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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Sanctions"

Lindsey Graham Warns He’ll Deliver “Sanctions From Hell” If Turkey Invades Syria

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Lindsey Graham by Gage Skidmore, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/Original

In the wake of President Donald Trump announcing that he was pulling U.S. forces out of Syria, many began voicing opposition out of their concern for the safety of American allies in the region, namely the Kurds.

Turkey has made it very clear that it intends to conduct “operations in Syria” after the U.S. moves out, and already bombed the Syria-Iraq border in order to prevent Kurd movement that would allow them to fortify their positions.

“In this way, the group’s transit to Syria and support lines, including ammunition, are shut off,” said a Turkish official.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R), who is one of the Senators who denounced the decision to pull U.S. forces out of the region, has warned Turkey that if they so much as step foot in the area, he’ll bury them in sanctions.

“If Turkey moves into northern Syria, sanctions from hell — by Congress — will follow. Wide, deep, and devastating sanctions,” Graham tweeted Tuesday.

This was a follow up to statements he made on Monday, making it clear that if Turkey acts against the Kurds, then sanctions will follow. Graham already has bipartisan support for these sanctions thanks to Democrat Sen. Chris Van Hollen.

“We will introduce bipartisan sanctions against Turkey if they invade Syria and will call for their suspension from NATO if they attack Kurdish forces who assisted the U.S. in the destruction of the ISIS Caliphate,” Graham added.

While this is Trump’s decision, the President has also made it clear that any moves by Turkey in the area will result in the targeted destruction of its economy.

“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!),” tweeted Trump.

The ball is in Turkey’s court at this point. Once the U.S. pulls out, Turkey will have to make the decision to risk the wrath of the United States. However, the Kurds aren’t so sure that’s going to scare Turkey into capitulation.

 

The post Lindsey Graham Warns He’ll Deliver “Sanctions From Hell” If Turkey Invades Syria appeared first on RedState.

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Trump Tells Iran to Go Pound Sand

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FILE – In this July 2, 2012 file photo, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboat escorts a passenger ship, near the spot where an Iranian airliner was shot down by a U.S. warship 24 years ago killing 290 passengers in Persian Gulf. While U.S. President Donald Trump angered Iran with his speech on refusing to re-certify the nuclear deal, Tehran won’t walk away from it in retaliation. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Although the latest ginned up scandal involving Trump has dominated the news the past week, there’s been other, far more important things going on. One of those things was Iran offering to make concessions in response to lifting sanctions.

At the time I wrote this.

As to how President Trump should respond to this? My opinion is he should laugh in their face. They had their chance to negotiate and save their regime. Let them collapse. It’s not like they can be trusted to hold to any new re-writing of the nuclear deal anyway.

Hilariously, Iran’s garbage regime went to the UN and claimed that the United States had agreed to lift all sanctions just for the opportunity to talk to the Mullahs. That was laughable on its face. Here’s the report on that.

I doubt Trump is reading RedState, but it appears we managed to arrive at the same conclusion, as the President is essentially telling Iran to go take a long walk off a short pier.

So what’s really going on here? Iran is burning. Their economy is collapsing, they have no moves left to make militarily without provoking a war, and their own people are turning against them. Unlike Barack Obama, who sought to prop up this dumpster fire just so he could claim a domestic political victory, Trump has been playing hardball and it’s working.

Iran won’t even have the resources to produce a nuclear weapon if this keeps up and there’s no end in sight for them. Meanwhile, we’ve committed troops to help protect the oil production going on in Saudi Arabia, which only further smothers Iran’s ability to create havoc and drive up the cost of oil.

Iran had grown accustom to being able to rattle their saber and get their way under the Obama administration. Times have changed and it’s left them flailing and lying at the UN in order to try to garner some credibility back with their people. It’s not going to work. No re-upping of the nuclear deal should be on the table. Let these guys burn.

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The post Trump Tells Iran to Go Pound Sand appeared first on RedState.

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Rouhani: The Trump administration offered to lift all sanctions in exchange for talks

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Isn’t that what Hassan Rouhani claimed he wanted? European diplomats have tried to get Iran and the US in the same room ever since Donald Trump canceled the JCPOA or “Iran deal” and adopted his “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign over Iran’s nuclear weapons development. Tehran has refused to negotiate unless the US lifts sanctions, a point Rouhani’s government reiterated earlier this week.

To hear him tell it now, the US called his bluff — and he reneged anyway:

The United States offered to remove all sanctions on Iran in exchange for talks but Tehran has not yet accepted the offer due to the current “toxic atmosphere”, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Friday. …

“It was up for debate what sanctions will be lifted and they (the United States) had said clearly that we will lift all sanctions,” Rouhani said, according to his official website.

Iran was ready for negotiations but not in an atmosphere of sanctions and pressure, the Iranian president said.

“This action wasn’t in a manner that was acceptable, meaning that in the atmosphere of sanctions and the existence of sanctions and the toxic atmosphere of maximum pressure, even if we want to negotiate with the Americans in the 5+1 framework, no one can predict what the end and result of this negotiation will be,” he said.

If the US made that offer and Iran refused it, his friends in Europe are going to be pissed. They’re already unhappy about Iran’s new aggressions in the region, especially regarding shipping through the Straits of Hormuz and their attempts to end-run sanctions on Syria. France and Germany, Iran’s major trading partners outside of the sanctions issues, just blamed Iran for the attack on the Saudi oil refinery, along with the UK’s Boris Johnson.

Trump hotly denied making any such offer, and in fact painted it as an Iranian demand:

It’s not entirely out of the realm of believability that Trump might have made such an offer, though. He has made remarks about finding ways to meet with Rouhani to dial down tensions, and reportedly was looking at a $15 billion “bailout” of Iran as a sweetener for talks. Trump hiked sanctions instead, but also sacked hardline national security adviser John Bolton at the same time. Combined with some of his other out-of-the-box foreign policy moves, and perhaps his political woes at home, such an offer would be possible. Perhaps not likely but not impossible either.

And it might have been a smart move to do so, forcing Rouhani to shoot himself in the foot on the international stage. Despite his earlier attempts to make Trump the obstacle to talks, it’s now pretty clear that Ali Khameini has Rouhani on a short leash indeed, and that Rouhani might have just gotten yanked back by it. If that’s in fact what happened, it has provided a moment of clarity about Iran’s intentions and the need to keep up the maximum pressure campaign until Khameini is ready to deal more honestly.

The post Rouhani: The Trump administration offered to lift all sanctions in exchange for talks appeared first on Hot Air.

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Iran to Trump: Let’s make a deal?

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Iran appeared to offer a key concession overnight in its standoff with the West, but just how meaningful is anyone’s guess. A day or so after France, Germany, and the UK all publicly agreed that Iran launched the missile attack on Saudi Arabia, a government spokesperson said that the regime is now willing to renegotiate terms of the 2015 nuclear deal that Donald Trump scotched. Iran was willing to accept “small changes” in the original JCPOA to satisfy the US, as long as sanctions were dropped during the negotiations — a significant change in their posture.

One key point — this time Iran wants an actual deal:

Iran is prepared to accept changes to the 2015 nuclear agreement and not seek nuclear weapons if the United States agrees to the deal and lifts sanctions, a spokesman for Iran said Wednesday.

“If the sanctions are ended and there is a return to the (nuclear) accord, there is room for giving reassurances toward breaking the deadlock and the President has even a proposal for small changes in the accord,” Ali Rabiei said on state TV, according to Reuters.

The news service added that Iran’s state-run Press TV said on Wednesday that Tehran would be willing to re-enter the deal on the conditions of “early approval of an additional protocol by Iran’s parliament, nuclear deal approval by U.S. Congress, lifting of all sanctions by Washington.”

That refers to the terms of the 2015 JCPOA, which not only never got ratified by the Senate but was never formally signed by the leaders involved. That made it a lot easier to dump when Trump took office, although Trump waited through a few renewal cycles before finally pulling the plug on the Iran deal over issues with verification and the Iranian missile program. This time, Tehran wants a deal with legal force in the US to ensure that it sticks.

How likely is it that Tehran will negotiate on the key sticking points for the US, however? At the same time Rabiei was offering a little sweetness and light, the Iranian defense minister was taking a hard line on Iran’s ballistic missile program:

The official IRNA news agency on Wednesday quoted Gen. Amir Hatami as saying any deal with the United States over Iran’s “missile power” would damage the country’s capabilities. He said Iran’s leaders all support improving their missile program.

Tehran long has insisted its ballistic missile program was nonnegotiable. President Donald Trump, however, cited it as a reason for unilaterally withdrawing America from the nuclear deal over a year ago.

Even on just the nuclear-weapons proscriptions, it’s tough to imagine Iran offering enough concessions to make a deal worthwhile. The JCPOA had several holes when it came to inspections and verification, especially the latter, and Iran refused to budge or renegotiate on those points as well. Inspectors never got into some suspected nuclear-weapons development sites, while indications from the outside showed evidence that uranium continued to be developed. Israel laid out a stunning intelligence case about the extent of Iranian deception in April 2018 that exposed the gaps in the JCPOA and the amateurish negotiation on the part of the West that helped create it.

Still, the concession in their rhetoric indicates that either the diplomatic, economic, or military pressure has had an effect — and perhaps all three. Firing a missile at Saudi Arabia might have been a step too far for even France and Germany, who had been somewhat more sympathetic to Iran (and desirous of their trade, too). Tehran might have been surprised to get isolated so quickly after the attack and saw a need to make some amends. It’s an opening of some sort, but don’t bet on it being real.

The next question will be whether Trump lowers sanctions to encourage more movement. He’s played fast and loose rhetorically on sanctions involving others, but he’s not been inclined to tinker with them much in reality. Given his consistent hard line on Iran and his contempt for Barack Obama’s negotiating track record on the JCPOA, I’d be surprised if Trump suspended sanctions ahead of significant and substantive concessions by Iran. Surprised … but maybe not shocked.

The post Iran to Trump: Let’s make a deal? appeared first on Hot Air.

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BREAKING: Iran Begins Folding, Now Offering Concessions

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From left, the European Union high representative, Federica Mogherini; the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif; head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation, Ali Akbar Salehi, the Russian foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov; the British foreign secretary Philip Hammond; and the US secretary of state John Kerry pose for a group picture at the United Nations building in Vienna after striking a landmark nuclear deal. Joe Klamar / Pool Photo via AP

This just came over the wire.

Iran, who just last week was defiantly proclaiming they wouldn’t move an inch under Trump’s sanctions pressure, is now saying they’ll offer amendments and concessions on the Iran nuclear deal for relief.

Iran’s economy has been in shambles and their people are growing more and more restless. Last year, we saw widespread protests on the matter and the anti-America rhetoric of the Mullahs is having less of an impact in galvanizing domestic support.

As to how President Trump should respond to this? My opinion is he should laugh in their face. They had their chance to negotiate and save their regime. Let them collapse. It’s not like they can be trusted to hold to any new re-writing of the nuclear deal anyway.

The post BREAKING: Iran Begins Folding, Now Offering Concessions appeared first on RedState.

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Report: Trump considering allowing a $15 billion bailout of Iran

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Another day, another suspiciously damaging leak involving Iran policy in the post-Bolton era.

Remember the Republican uproar about “pallets of cash” being shipped to Iran under the Obama nuclear deal? Trump himself frequently brings that up when criticizing the deal. He’s totally right that Iran got big bucks in return for agreeing to Obama’s terms, although the money in question was actually Iran’s to begin with. Most of it consisted of Iranian assets abroad that had been frozen while U.S. sanctions were in place; once the sanctions were lifted, the cash was finally transferred. But Trump’s point stands: What the hell was O doing greenlighting a massive economic windfall for the mullahs as part of a nuclear bargain that did nothing more in the end than temporarily suspend Iran’s uranium enrichment program?

So here we are a few years later and Trump is reportedly considering doing the same thing. Once again money owed to Iran (for oil) is frozen due to an America’s “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign. And once again, in the interest of diplomacy, the president is weighing whether to let money be released to the mullahs. Not even as part of a deal in this case — as a goodwill gesture to simply get the two sides to the table so that they can discuss a deal. Said one critic last night on Twitter, “It’s like we’re running an experiment to see if grassroots Republicans would’ve supported the Obama presidency if only he were an old vulgar Manhattan elite.”

The $15 billion in this case would consist of a line of credit brokered by France. It’s not the same as O’s deal in all particulars, in other words — sanctions aren’t being lifted but rather an exception to them is being made. Iranian assets aren’t being unfrozen but cash is being made available. In both cases, though, Iran is being thrown an economic lifeline with America’s blessing in return for abiding by the terms of Obama’s nuclear deal.

The deal put forward by France would compensate Iran for oil sales disrupted by American sanctions. A large portion of Iran’s economy relies on cash from oil sales. Most of that money is frozen in bank accounts across the globe. The $15 billion credit line would be guaranteed by Iranian oil. In exchange for the cash, Iran would have to come back into compliance with the nuclear accord it signed with the world’s major powers in 2015. Tehran would also have to agree not to threaten the security of the Persian Gulf or to impede maritime navigation in the area. Lastly, Tehran would have to commit to regional Middle East talks in the future…

The French proposal would require the Trump administration to issue waivers on Iranian sanctions. That would be a major departure from the Trump administration’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign to exact financial punishments on the regime in Tehran. Ironically, during his time in office, President Barack Obama followed a not-dissimilar approach to bring the Iranians to the negotiating table, throttling Iran’s economy with sanctions before pledging relief for talks. The negotiations resulted in the Iran nuke deal that President Trump called “rotten”—and pulled the U.S. out of during his first term…

Several sources told The Daily Beast that foreign officials are expecting Trump to either agree to cooperate on the French deal or to offer to ease some sanctions on Tehran.

Bolton objected “vociferously” to the idea, the Daily Beast was told. (By whom, I wonder!) And who can blame him? As Josh Barro put it, “I don’t understand the point of withdrawing from the Iran deal and sanctioning Iran but then giving Iran financial aid to offset the effects of the sanctions in order to induce them to stay in the deal.” Does Trump want to cancel Obama’s deal and try to bring Iran to its knees with economic warfare or does he want to keep the deal in place and pull back on sanctions? His stick-and-carrot approach seems to be to beat the enemy with a stick and feed the enemy carrots at the same time.

Trump’s erratic Iran policy is swerving towards a reprise of Obama’s policy, notes Philip Klein, minus any overarching regional strategy:

At least in Obama’s case, it could be argued that the administration was consistent. They believed a policy of appeasing Iran would strengthen moderates, and reorient the Middle East, and they were hostile toward traditional U.S. allies in the region — the Arab states and Israel.

In Trump’s case, however, his Iran policy is all over the place. He decided to pull out of the Iran deal, but then short arm the “maximum pressure” campaign, and now wants to offer concessions in exchange for a meeting that would be a diplomatic coup for Iran without doing anything to advance U.S. interests. It’s unclear why Trump wanted to pull out of the deal in the first place if this is how he followed through.

If Trump thinks Obama’s nuclear deal is so terrible, Klein argues, the last thing he should want to do is keep its terms viable diplomatically. That’ll make it easy for a Democratic successor to recommit to it. Yet that’s exactly what he’s doing by dangling sanctions relief, whether in the form of France’s credit line or outright suspension of sanctions by the U.S., in exchange for Iran agreeing to reimplement O’s deal and sit down for talks with him and Mike Pompeo. He was asked yesterday by reporters whether he might ease sanctions on Iran, in fact, and didn’t rule it out. Meanwhile, Iran’s president has been adamant that he won’t talk to Trump unless and until sanctions are softened as a precondition. Iran’s driving a hard bargain and POTUS seems inclined to take it. The most you can say for Macron’s idea about a line of credit is that it would let Trump save face — a little — by putting some money in Iran’s hands ahead of talks without requiring the U.S. to make a major concession, like formally suspending sanctions. But again, the effect is the same. Pressure on Iran will be reduced. The Obama nuclear deal will be revived. Perhaps temporarily. Perhaps not.

I think this is what we’re in for on foreign policy generally over the next year. When Trump took office he was eager to show he was a tough guy. He bombed Assad; he threatened Kim Jong Un with “fire and fury;” he tore up Obama’s nuclear deal; he declared trade war on China. In each case he hoped the enemy would respond with capitulation. In each case it didn’t, so he’s in dealmaker mode now. He’s had two summits with his new friend Kim and is all but begging Iran to give him another. As economic forecasts turn darker ahead of the election, he’ll be frantic to make a deal with China that ends the tariff pain. If he can’t get a “win” playing hardball, he’s prepared to switch to softball — even if that means luring Iran back towards the term of the Obama accords that he supposedly despises.

But maybe it doesn’t matter. Aaron Kliegman is right that the recent standoff between Trump and Iran is really just the natural end of Obama’s agreement with the mullahs except on a sped-up timetable. The deal by its own terms was set to lapse in the next decade, freeing Iran to return to aggressive uranium enrichment and forcing western powers into a new conundrum about what to do about it. Well, that’s what’s happening now. Obama endorsed this crisis. He just didn’t expect his successor would be dealing with it.

The post Report: Trump considering allowing a $15 billion bailout of Iran appeared first on Hot Air.

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Report: Trump considered easing sanctions on Iran two days ago to encourage talks — over Bolton’s strong objection

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Golly, whoever leaked this to Bloomberg must have been pretty high up the food chain to know what the president was thinking on a matter as sensitive as Iran diplomacy.

And they must have a pretty sizable axe to grind with him if they’re willing to make him sound this weak, particularly in comparison to Bolton.

Any theories? Do any current or former disgruntled national security aides with a reputation for score-settling in the press present themselves as logical suspects?

The post-Bolton era will be a golden age of natsec leaking, my friends.

President Donald Trump discussed easing sanctions on Iran to help secure a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani later this month, prompting then-National Security Advisor John Bolton to argue forcefully against such a step, according to three people familiar with the matter.

After an Oval Office meeting on Monday when the idea came up, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin voiced his support for the move as a way to restart negotiations with Iran, some of the people said. Later in the day, Trump decided to oust Bolton, whose departure was announced Tuesday.

The White House has started preparations for Trump to meet with Rouhani this month in New York on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly the week of Sept. 23, according to the people. It’s far from clear if the Iranians would agree to talks while tough American sanctions remain in place…

Easing any sanctions without major concessions from Iran would undercut the pressure campaign that not only Bolton, but also Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Trump have said is the only effective way to make Iran change its behavior.

Macron has discussed brokering a meeting between Trump and a top Iranian diplomat. He might end up as the conduit at the UN.

Needless to say, backing off sanctions on Iran would mean abandoning the “maximum pressure” approach Trump has taken towards the country since exiting Obama’s nuclear deal. The two sides are playing a game of chicken right now: Trump has ramped up sanctions in hopes of bringing the Iranian economy to its knees (with some success, by the way), believing that they’ll cave and agree to nuclear terms more favorable to American in exchange for sanctions relief. Iran is ramping up its enrichment program again in hopes of making Trump panic about a new crisis in the Middle East, believing that he’ll cave and start lifting sanctions as a precondition to getting them back to the bargaining table. Iran’s president has explicitly said, in fact, that they won’t talk to the United States in a meaningful way unless Trump blinks first. Who’s the chicken?

If you believe this Bloomberg story, it sounds like Trump’s the chicken. Or will be soon.

A basic problem for him in trying to stare down Iran is that he keeps signaling how reluctant he is to let this cold war turn hot. Skepticism of war is his most laudable quality as president but he’s made such a show of it that it’s ended up undercutting the effectiveness of his “madman” image. Ideally Iran would be eager to talk with Trump without preconditions because they’ve concluded that he’s so wacky and bellicose that he just might order a bombing run on Tehran after all. And he is wacky in many things. But in matters of war he’s arguably more sober than his advisors, to the point of boasting that he canceled an attack on Iran because he cares about Iranian lives just that much. Iran is sizing him up; they knows there’s a presidential election coming; they know how eager Trump is to keep his campaign promise of avoiding new military entanglements; they know from his experience with North Korea (and more recently the Taliban) how enchanted he is by big peacemaker photo ops, even if they don’t produce anything meaningful for the United States. And so they’ve concluded that it’s safe to drive a hard bargain with the “madman” after all. His carrot-and-stick approach is really all carrot.

I mean, he sent Rand Paul to feel them out on talks, for fark’s sake. How much plainer can he be that he’s desperate for diplomacy?

They probably figure they can get him to recommit to the basic framework of the Obama nuclear deal so long as they add a few token bells and whistles and be sure to credit him lavishly with an unprecedented master stroke of diplomacy. But they’re going to test him first by refusing to agree to talks unless and until he blinks on sanctions. And now we find out that he’s thinking about blinking.

This Times piece from a few weeks ago about Iran coming around to the idea of talks with Trump caught my eye because it’s not what you’d expect in the current political climate. Trump’s polling has slipped lately. The trade war is deepening. He’s no better than a 50/50 shot at reelection. You might think that Iran would try to wait him out for 14 more months and see if they end up with a Democrat in 2021 who’s willing to reinstate the Obama nuclear deal. But no:

The new strategy, those who spoke about it said, was also predicated on dangling a foreign-policy victory to Mr. Trump that he could use to bolster his re-election prospects

If Mr. Trump wanted a “more comprehensive” deal than the existing accord, then Iran would consider his demand — and even discuss parts of its ballistic missile program and Iran’s role in the region — but in return Iran, too, would seek a more comprehensive guarantee from the United States for long-lasting economic relief, the people at the meeting said.

“This golden window of opportunity will likely not repeat in the next decade,” Sadegh Alhusseini, a senior foreign-policy and economic adviser to Mr. Jahangiri, said in a Twitter message. “This is the start of the game for Iran. Approaching U.S. elections give Iran a rare card to play with Trump.”

Iran might actually prefer a dovish Republican in office to a Democrat. Most of the hawkish impulse towards the country within the U.S. comes from the right, after all. With a Democrat in charge, those right-wing hawks are free to agitate for war, or at least “maximum pressure” in the form of sanctions. With Trump in office, they can’t. It’d be “disloyal” to the president to do so. It’s Trump’s party now, not John Bolton’s. So for Iran, friendly relations with Trump is basically a risk-free gamble. If they hand him a diplomatic win and he’s reelected, he’ll owe them in his second term and will be eager to build on the fledgling detente. If they hand him a diplomatic win and he loses, his Democratic successor will be reluctant to toss Iran’s olive branch to Trump aside and resume a hostile posture. It’s Democrats even more so than Republicans who want better relations with Iran, after all.

So what do they lose by talking to him and just maybe nailing down a grand bargain in which America formally recognizes the regime and renounces future efforts at regime change? For cripes sake, he was willing to legitimize the Taliban with a U.S. visit without even demanding they commit to a ceasefire. He’ll have Rouhani over for a state dinner before 2020 is out. No doubt they think they can roll him, especially with Bolton now out of the picture. But just to be sure, they’re going to test him to see if he’s willing to blink on sanctions first. He probably will.

The post Report: Trump considered easing sanctions on Iran two days ago to encourage talks — over Bolton’s strong objection appeared first on Hot Air.

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Iran: Thank Allah that Bolton character is gone, amirite?

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The departure of National Security Adviser John Bolton from the Trump administration left everyone with a number of questions. First and foremost, did he quit or was he fired? If you’re asked to resign, that’s a little bit of both, right? We’ll probably have to wait for the next series of tell-all books to come out to have a better idea.

But there’s one group of people who probably don’t care how it happened. They’re just glad to see him gone. No, I’m not talking about Tucker Carlson, who mysteriously claimed that Bolton was “fundamentally a man of the left” last night. Nor are we discussing the many Democrats who were setting off fireworks in celebration, simply grateful that Bolton hadn’t talked Trump into another war. No, I’m speaking of the leadership in Iran. No sooner had the news broken than they were out congratulating the President on this decision and calling for an end to the “warmongering” ways of the former UN Ambassador.

Iran’s president urged the U.S. on Wednesday to “put warmongers aside” as tensions roil the Persian Gulf amid an escalating crisis between Washington and Tehran in the wake of the collapsing nuclear deal with world powers.

Hassan Rouhani’s remarks signaled approval of President Donald Trump’s abrupt dismissal of John Bolton as national security adviser. Bolton had been hawkish on Iran and other global challenges.

Rouhani’s website quoted him as further urging the U.S. to “abandon warmongering and its maximum pressure policy” on Iran. He spoke at a Cabinet meeting in Tehran.

I don’t know what Rouhani’s been smoking in his hookah lately, but I suspect they should be prepared for some serious disappointment. To think that all (or even most) of our policy toward Iran was coming from John Bolton whispering in the President’s ear is more than a bit of a stretch. Trump was planning to get tough on Iran before he was even elected and it was his plan to ditch the nuclear deal and apply sanctions if Iran didn’t show some progress on eliminating their secret nuclear program.

Granted, John Bolton certainly put a more militaristic spin on things than the President generally does. And I won’t deny that he probably wouldn’t have been terribly upset if we’d wound up in a shooting war over there, but that really hasn’t been Donald Trump’s style. Aside from some missile attacks in Syria, he’s generally been quite reluctant to expand our military adventures abroad.

I’m fairly sure that Donald Trump doesn’t want to go down in the history books as the President who started another war that couldn’t be finished before he left office. In fact, despite the criticism he had for Barack Obama over pulling out of Iraq, Trump has seemed more than determined to get us out of Afghanistan. Unfortunately for him, there just isn’t a clean way to do it.

Getting back to Iran, the rest of Rouhani’s complaints were centered on Trump’s policies of “maximum pressure” and sanctions designed to force that country into compliance and cooperation with the IAEA. And again, those were not policies that were cooked up solely by John Bolton. Expecting them to change drastically now that he’s gone simply seems unrealistic.

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Rouhani retreats: On second thought, lift sanctions and then we’ll talk

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This smells of a stunt that backfired on Hassan Rouhani. The Iranian president semi-crashed the G-7 summit in Biarritz this weekend (at the invitation of French president Emmanuel Macron), and then suggested that he’d be willing to sit down with Donald Trump to deal directly with the crisis over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. His arrival and his expressed openness to direct talks seemed calculated to paint Trump as unstable and irrational, with the Iranians as all sweetness and rationality.

Then Trump surprisingly embraced the idea as a way to dial down the tensions between the US and Iran, and suddenly Rouhani hit reverse. Consider this bluff called:

A day after what looked like a possible diplomatic breakthrough with the U.S., Iranian President Hassan Rouhani backed off the idea of direct talks with President Trump, saying Washington must first lift sanctions against Tehran.

At the conclusion of the G-7 Summit in France on Monday, Trump had said that the leaders could meet, “if the circumstance were correct or right.” Rouhani initially seemed warm to such a meeting, remarking, “I would not miss it.”

However, by Tuesday, Rouhani’s initial enthusiasm appeared to have ebbed. Unless the U.S. ended economic sanctions on Iran, he said, any such meeting between the two leaders would be just a photo op and “that is not possible.”

Really? Then why show up at the G-7 where Trump was ostentatiously available for a meet-and-greet? Macron was too busy hosting the gig to spend much time on a side summit with Iran, even if Macron was inclined to conduct one at all. There would be no other reason for Iran to participate even as an observer to the G-7, especially at the high-ranking level of its president acting as such.

After Rouhani backed off, Javad Zarif protested, perhaps a bit too much, at the idea of direct talks:

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also told Iran’s news agency IRNA Tuesday that a one-on-one meeting between Rouhani and Trump was “not imaginable.”

“I said this in Biarritz — unless the U.S. comes back to the 5 plus 1 and performs the JCPOA but still at that time there will be no one-on-one talks,” he said referring to the five members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany and the official acronym for the Iran nuclear deal.

It certainly seemed imaginable enough when Rouhani arrived in Biarritz and suggested the possibility. It must have also seemed imaginable to Ayatollah Ali Khameini, the true power in Iran, when he allowed Rouhani to conduct this stunt. Rouhani’s sudden backpedal suggests not only that this was a bluff, but also that Rouhani doesn’t have the authority to enter into negotiations anyway.

Trump must have seen this coming when Macron told him about Rouhani’s invitation. If Rouhani had accepted Trump’s suggestion to meet, that would have dominated the G-7 coverage and forced the media to paint him as a reasonable leader — even if others would have understandable concern over what Trump might do in such a meeting. Rouhani rejecting the invitation makes Iran and Rouhani look foolish and weak, and it will likely set back their efforts to split the EU from the US on sanctions. Next time, Khameini should send a better stuntman.

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Hmmm: Trump to waive Iran sanctions again?

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If Mike Pompeo and John Bolton agree on something, how likely would Donald Trump to go in the opposite direction? The smart money would normally go against it, but according to Josh Rogin’s sources, that’s precisely what will happen this week on Iran. Trump has decided to extend sanctions waivers on Iran again after Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin argued he needed more time to negotiate:

After an internal policy battle, the Trump administration is set to announce later this week that it will once again waive five different nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, preserving a key part of the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal. The decision will upset Iran hawks in Washington and be welcomed by Russia, China, European allies and the Iranian leadership. The issue is emblematic of the tension inside the administration over the implementation of President Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy.

In an Oval Office meeting last week, Trump sided with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who argued that the administration should again renew sanctions waivers related to five separate parts of Iran’s nuclear program. Mnuchin prevailed over the objections of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, according to six administration officials. Pompeo, who is the lead official on the issue, will nevertheless support Trump’s decision when it is announced later this week.

Mnuchin, these six officials said, argued to Trump that if the sanctions were not again waived as required by law by Aug. 1, the United States would have to sanction Russian, Chinese and European firms that are involved in projects inside Iran that were established as part of the 2015 nuclear deal. The Treasury Department asked for more time to navigate the collateral effects of these sanctions.

Is that the real reason, though? According to NBC’s sources, the decision allows for the retention of the skeleton of Barack Obama’s deal with Iran. Some within the administration want it kept on life support, so to speak, as a potential opening position for a new deal, a view shared by US allies in Europe:

The underlying argument that has played out at the White House over the past year hinges on whether the United States would have more leverage in any future talks with Iran by totally dismantling the 2015 deal, or whether it is better to preserve the accord as a starting point for negotiations, U.S. officials say.

Proponents of keeping the waivers believe “the best way to position for a new deal, is to keep the old deal around in the meantime,” one source said. “There is an active group within the State Department, Treasury Department and Energy Department that sees value in keeping the rump JCPOA alive.”

Britain, France and Germany had urged the White House to extend the waivers, saying that it was in the interests of the United States and Europe to ensure Iran stuck to a plan to convert various nuclear sites to civilian purposes.

Perhaps it’s just that the administration would prefer to concentrate on one crisis at a time. The existing sanctions have already caused Iran to start lashing out in the Persian Gulf, actions that have created further distance between Tehran and Europe. Better to let those play out to their natural end before doing something that could shift focus in Europe back to the Trump administration rather than on the real threat in Iran.

That won’t make John Bolton too happy, of course, and at least theoretically he’s correct. Cranking up the pressure is better than standing pat, and it may be better to completely jettison the JCPOA and start over on any negotiations from scratch. However, that’s still outside our power; Europe is still clinging to the JCPOA in hopes of keeping Iran accountable. Until they’re ready to let it go completely, it still has to stay in our calculations too.

It’s tough to imagine that these waivers will last forever, though. It’s not in Trump’s nature to keep loopholes open for antagonists, especially not when Pompeo and Bolton are both on the other side of that decision. If Europe wants to keep a “rump JCPOA” alive much longer, they’d better get the mullahs to come back to the table soon.

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