and other anti-Assad forces, to abandon positions it has acquired through hard fighting.

Can Putin dissuade Netanyahu from escalating his anti-Iranian initiatives in Syria? Will he even try? Would Netanyahu listen to Putin in any event? Will Putin give advanced weaponry to Assad, and would Assad use it against Israelis if Israel expanded its attacks against Iran? Will Netanyahu risk everything on the prospect of manufacturing a direct confrontation between Iran and the United States? Would he succeed if he tried? Would Trump even understand the ramifications of it all? Would he have the inclination or the guts to rein in Netanyahu?

On such questions hangs the ominous pivot of war and peace in the Middle East. Right now it looks more like war than peace.


Trump approaches geopolitics like The Apprentice – but this is not his show

The US president thinks he will call the shots at his meeting with Kim Jong-un in Singapore, but might find Kim is the one in control

May 11, 2018

by Julian Borger in Washington

The Guardian

The big lesson of Trump’s big week in geopolitics – in which he ditched the Iran nuclear deal while pivoting optimistically toward his summit with Kim Jong-un – is clear enough: if you want to take on the US, it really helps to have some nuclear bombs.

The praise Trump showered on the “excellent” Kim, who has conducted six nuclear tests, contrasted with the vitriol he poured on Iran which by all accounts (including those of US administration officials) had been sticking to the deal it struck with major powers in 2015 to keep its nuclear activities peaceful and small-scale.

Trump deliberately violated that deal on Tuesday in the most comprehensive manner possible, restoring all US sanctions on Iran and threatening European and other foreign companies with crippling punitive measures if they continue to do business in Iran.

Literally in the next breath, the president looked forward to meeting the North Korean leader at a summit that we now know will take place in Singapore on 12 June. Kim has gone from being Little Rocket Man and “a madman” to an “honourable” and “excellent” guy in a matter of months.

It was like the finale of The Apprentice, Trump’s former reality show, where only the Donald had the power to decide who would be a winner and who would end up a loser, and then to laud them or denigrate them accordingly.

The backdrop has changed from a TV studio to the Oval Office but the formula remains the same: confected distractions about who’s up and who’s down, with Trump at centre stage at all times and at all costs.

It is hard to imagine anyone else openly revelling in his nighttime television ratings while welcoming home traumatised American prisoners freed by the Pyongyang regime as a summit sweetener.

But the difference between reality show and the real world is that in the latter he alone cannot control the outcomes. Trump may think Kim is making a guest appearance on his show, but in Singapore he may find himself with a walk-on part on Kim’s programme. That could be a jolting discovery.

Trump’s courtiers appear to have allowed his expectations for the summit to float ever upwards in a well-sealed bubble. His secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has defined the US goal at the summit as “permanent verifiable, irreversible dismantling of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction”, something that had to happen “without delay”. A bad deal is “not an option”.

According to the Japan Times, the US demands also include the North Korean surrender of documents on weapons design and even the exile of the country’s own nuclear weapons engineers, so that the regime is divested of its atomic knowhow.

The likelihood of this happening is vanishingly small. Everything that Kim Jong-un has said or done reinforces the impression he sees the creation of a nuclear arsenal, a project he declared complete at the beginning of the year, as the cornerstone of his dynasty’s survival. When Pompeo went to Pyongyang to fetch the US prisoners and finalise arrangements for the summit, Kim Yong-chol, the vice-chairman of the Workers’ party central committee, told him “we have perfected our nuclear capability” while insisting that the achievement was “not the result of sanctions that have been imposed from outside”.

“I hope the United States also will be happy with our success,” Kim said, adding: “I have high expectations the US will play a very big role in establishing peace on the Korean peninsula.”

Everything about that choice of words reinforces the near-consensus among North Korea watchers that Pyongyang’s aim at the summit is to gain US acknowledgement that it is a nuclear weapons power, and to be treated as such.

The regime did not have much incentive to surrender its arsenal, even before this week. When that option was raised at informal back-channel talks in Europe last year, North Korean representatives pointed to Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi as examples of what happens to Washington’s enemies who dismantle their WMD programmes.

The treatment of Iran, after painstakingly negotiating a deal with the major powers and abiding by it, can only entrench Kim’s resolve to hold on tight to his insurance policy. No state armed with nuclear weapons has ever been invaded. And the presence at Trump’s side of John Bolton, an implacable advocate of regime change in both Iran and North Korea, is akin to the US president arriving in Singapore in a T-shirt saying: You Have No Reason to Trust Me.

For his part, Kim will walk into the negotiating chamber with considerable leverage. After Iran, Trump desperately needs a win. He has raised the prospect of world peace, no less. With the world’s television cameras pointing at him, on the greatest stage on earth, he will be loth to announce failure.

And going back to “maximum pressure” if the talks fail is not really an option. This administration has spent all the credit in the diplomatic bank and is deep into the red. Few countries will strain themselves now to strengthen or enforce sanctions on Washington’s adversaries, if Trump walks away from two nuclear negotiations in a row.

If, on the other hand, Kim offers Trump something that can be sold as a win, the president will be tempted to grab it. And when that turns out to be much less than complete verifiable irreversible disarmament, Trump the showman will face a real dilemma: give up on the illusions that he could persuade North Korea to disarm and make a better deal than the Iran agreement; or fall back on missile threats and risk going to war.


White House official mocked ‘dying’ Senator McCain: media

May 10, 2018


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A White House official mocked Senator John McCain’s brain cancer at an internal meeting on Thursday, saying his opposition to President Donald Trump’s CIA nominee “doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway,” according to media reports.

Kelly Sadler, a special assistant in the White House communications office, made the comments at a closed-door meeting attended by about two dozen staffers, The Hill newspaper said. The Washington Post also reported Sadler’s remarks.

McCain’s wife, Cindy McCain, responded in a tweet. “May I remind you my husband has a family, 7 children and 5 grandchildren,” she said.

John McCain, 81, has been a frequent critic of Trump. In a memoir due to be released later this month, McCain accuses fellow Republican Trump of failing to uphold American values.

McCain was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer last year. He has been receiving treatment in his home state of Arizona and has been absent from the Senate for months.

A White House spokesman did not dispute the report, the Washington Post said.

Kelly Sadler, a special assistant in the White House communications office, made the comments at a closed-door meeting attended by about two dozen staffers, The Hill newspaper said. The Washington Post also reported Sadler’s remarks.

McCain’s wife, Cindy McCain, responded in a tweet. “May I remind you my husband has a family, 7 children and 5 grandchildren,” she said.

John McCain, 81, has been a frequent critic of Trump. In a memoir due to be released later this month, McCain accuses fellow Republican Trump of failing to uphold American values.

“We respect Senator McCain’s service to our nation and he and his family are in our prayers during this difficult time,” the White House said in a statement, according to the Post.

On Wednesday, McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam and was tortured by his captors, issued a statement urging his fellow senators to vote against Gina Haspel for CIA director.

He said she failed in a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing to address his concerns about the agency’s post-9/11 harsh interrogation program for terrorism suspects.

South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close friend of John McCain, told CNN of the White House aide’s comment, “Ms. Sadler, may I remind you that John McCain has a lot of friends in the United States Senate on both sides of the aisle. Nobody is laughing in the Senate.”

Graham has said he supports Haspel’s nomination.

Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Lisa Shumaker


Germany seeks Russian support after Donald Trump’s Iran decision

The unilateral US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal is bringing Berlin and Moscow closer together. But can any cooperation counteract the threat of Washington’s sanctions for companies doing business in Tehran?

May 11, 2018

by Jefferson Chase (Berlin)


One unintended consequence of Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Iran nuclear agreement has been to bring Germany and Russia together again.

German-Russian relations had soured because of alleged Russian cyberattacks and the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea. But the US President’s hardline policy on around the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) for Iran has intensified the search for common ground in Berlin and Moscow. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on May 18, and on Friday morning the two spoke on the telephone.

“The importance of preserving the deal from a point of view of international and regional stability was highlighted,” the Kremlin said in a statement following the call.

Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said that the two leaders had agreed to push for the other signatories to the deal — France, the UK and China — to continue abiding by it. Merkel also touched on the future of the agreement in remarks she made in the city of Münster on Friday.

“I believe it is not right that a deal which was agreed, which was voted upon in the UN Security Council and unanimously approved, should be unilaterally terminated,” Merkel said, adding that the US decision “damages trust in the international order.”

Russia and China essential to the Iran deal

The foreign ministers of Germany, France and the UK will meet with their Iranian counterpart next Tuesday in Brussels. But equally important, if the JCPOA is to survive, would be coordination with Russia and China, since those two nations can offer Tehran the biggest incentives to stay in the nuclear deal.

China is the largest purchaser of Iranian oil, and the two countries agreed to increase their trade to $600 billion (€502 billion) over 10 years — by comparison, annual German-Iranian trade amounts to around €3 billion. In 2014, Russia signed a five-year, $20 billion energy deal with Iran that sidestepped then-applicable Western sanctions. Trade between the EU and Iran has remained sluggish even after the loosening of the sanctions in early 2016.

In Sochi, Merkel is likely to lobby Putin to give Tehran guarantees of future economic cooperation in return for abiding by the provisions of the JCPOA. In February, Russia’s ambassador to Iran told the Tass news agency that the two countries were looking into alternatives to the US dollar as a trading currency.

For his part, Putin will probably want Germany to include Russia in any demands it makes to the US for exemptions of European firms to punitive secondary sanctions on countries doing business with Iran — the main crux of whether the JCPOA can survive Washington’s withdrawal and a point on which Germany is itself unsure.

Legal advice but little else

In Münster, Merkel acknowledged that she was uncertain “to what extent this agreement can be kept alive, if a giant economic power doesn’t join in.”

Trump’s decision on Tuesday triggered a process by which all sanctions upon Iran in place before the nuclear deal was agreed in 2015 are to be re-imposed. It is unclear to what extent the US will seek to punish German and European firms who don’t fall in line, but theoretically any companies trading with Iran that also do business in or with the US could be affected.

“The United States is a big gorilla on the world stage,” international trade lawyer Judith Lee told broadcaster CNN. “We try to not only control our companies, but also try to control what other countries’ companies do.”

The list of major European firms that could be hit with millions in secondary sanctions includes Airbus, French energy giant Total, German electronics leader Siemens and carmakers Volkswagen and Peugeot. German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, who’s also headed to Russia next week, has promised firms doing business with Iran practical and legal advice, but little else. Even Altmaier acknowledges that this is nothing more than “damage limitation.”

It’s not hard to understand the reason for German reticence on this score. According to the US Census Bureau, Germany’s annual exports to the US amounted to $118 billion in 2017 — a sum that dwarfs the business with Iran.

The death of the West?

Trump’s unilateralism — and in particular a brusque tweet by the new US ambassador to Germany — have been interpreted as attempts by Washington to impose its policy and law beyond its borders. That has led some commentators to diagnose a breakdown in solidarity between the US and Western Europe.

The Financial Times newspaper postulated that Tuesday “may be remembered as the day the US abandoned its belief in allies.” Those sentiments were echoed by Elmar Brok, a conservative German Member of the European Parliament.

“We have to acknowledge that on these and other issues that Western unity is crumbling, and there is no partnership,” Brok told a German radio station. “This means that we now have to try, together with the Chinese and the Russians, to keep the Middle East free of nuclear weapons.”

But Merkel has resisted any talk of the “death of the West.”

“This is a serious event,” Merkel said in Münster, referring to the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal. “But it is not a reason to call into question the entire trans-Atlantic partnership.”

A more likely outcome is that Trump’s decision will encourage more cooperation between Iran and China regardless of what the US or the Europeans want. China opened a new rail connection with Iran to transport goods on Thursday, and it’s thought that Chinese companies are ready to swoop in, should Total cancel its contract with Iran.


Trump Strikes a Deep Blow to Trans-Atlantic Ties

With his decision to blow up the Iran deal, U.S. President Donald Trump has thrown Europe into uncertainty and anxiety — and raised the specter of a new war in the Middle East. One thing is certain: the trans-Atlantic relationship has been seriously damaged

May 11, 2018

by Matthias Gebauer, Julia Amalia Heyer, Susanne Koelbl, Peter Müller, Christoph Reuter, Mathieu von Rohr, Raniah Salloum, Christoph Scheuermann, Jörg Schindler, Christoph Schult and Gerald Traufetter


On Thursday, towards the end of a week that began for both of them with a slap in the face from the American president, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron were standing together in the Coronation Hall of the Aachen Town Hall doing their best to project confidence. The French president had just been awarded the International Charlemagne Prize and Merkel had held the laudation. They praised each other and confirmed their unity – even if they aren’t entirely on the same page when it comes to the future of Europe.

But they do agree on one issue: Donald Trump. Lately, the American president has emerged as a great unifier of Europe. Ever since Trump’s Tuesday announcement that the U.S. was withdrawing from the nuclear agreement with Iran, one of the core pieces of international diplomacy in recent years, the Europeans have been united in shock, in anger at Trump’s irresponsible move and in their refusal to accept it. But they are also united in their helplessness when it comes to dealing with this new America.

The joint appearance by Macron and Merkel would have been a perfect opportunity for a unified reply to Donald Trump. For a joint vision of European foreign policy and a powerful appearance of decisive European politicians. They could have sought to reassure the people of Europe and demonstrate that they had a plan. But none of that came to pass.

What, after all, can Europe do?

The American withdrawal from the Iran deal is the most dangerous and cavalier foreign policy decision that a U.S. president has made since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The risk is very real that the move will worsen tensions in an already unstable Middle East and lead to an American-led war against Iran. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was quick to threaten a return to industrial-scale uranium enrichment and few doubt that such an eventuality could lead to conflict.

It became abundantly clear early Thursday morning just how tense the situation was, with the most serious confrontation yet between the Iranian Quds Force, operating in Syria, and Israel. Israel claims Iran first fired around 20 missiles at the Golan Heights, an area under Israeli control. The Israeli military says it responded with a massive attack on around 35 Iranian targets within Syria. The possibility of escalation in the region, of course, existed prior to the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal. But the episode makes it clear how dangerous the current situation in the region is.

Attack on Europe’s Pride

The mood in Paris, Brussels and Berlin is reminiscent of the period just prior to the war in Iraq. Most of Europe refused to back the U.S. in that conflict, even if the British and the Italians joined then-President George W. Bush in the offensive. This time around, however, the Europeans are united in their desire to preserve the deal with Iran, even if nobody knows how they might be able to.

An attack on the Iran deal is an attack on the pride of European foreign policy. To be sure, EU member states often find it impossible to produce a joint statement on overseas developments, such as the U.S. decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. But Europe has consistently demonstrated unity on the Iran deal and along with Germany, France and Britain, the EU was a decisive participant in the talks.

For the EU’s chief diplomat, Federica Mogherini, the treaty is proof of the influence united European diplomacy can have. She has an original copy of the deal on display in her office on the upper floors of the European Commission building in Brussels. It is opened to the page bearing the signatures of those involved, including that of John Kerry, who was U.S. secretary of state at the time.

Hardly surprising, then, that Mogherini adopted an aggressive tone on Tuesday evening when she stepped before the cameras at 8:30 p.m. in Rome just a few minutes after Trump had made his announcement. The nuclear deal, she said, is culmination of 12 years of diplomacy. “It belongs to the entire international community.” She then appealed to Iran to continue to adhere to the deal. “Stay true to your commitments, as we will stay true to ours.”

The idea behind this treaty, which was ratified by the UN Security Council, is that Iran would refrain for 10 years from further developing its nuclear program and in return the West would significantly reduce economic sanctions in place against the country. Because nobody trusted Iran’s word, given past breeches of trust, the deal is based on a system of inspections and controls. Iran adhered to the deal, which was finalized in 2015 under the leadership of Barack Obama, but many Republicans in the U.S. nevertheless rejected it from the very beginning.

Farewell to America

In truth, Trump hasn’t backed out of the deal, he has violated it by simply reimposing sanctions against Iran. That is the view widely held in the German government as well.

More than anything, though, Trump has humiliated Europe to a greater degree than any U.S. president before him. Macron fawned over him recently in the White House, Merkel swung by for a working lunch and British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson also made the trip across the Atlantic in an attempt to save the deal and somehow find some kind of a compromise. But it was all in vain.

In the end, Trump backed out of the deal in the most brutal manner possible, with a combative speech and the reintroduction of all sanctions against Iran. He was unable to offer any convincing reasons for why he has chosen this particular moment in time to leave the deal. He wasn’t even able to claim that Iran hadn’t lived up to its end of the bargain because Tehran has demonstrably adhered to its provisions.

To complete Europe’s humiliation, Trump’s new U.S. ambassador in Berlin, Richard Grenell, sent out a tweet this week demanding that German companies immediately begin winding down their operations in Iran. It sounded more like the words of a colonial power issuing orders than those of a diplomat in an allied country.

It isn’t the first time that America’s traditional trans-Atlantic allies have received such shabby treatment from Trump. The U.S. president has repeatedly accused his NATO partners of being freeloaders, he withdrew from the Paris climate agreement despite massive protest from Europe and he has indicated his willingness to start a trade war with the EU. Europe has had some kind of answer to all of these provocations: The NATO critiques from Washington have either been ignored or have led to promises of more defense spending in the future. On the Paris agreement, Trump’s announcement has been more symbolic than real since large states like California are continuing to adhere to the deal’s provisions. And when it comes to trade, Europe is a heavy hitter itself.

But Washington’s violation of the Iran deal hits Europe hard. Although it has been clear for months that Trump was leaning toward taking such a step, it isn’t obvious what might happen next. Europe seems woefully unprepared. In the days following Trump’s announcement, Berlin, Paris and London have repeatedly said that they would continue to uphold the deal, that not much will change for companies interested in doing business in Iran and that options for protecting companies are being explored. But when asked what exactly such protections might look like, nobody has an adequate answer.

‘An Existential Necessity’

In Aachen on Tuesday, Merkel essentially repeated the sentences she uttered last year during an appearance in Bavaria: “Europe can no longer rely on the U.S. It must take its fate into its own hands.” Last year, her statement to that effect caused quite a stir both within Germany and beyond. This time, it was merely a statement of fact: The trans-Atlantic relationship has suffered tremendous damage. Merkel added that a joint foreign policy was “an existential necessity.”

But is that something Europe is able to do? Is it able to declare independence from the West’s traditional leader? Is it able to come to agreement on joint positions? And how can Europe defend itself when the German military is having trouble keeping such fundamental equipment as planes and submarines operational?

The feeling of alienation runs deep. Wolfgang Ischinger, formerly Germany’s ambassador in Washington and currently the head of the Munich Security Conference, tweeted this week: “Is the transatlantic alliance dead? If one side refuses to even consider the arguments presented by the other side: are we still together, as we try to manage challenges to our shared security interests? Or are we now drifting apart for good? Sad questions!”

It sounds like a couple that, despite their best intentions to stay together, doesn’t seem capable of making things work.

“In one respect, the trans-Atlantic alliance is indispensable for the foreseeable future, namely on the issue of nuclear protection,” Ischinger says. “That cannot be replaced by anyone else. From a security perspective, we cannot cut the umbilical cord that binds us to the U.S.” He adds: “Given our security policy interests, there is nothing we can do except lament the loss of a real partnership while nevertheless doing all we can to overcome this phase and work towards the time in two-and-a-half years when Trump is no longer in office and there is a new situation. For now, we have to hunker down as best we can.”

Now that Trump has violated the nuclear deal, Europeans have three significant concerns: the consequences for Middle Eastern and European security; the risks for European companies that have invested in Iran; and the future of the relationship with the U.S. Niels Annen, minister of state in the Foreign Ministry, told DER SPIEGEL that Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal is “an erroneous decision with long-term, grave consequences for our relationship.”

‘Deeply Frustrated’

A member of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), Annen was in the U.S. capital this week for talks. When Trump announced his decision, Annen was sitting in the office of presidential adviser Fiona Hill, who specializes in issues pertaining to Russia and Europe in the National Security Council. Annen knows Hill well from her stint in the Brookings Institution, but the respect he has for her personally has not been enough to bridge their policy differences. There have been significant disagreements between Berlin and Washington in the past, Annen says, such as on the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But, he adds, the feeling that they were pursuing shared goals was never lost.

That has changed under Trump, Annen says. Whether it is about trade or about the Iran deal: “Our core interests are now at stake,” he says. “We must regrettably realize that there is hardly a willingness on the U.S. side to take arguments of their allies seriously.” As a foreign policy practitioner, he says, you get used to reversals. “But when I was sitting in the airplane back to Europe this week, I was deeply frustrated for the first time.”

On the way to his visit to Moscow on Thursday, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told DER SPIEGEL: “The transformation the U.S. is undergoing has long since left its mark on the trans-Atlantic relationship. That is something that we had begun to feel long before the Tuesday evening disappointment. Nevertheless: We will continue seeking to work together with the U.S. on all policy areas. We are prepared to talk, to negotiate, but also to fight for our interests where necessary. At all levels, not just in the White House.”

That sort of language used to be reserved for problematic nations of the world. Not for Germany’s most important ally.

The President and the Hardliner

As Donald Trump was holding his 11-minute tirade against the Iran deal on Tuesday, a man was standing silently in the doorway of the Diplomatic Reception Room. John Bolton looked serious but satisfied. But it didn’t take long for the mask to come off. “We’re out of the deal,” he crowed a quarter-hour later to a room full of journalists in the White House. And he then repeated the sentence a second and then a third time: “We’re out of the deal.” He seemed liberated, almost euphoric. A furious warrior had achieved his target.

There is hardly a crisis in the world that John Bolton does not feel can be solved with war. The solution to Saddam Hussein-controlled Iraq? Bombing. Iran under Hassan Rouhani? Bombing as necessary. Libya? Syria? North Korea? Apply pressure, regime change, bombing. For Bolton, war is a more effective extension of politics. If there is one thing you can’t accuse him of, it’s inconsistency.

It is particularly ironic that Bolton, who was briefly the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, is now experiencing his comeback as national security advisor to Donald Trump, a man who claimed during his campaign that he had been opposed to the Iraq invasion and that Hillary Clinton would bog the U.S. down in wars.

Bolton’s diplomatic career has one constant: aggression. “John Bolton is a national security threat,” wrote the magazine Foreign Policy in March. The New York Times wrote that he is a “political blowtorch.” Bolton and Trump do not share the same view of the world, but the tools they prefer to use are the same, as is their list of enemies. Iran is one of them. Bolton is thought to be the author of Trump’s Tuesday speech and he is the architect of the U.S.’s withdrawal from the deal. His predecessor, Herbert Raymond McMaster, had sought to convince Trump to remain in the deal. That was ultimately one reason for his eventual dismissal.

As a candidate, Trump called the Iran agreement “one of the worst deals ever made by any country in history.” Bolton was only brought in to implement a decision the president had long-since made.

Bolton hates weakness and has no use for compromise. He is not a “neocon” who wants to spread democracy with the force of arms. He is a right-wing hawk who is less “America First” than “America Alone.” He believes the application of force isn’t just sensible, but necessary. Like Trump, he sees foreign policy as a zero-sum game: Where the U.S. isn’t winning against other global powers, it is necessarily losing. He believes multinational organizations like the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and the European Union are superfluous. Three years ago, he submitted an op-ed to the New York Times in which he outlined his Iran plan. “To stop Iran’s bomb,” he wrote, “bomb Iran.”

And when it comes to Iran, Bolton’s belligerence is joined by his dubious support of the People’s Mujahedin. The radical group was formed in the 1960s in opposition to the Shah and was considered by the EU as a terrorist organization for a time. Some of those who have left the group say it works a lot like a sect. Today, the People’s Mujahedin is basically lobbying for war against Iran, spending significant amounts of money in Washington and Europe in support of regime change in Tehran. Bolton has made appearances at several events held by the group. Last year, he proclaimed at a group gathering that “we here will celebrate in Tehran” before 2019.

Bolton and Trump share a predilection for destruction. And Trump is happiest when he is destroying policies constructed by his predecessor.

The Deal and Its Effect

In 2015, when Barack Obama presented to the world the deal that he and Secretary of State John Kerry had put together, he made clear what their primary goal was: His administration wanted to prevent a war with Iran. Obama also saw the deal as an opportunity for the country to transform itself. “The path of violence and rigid ideology, a foreign policy based on threats to attack your neighbors or eradicate Israel, that’s a dead end,” he said. The deal opens the path to tolerance, the peaceful resolution of conflict and greater integration into the global economy, he continued.

That was the second, more idealistic part of the deal: the idea that Iran wouldn’t just be prevented from building the bomb by way of economic incentives but that the country could experience a fundamental transformation as a result of rapprochement. And such a transformation did seem possible for a time. Just two months after Obama’s speech, the U.S. president shook hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, the first such gesture between a U.S. president and a senior Iranian official since the 1979 revolution. Hardliners in Iran were extremely critical of Zarif for having shaken hands with the “great Satan.”

Many Republicans in the U.S. were also put off by the brief meeting between Obama and Zarif, not least those who are now celebrating Trump’s planned meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and demanding that Trump be given the Nobel Peace Prize. Many of the critics – like Bolton – would rather have turned to military means to stop Iran. Others wanted to at least maintain intense military pressure.

Obama didn’t have the deal ratified by the U.S. Senate because he lacked the necessary two-thirds majority. And Republicans warned Iran at the time that an unratified deal was merely an agreement between governments and that the next president could easily render it null and void.

There is also an ongoing conflict in Iran between moderates and hardliners, one which has flared up again following Trump’s announcement on Tuesday. President Rouhani announced that Foreign Minister Zarif would be talking with the Europeans, Russia and China. Should Iran reach the conclusion that it can reach its goals with these partners absent the United States, Tehran will continue to adhere to it, he said. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, however, took to Twitter with the message: “I don’t trust these three EU countries either.” Absent guarantees, he went on, the deal cannot continue.

Iran’s Grip on the Region

The crucial question is whether the West’s hopes for the deal have been fulfilled. And there is a two-part answer. First: Its main goal has been met. Iran has demonstrably put an end to its military nuclear program even if, in accordance with the deal, it would be able to restart elements of its civilian nuclear program in 2025, and even the entire program in 2040, in conjunction with inspections. These “sunset provisions” were one of the main points of criticism of the deal, but they have thus far worked as planned.

What has not happened, however, is that in opposition to the hopes of many, Iran hasn’t toned down its aggressive behavior in the region. On the contrary.

In the approximately three years since the agreement was signed on July 14, 2015 in Vienna, Iran has considerably strengthened its grip on the region. Israel and Saudi Arabia had previously issued warnings about what they saw as aggressive moves by Iran. Since then, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which acts independently of the government and reports directly to Ayatollah Khamenei, has significantly expanded its capabilities. It is now in a position to directly threaten Israel and Saudi Arabia at their borders.

The Saudis are concerned about the Revolutionary Guard’s profile in Yemen, where the Iranians are supporting the Houthi militias in the country. Those militias recently gained the capability – likely with Iranian help – of firing missiles at the Saudi capital and have been doing so ever since.

As for Israel, the Iranians have expanded their capabilities on several fronts. They have been supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip for a long time, and now Syria has been added to the list. They are close to achieving their goal of dominating a “Shiite crescent” in the region, stretching from Iraq and Syria to Lebanon.

When the Iran deal was signed, Iran’s ally in Syria, President Bashar Assad, was close to defeat. Since then, his troops have been able to turn the tide with help from Russia, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and militias supported by Iran. Assad now appears to be close to victory.

There is a kind of mutually beneficial pact between Damascus and Tehran: The Syrians need Iran’s money and fighters; the Iranians want Syria’s geographical location. From there, they are in a position to send Shiite militias made up of Afghans, Pakistanis and Iraqis to the Israeli border, send armed drones towards Israel, as it apparently did in February, or fire off rockets.

Iran has stopped its nuclear program. But it has continued to develop those capabilities that are not prohibited by the deal. It has become more intensively involved in regional wars. And it is continuing to pursue its missile program: Today, Iran’s missiles are thought to be capable of reaching as far as Central Europe. The missile program was left out of the agreement, but Iran’s military might and willingness to expand remains cause for concern.

“Iran’s missile program is part of an arms race in the Middle East that the United States helped start” once the nuclear deal was signed, says Vali Nasr, an Iran expert with the Brookings Institution. “The issue that everybody forgets is that, when the nuclear deal was signed, the United States sold over $100 billion worth of new weapons to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, another $40 billion to Israel. The Iranians gave up their most important strategic asset, and instead, the U.S. actually strengthened the conventional military capability of its neighbors.”

Iranian Disappointment 

Mehdi Khajehpour’s office is located on the fifth floor of a building on Tehran’s Sa’adat Abad Boulevard. It is elegantly furnished, with classical glass and leather furniture. His company, Petro Sanat Sapra, sells equipment and tools for oil production. Since last night, he and his friends have been discussing what Trump’s refusal to extend the suspension of the sanctions for another four months means in concrete terms. “This guy doesn’t understand at all what this deal represents,” he says.

The 34-year-old is wearing a sand-colored cotton suit, white shirt and speaks perfect English and even has a bit of German from time spent at the University of Würzburg a couple of years ago.

Khajehpour is part of the new generation of Iranian entrepreneurs. He regularly travels to Europe and he and his wife have managed to become reasonably prosperous. Their apartment is decorated in a European style, their eight-year-old daughter attends ballet classes and painting courses in the afternoons. And in the evenings, the Khajehpours like to invite friends over, young couples like them, who have had some hope about their future in the last three years.

Like many members of this younger generation, Khajehpour keeps out of politics. He cannot identify with the hardliners, but he also complains about the bad management of the current government. He and his wife have great hopes for President Hassan Rouhani’s course aimed at opening up the country to the world and in addition to economic improvements, he has noticed that political discourse in the country has become more liberal.

People like him, Obama had presumably imagined, were to be the future of Iran. Now the disappointment is great.

“Trump is strengthening the radicals by once again creating difficult conditions for moderates,” says Khjajehpour. He is pinning his hopes on the Europeans. “If they go, life will become very difficult.”

The grim economic situation stems from corruption, populist policies and the sanctions – and despite the deal, things haven’t improved. At the end of last year, it prompted country-wide protests, and there was anger about the bankruptcy of several financial institutions that were tied to the elites, the Revolutionary Guard and religious forces. Some people lost their entire savings. The Iranian rial kept dropping to new record lows.

The country’s precarious economic situation is one reason Trump believes he can force it to its knees. But Trump’s strategy is risky. He wants to do in Iran what he has done in North Korea: Apply maximum pressure to force his opponents to give in. Former U.S. diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad explains how this is meant to work. Khalilzad is a neo-conservative who pushed for the invasion of both Afghanistan and Iraq. Both missions were failures.

Battling for Supremacy

Khalilzad says Iran should be hit at its “Achilles’ heel”: its economy. He says Trump should use tough sanctions to try to get Iran to relent. He says that would turn religious leaders against the current government and infuriate those who have thus far supported Rouhani. Ultimately, it could mean the collapse of the current government and pave the way for negotiations with the real rulers, the Revolutionary Guard.

Ultimately, Khalilzad says, the goal should be that of finding a far-reaching solution that includes all aspects of the Iran issue, including the ranges of the country’s missiles as well as negotiations with the three biggest players in the region — Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey – all of whom are battling for supremacy in what Khalilzad says is the “most unregulated region of the world.” Agreements and rules must be established, Khalilzad says, though even he doesn’t believe such a thing could happen quickly.

This is similar to what Trump and Bolton are picturing, and they want to force the Europeans to participate. This broader solution, however, is wishful thinking, because at the moment the U.S. are almost alone in their plan. Only Israel and Saudi Arabia support it, while the other signatories of the agreement – China, Russia, the EU – won’t participate.

The Europeans believe that this kind of power play will result in the opposite of what Trump claims to want: The hardliners in Iran will once again gain the upper hand, the country will once again begin to enrich Uranium – and ultimately, a war to stop Iran’s nuclear program will become unavoidable. Several Europeans are now hoping that Russia, of all countries, will keep the hardliners in Tehran from escalating the situation, because the Syrian regime is strongly dependent on the Russians. The visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Moscow on Wednesday will likely also put pressure on Vladimir Putin to exert influence on the Iranians.

On the medium-term, the danger is a large war in the Middle East, but the short-term one is an escalation between Israel and Iran in Syria.

What makes the termination of the agreement with Iran so dangerous right now is the country’s other military initiative: developing a shadow army of Shiite militias that the Revolutionary Guard has been recruiting from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan for the last several years and deployed in Syria and elsewhere. The push began with Hezbollah in Lebanon in the early 1980s to create a completely loyal, forceful bridgehead, has since grown into a monstrous apparatus with over 100,000 fighters.

It is a weapon that, in many ways, embodies the exact opposite of the nuclear program: It is not meant merely as a deterrent, but as a conquering force. It is often barely visible, and not controllable from the outside. In Syria, for example, the militias often fight with constantly varying compositions.

Israel’s security apparatus, which was divided about the Iranian nuclear deal, is united in their alarm at the situation in southern Syria. Trump’s brusque exit from the nuclear agreement might be seen in Israel as carte blanche for more aggressive attacks against the Iranians and their conglomerate of troops.

The Consequences for the Economy

From the start, the Germans, French and British had little hope they would be able to convince Trump to stick to the deal. This makes it even more surprising how poorly prepared they now are for the U.S.’s exit.

Most immediately, Trump’s decision will affect European companies that invested in Iran at the end of the sanctions. The day after Trump’s announcement, EU diplomats first tried to obtain some clarity about who might be affected by the sanctions. For this, they mostly had to depend on information U.S. officials are giving in briefings to American journalists in Washington.

What seems to be clear is that European companies now have between 90 and 180 days to wind down their activities in Iran. “We are giving companies an opportunity to get out,” says Trump’s Security Advisor Bolton. How generous. New deals, however, will not be allowed. Otherwise, European companies and banks will face penalties in the U.S. It seems to be the Americans’ clear goal to bring Iran to its knees economically, and the collateral damage to Europe is seemingly irrelevant. This would mean that the already disappointingly small economic benefit Iran is enjoying from the deal would shrink further.

By re-imposing sanctions, Trump is hitting the Europeans and Iran where it hurts. Since the deal was signed, EU imports from Iran have increased by a factor of nearly nine, and exports to Iran have risen by almost 70 percent, starting from a relatively low level – but with trade trends going in the right direction.

The EU can’t do much about this. On Monday, the foreign ministers of the UK, France and Germany plan to meet with their Iranian counterpart, but it is largely symbolic. A group visit to Iran, which is also under discussion in diplomatic circles, would likewise have little direct impact.

European Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger can imagine offering assistance to European companies that are affected by U.S. sanctions. “If we stick to the Iran deal, and we should, then we should try to protect to the degree possible European companies who do business with Iran and who might be affected by U.S. sanctions,” Oettinger told DER SPIEGEL. France has said similar things. But how?

Next week, EU heads of state and government plan on discussing the issue the evening before their Western Balkans Summit in Sofia. Unfortunately, it remains unclear how the affected businesses can be helped.

At the German Ministry of Economics, officials are seeking to play down the situation. “Only a small portion of German companies who have invested in Iran also do business in the U.S.,” says one spokesperson. The transitional periods also mean that endangered companies with Iran connections could also pull back. The French government has also pointed to this fact.

Some in the European Commission are looking into whether the EU Globalization Adjustment could be used, but there isn’t enough money available for it. There has also been discussion as to whether European companies could be threatened with penalties via so-called “blocking statutes” for obeying U.S. sanctions against Iran. The measures were initially established in 1996 to counter U.S. sanctions against Iran, Libya and Cuba.

But the German government believes such a solution is far-fetched. The U.S. would see any measure by the EU to protect its investments as aggressive. In a phone conversation with German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made it clear that all companies staying in Iran would be penalized.

That leaves small and mid-size companies who don’t do business with the U.S., but that will hardly suffice for Iran. Though the country can at least keep selling oil to Russia, China and India.

Europe, What Now?

Ultimately, the question becomes whether Europe can see this crisis as a wake-up call, as the start of a new common foreign policy, and whether they will continue to endure Trump’s humiliations or position itself as a diplomatic counterforce.

Wolfgang Ischinger, the German diplomat, says the crisis of confidence with the U.S. could be turned into a positive. “It is another dramatic wake-up call for the European Union to finally get a grip on itself. For the European project, I cannot imagine a better motivation than this shock from Trump.” Ischinger is critical of how Europe has behaved in the past months: “We should have been better prepared.”

On Thursday afternoon in Aachen, Emmanuel Macron did ultimately comment on Iran, though not in the Aachen Coronation Hall, but at RWTH, the city’s university. He was there to speak with students and answer their questions. Macron said it is never good for international superpowers not to abide by the laws they created themselves. “Every escalation must be avoided. We are staying in the nuclear deal and ask of Iran that it also remain in the deal.”

Macron’s strategy seems complex: he wants to convince the Iranians not to exit the agreement while seeking rapprochement with the Americans who want to talk about a broader deal. “From the perspective of the U.S., we must first of all get rid of the things they believe their previous government did wrong. That is their perspective, that’s just how it is,” he said.

It sounded as if Europe was still stuck in the starting blocks.









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