Sunday 20 May, 2018 Update: Iran, Sanctions, & Saving the Nuclear Deal

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The past few weeks have been a challenging period for Iran, both at home and abroad. The regime is facing a variety of obstacles and growing opposition to its policies, actions, and to its rule. This is not the first time that Iranian leaders have faced this sort of situation, however, the present geopolitical climate does not favor Iran. Unless Tehran moves swiftly and favorably on at least one front, the trend will not change.

Iran’s leadership is pinning its hopes on salvaging the Iran nuclear deal, believing that this will help reverse its fortunes of late. The future of the deal is very much up in the air at the moment. In spite of the European Union striving to keep the current deal alive, there’s no guarantee that anything substantial will stem from the effort. The US withdrawal from the deal has complicated matters for both Iran and the EU. Tehran has said it will live up to the terms of the nuclear deal if the EU is able to counteract US sanctions. A prime concern for Iran is that sanctions will have an adverse effect on its oil industry, and subsequently, on its economy as a whole.

With the US giving consideration to imposing new sanctions on Iran, a number of European companies are thinking hard about pulling back from Iran. This has led to claims by Iranian government officials over the weekend that the EU is clearly not doing enough to keep the nuclear deal alive. Next Friday, a meeting will be held in Vienna between representatives from Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia to discuss the future of the deal after the US withdrawal. According to Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, his nation will also be taking part in Friday’s talks.

Time is working against Iran at the moment. On Monday US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to lay out a potential US plan to force Iran back to the negotiating table. The plan will address not only Iran’s nuclear program, but its activity in other areas such as involvement in Syria, Yemen, and its escalating proxy war with Israel. If a US plan comes to fruition and gains traction, Iran’s options will narrow, forcing the regime to contend with the rising amount of international pressure in a less cooperative fashion.

Wednesday 16 May, 2018 Update: North Korea Threatens to Back Out of June Summit

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With less than thirty days remaining until the US-North Korea summit is scheduled to take place in Singapore, the first signs of trouble have appeared. North Korea’s statement expressing ‘disappointment’ with National Security Adviser John Bolton’s remarks over the weekend suggesting that North Korea’s potential denuclearization could follow the ‘Libya Model.’ Considering that Muammar Gaddafi’s gave up his nation’s nuclear program only to be killed by Western-backed rebels a few years later, it is easy to see why the North Koreans are a little disturbed by Bolton’s words. It is no secret that the North has long been wary of Bolton and his hawkish views. Vice-Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan. even admitted in the statement that his country finds Bolton ‘repugnant.’

Frustration with Bolton is not the only matter irritating North Korea. Max Thunder, a joint ROKAF-USAF military exercise currently underway have apparently displeased Pyongyang enough for it to cancel high-level talks with South Korea that had been scheduled for today. KCIA, North Korea’s state-run media outlet has stated the exercise could prevent the 12 June summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un from taking place.

Washington is publicly projecting great confidence that the summit will take place. Behind the scenes, though, questions about North Korea’s candor regarding talks with the United States, and the eventual denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Tuesday’s statements and actions suggest Pyongyang might be embracing tactics of the past to project its unwillingness to discuss at length the subject of denuclearization with Trump at the summit. Bolton’s remarks likely appear to be a suitable justification for North Korea to try and shift the focus of the summit away from its nuclear weapons and the future of the program.

Tuesday 8 May, 2018 Update: Trump Pulls US Out of Iran Nuclear Deal

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President Trump announced earlier this afternoon that the United States intends to withdraw from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal. The move has been widely anticipated at home and abroad. Trump’s opposition to the plan is well known, and he is not the only current or former US politician who believes the Obama administration’s approval of the plan was a mistake. The president spent an inordinate amount of time listening to the arguments and opinions of the plan’s supporters and opponents before rendering his decision.

Trump views the 2015 deal as greatly favoring Iran. It places insubstantial limits on Iranian nuclear activity, and opens the door for Tehran to pursue a nuclear weapons program once key sections of the deal lapse. The deal also lifted the most stringent economic sanctions that had been previously imposed on Iran. Now that the US is withdrawing from the deal, some, or all of those sanctions can be imposed on Tehran again.

International reaction to Trump’s announcement came almost instantly and included no real surprises. Israel, predictably, is elated. France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have released statements voicing their regret on the US decision. Iran is livid, which hardly comes as a shock. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in a televised broadcast shortly after the US announcement, stated that he’s instructing Iran’s foreign minister to begin negotiations with the nations remaining in the deal. He also said the time remaining to negotiate is limited and Iran could begin “enriching uranium more than before.”

Saturday 5 May, 2018 Update: US 2nd Fleet Stands Up Once Again

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On Friday the Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson, announced the reactivation of the US 2nd Fleet, which was the US Navy fleet responsible for operations in the North Atlantic until it was deactivated in 2011. Its AOR, and operations were taken over by the 6th Fleet, which covered both the Mediterranean and Atlantic during the time. The move has been expected for some time now. As relations between the United States and Russia began their downward trend after the 2014 annexation of Crimea, Russian naval activity in the North Atlantic increased. In the later years of the Obama tenure, the US Navy began to take a hard look at the possibility of standing up  2nd Fleet once again. The prospect did not begin to gain momentum until 2017 when the Trump administration and then-new Secretary of Defense James Mattis began to take a hard look at the US military and the changing geopolitical realities around the world

Richardson alluded to that in his remarks. “Our National Defense Strategy makes clear that we’re back in an era of great power competition as the security environment continues to grow more challenging and complex.” This move is a clear indication that the Pentagon has placed a high priority in countering Russia’s heightened military activity. A large part of this strategy includes a US pivot back to Europe and the North Atlantic.

Increased Russian naval activity in the Atlantic over the last 2-3 years has been a concern for NATO as well as the US Navy. In a nod to the Cold War days and SACLANT, NATO’s new Atlantic Command will join the 2nd Fleet as being headquartered in Norfolk.

Tuesday 1 May, 2018 Update: Pressure on the US Grows as Iran Nuclear Deadline Approaches

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With the deadline for a decision on the future of the Iran nuclear deal approaching, supporters and detractors of the agreement have been showcasing positions over the past week in an effort to influence President Trump’s final decision on whether or not the deal will be scrapped. It is no secret that Trump has long viewed the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as deeply flawed and overly advantageous to Tehran.

Last week the subject broached during French President Emmanuel Macron’s state visit to Washington. Macron, an ardent supporter of the deal, as well as Europe’s role in crafting it, has been pushing hard to rescue the nuclear deal. Macron, along with the leaders of the United Kingdom, Germany, are convinced that the agreement is the best instrument to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Yesterday, Macron spoke with his Iranian counterpart President Hassan Rouhan and urged him to enter negotiations on the deal, but Rouhan declared it to be non-negotiable.

Israel, a major opponent to the deal, has been pressuring the United States to scrap the deal entirely. Yesterday’s presentation by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a tad light on facts though it did serve to highlight Israel’s position with regards to JCPOA, as well as its fervent belief that Iran is still conducting nuclear research in violation of the deal. Netanyahu, and other members of the Israeli government have been conducting behind the scenes discussion with their US counterparts. Although the final decision on the fate of the nuclear deal will be made by President Trump, Israel is working hard to influence that decision to its favor, especially as tensions between Tel Aviv and Tehran have spiked in recent months.

The nuclear deal is only one part of the growing conflict between Iran and Syria. Iran’s increasing involvement in Syria is another. Tehran’s actions in Syria have brought on a heightened Israeli military response over the past two months. The latest example of this was a Sunday airstrike against an Iranian target near the city of Hama in Syria. Concern is growing in Washington about the growing conflict between Iran and Israel.

Trump’s final decision on the future of JCPOA, no matter what it may be, will undoubtedly  have a far-reaching effect across the globe.