Advocates for Americans held in Iran worried by Trump’s hard line


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Advocates for Americans imprisoned by Iranian authorities said on Friday they were concerned the Trump administration’s hard line on Iran would close off the chance for talks to secure the prisoners’ release.

In a major shift in U.S. policy, President Donald Trump announced he would not certify that Iran is complying with a 2015 nuclear deal and warned that he might ultimately terminate the agreement.

The administration also designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the dominant player in the country’s security, economy and politics, as a terrorist group, a move one expert said would make the group less willing to negotiate over the prisoners.

Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter who was detained by Iran for 18 months, said on Twitter that Trump’s Iran strategy “will only hurt American hostages being held in Iran.”

“I hope I‘m wrong, but it looks to me as though Americans being held hostage in #Iran were just abandoned by @realDonaldTrump,” Rezaian wrote, using Trump’s Twitter handle.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment. A State Department official said the United States calls for the “immediate release” of U.S. citizens held “unjustly” in Iran.

The seven known American citizens and permanent residents who have been detained in the last two years in Iran are businessman Siamak Namazi and his 81-year-old father Baquer Namazi; Princeton doctoral student Xiyue Wang; art gallery owner Karan Vafadari and his wife Afarin Niasari; Robin Reza Shahini, an Iranian-American from California; and Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese national with U.S. permanent residency.

“My biggest frustration is still the U.S. government has no plan for how to resolve this, and my husband has been in prison for 15 months,” Wang’s wife, Hua Qu, told Reuters.

She said the new U.S. sanctions made her “afraid” for her husband’s fate, because they show “that the relationship is deteriorating.”

FILE PHOTO: Jason Rezaian (2R), Washington Post reporter and one of the U.S. citizens recently released from detention in Iran, poses to media together with his wife Yeganeh Salehi (L) and mother Mary Rezaian outside the Emergency Room of the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) in the southwestern town of Landstuhl, Germany, January 20, 2016. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Wang was arrested in August 2016 while doing dissertation research and has been sentenced to 10 years in prison on espionage charges, allegations his family and university deny.

“I don’t know when the U.S. government is going to engage Iran,” Qu said. “He is living in this terror everyday. He is in despair.”

Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said on a conference call with reporters that designating the IRGC as a terrorist group would “make it far more difficult to have a direct line of communication with them.”

“The IRGC is going to be in much less of a mood to engage in a serious negotiation with the United States after this,” said Sadjadpour, a friend of Namazi.

In January 2016, the Obama administration secured the release of five Americans imprisoned in Iran by agreeing to a much-criticized prisoner swap after protracted direct talks with Iran.

In the months following the swap, the Iranian government arrested several more Americans. The IRGC is typically the entity that has detained and interrogated the Americans, according to their family members and human rights groups.

Jason Poblete, a U.S.-based attorney for Zakka, said the sanctions could be helpful “if it gets these parties talking to each other.”

He criticized the Obama administration’s approach to Iran as not being focussed enough on “the unconditional release of hostages.”

“Anything that moves us to speaking clearly with one another, which is what the president’s doing, is much better than all this flimsy talk that had been taking place until now,” Poblete said.

Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Washington; Additional reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and James Dalgleish


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Trump decertifies Iran nuclear deal, slaps sanctions on IRGC in broadside at ‘radical regime’


President Trump announced Friday he will decertify the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, saying he believes the “radical regime” has committed multiple violations of the agreement as he kicked a decision over whether to restore sanctions back to Congress.

“I am announcing today that we cannot and will not make this certification,” Trump said during a speech at the White House. “We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror, and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakthrough.”

Friday’s announcement does not withdraw the United States from the Iran deal, which the president called “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”

But the president threatened that he could still ultimately pull out of the deal.

“In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, the agreement will be terminated,” he said. “It is under continuous review and our participation can be canceled by me as president at any time.” 

Speaking to reporters ahead of Trump’s speech, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the president will use the Congressional Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act to decertify the agreement, which was negotiated over 18 months by the Obama administration.

Congress could then decide to restore sanctions, do nothing or make changes to the law. Trump is pressing Congress to work to fix the deal’s “flaws.” 


In making his decision, Trump said, “Iran is not living up to the spirit of the deal.” Among other alleged violations, Trump said Iran failed to meet expectations in its operation of advanced centrifuges and intimidated international inspectors into not using their full authority. 

The president also slammed sunset provisions in the deal itself, complaining that the U.S. got a “weak inspection” in exchange for a “short-term” delay in Iran’s nuclear progress. 

Trump, meanwhile, announced plans to take action against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, authorizing the Treasury Department to impose targeted sanctions against “its officials, agents, and affiliates.”

“Execution of our strategy begins with a long overdue step of imposing tough sanctions on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” Trump said. “The revolutionary guard is the Iranian supreme leader’s corrupt personal terror force and militia.”

In his broadside against the Iranian regime, the president said it “remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism,” accusing it of providing assistance to Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah and other terrorist networks.

The president accused Iran of developing missiles that threaten American troops and allies and imprisoning Americans “on false charges.”

“Given the regime’s murderous past and present, we should not take lightly its sinister vision for the future,” Trump said. “The regimes two favorite chants are ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel.’”

The president did not designate the IRGC a terrorist group, something that had been rumored ahead of the announcement. In the run-up to the decision, Iranian officials threatened consequences if that occurred.

“If the news is correct about the stupidity of the American government in considering the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group, then the Revolutionary Guards will consider the American army to be like Islamic State all around the world,” IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said Sunday, according to Reuters.

The National Resistance Council of Iran, an offshoot organization of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK), praised Trump’s move in support of the de-certification.

Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), welcomed the new U.S. policy to “condemn the IRGC’s gross violations of human rights” in Iran.

“The regime’s deadly meddling in the region and concessions made to it in the course of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) have been disastrous, and for which the people of Iran and the region have paid heavily,” Rajavi said in a statement provided to Fox News.

“The IRGC is a prime means of suppression, execution, and torture in Iran, spreading terrorism throughout the world, war mongering and massacre in the region, the drive for acquiring nuclear weapons, and the increase in the proliferation of ballistic missiles,” she said. “If the IRGC had been recognized as a terrorist entity earlier and dealt with accordingly, the current situation in the region in general, and Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Afghanistan in particular, would have been totally different.”

Trump had been facing a Sunday deadline to notify Congress whether Iran is complying with the accord.

Republicans are calling for new legislation that addresses the “flaws” of the agreement.

“Lawmakers need to do now what we couldn’t do two years ago: unite around an Iran strategy that truly stops Iran’s nuclear weapons program and empowers the United States and our allies to combat the full spectrum of Iran’s imperial aggression,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said in a statement.

Democrats accused the president of making matters worse. Former Obama administration official Ben Rhodes, who helped sell the Iran deal, said the president is “provoking” a crisis with his speech.

“Hard to overstate how irresponsible it is for Trump to risk blowing up Iran Deal by demanding rest of world justify his campaign rhetoric,” Rhodes tweeted.

Fox News’ Serafin Gomez, Mike Emanuel and Perry Chiaramonte and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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Tillerson: Trump will scorn but not bolt from Iran nuke deal


President Donald Trump will say on Friday the Iran nuclear deal is no longer in America’s national security interests, but he won’t withdraw from the landmark 2015 accord or immediately re-impose sanctions, U.S. officials said.

The announcement is essentially a compromise that allows Trump to condemn an accord that he has repeatedly denounced as the worst deal in American history. But he stops well short of torpedoing the pact, which was negotiated over 18 months by the Obama administration, European allies and others.

Instead, Trump will kick the issue over to Congress, asking lawmakers to come up with new legislation that would automatically re-impose sanctions should Iran cross any one of numerous nuclear and non-nuclear “trigger points,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said in remarks released ahead of Trump’s announcement.

Those “trigger points” would include violations of the deal involving illicit atomic work or ballistic missile testing, support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and other groups that destabilize the region, human rights abuses and cyber warfare, they said.

Congress will have 60 days to decide whether to snap the sanctions back into place, modify the law or do nothing. Any decision to re-impose sanctions would automatically kill America’s participation in the deal.

In a White House speech on Friday afternoon, Trump will notify Congress that he is “decertifying” the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, arguing that while Iran is complying with the letter of the agreement, the accord itself is not sufficient to be in U.S. interests.

“We don’t dispute that they’re under technical compliance,” Tillerson said. “We’ve said the agreement has a number of weaknesses in it, and, in fact, one of the weaknesses is the standard to remain in technical compliance is not that difficult, or has not been that difficult for them to meet.”

In remarks ahead of his address to a group of conservative voters, Trump previewed his position by calling Iran “a terrorist nation like few others” and urged his audience to listen in.

Both defenders of the Iran nuclear deal and critics are likely to be displeased by Trump’s decision. Those who support the deal believe Trump’s move will badly damage U.S. credibility in future international negotiations, while opponents think he does not go far enough in unraveling the accord.

Trump will urge lawmakers to codify tough new requirements for Tehran to continue to benefit from the sanctions relief that it won in exchange for curbing its atomic program, according to Tillerson. And he’ll announce his long-anticipated intent to impose sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps by designating it a terrorist organization under an existing executive order.

“The reckless behavior of the Iranian regime, and the IRGC in particular, poses one of the most dangerous threats to the interests of the United States and to regional stability,” the White House said in a statement. The statement denounced the Obama administration for its “myopic focus on Iran’s nuclear program to the exclusion of the regime’s many other malign activities” and said the same “mistakes” would not be repeated.

Ali Larijani, Iran’s parliament speaker, said Friday that any U.S. move against a nuclear deal with Iran would be an “insult” to the United Nations because the U.N. had given the deal its blessing.

He added that any revision of the deal would allow Iran to take its own actions, and warned that the U.S. move could destabilize the international situation.

“We will continue to adhere to our obligations … for as long as other parties observe the agreement,” he said on a visit to Russia.

In his speech, Trump also will ask Congress to amend or replace legislation that currently requires him to certify Iranian compliance every 90 days. Officials have said that Trump hates the requirement more than the nuclear deal itself because it forces him to take a position every three months on the deal. That frequency hassend also irritated aides who have complained that they are spending inordinate amounts of time on certification at the expense of other issues.

American allies, who have pressed the White House to remain in the nuclear accord, will be closely watching the president’s address. Trump wants to impress on the European parties to the accord — Germany, France and Britain — the importance of fixing what he sees as flaws in the nuclear accord and addressing malign behavior not covered in the agreement.

The Europeans, along with the other parties, Iran, Russia and China, have ruled out reopening the deal. But some, notably France, have signaled a willingness to tackle unresolved issues in supplementary negotiations.

Among those issues are the expiration of several restrictions on advanced nuclear activity under so-called “sunset clauses” that will allow Iran to begin ramping up its enrichment capabilities after 10 years, the end of an arms embargo and the eventual easing of demands for a halt to its missile program.

In the speech, Trump hopes to “recruit” the Europeans into joining his broad strategy, particularly by punishing the Revolutionary Guard, which he and his national security team believe is fomenting instability, violence and extremism throughout the Middle East and beyond, according to one official.

In anticipation of Trump’s announcements, Republican legislators have drawn up a new version of the law replacing the current 90-day timetable with “semi-annual” certifications, according to drafts seen by the Associated Press this week.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker said in a statement on Friday that his panel had agreed to fresh certification criteria to include items that are also the province of the U.N. nuclear watchdog and require the U.S. intelligence community to determine if Iran is carrying out illicit activity in facilities to which the International Atomic Energy Agency has not had access.


Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.


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Trump Refuses To Recertify The Iran Deal & Announces His New Strategy


Trump Refuses To Recertify The Iran Deal & Announces His New Strategy

For weeks, President Trump has teased his intent to decertify the Iran nuclear deal (more formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or “JCPOA”) and pass the issue onto Congress, and on Friday, Trump’s plans became clearer with a teleprompted speech that was likely penned by Stephen Miller. The speech followed a morning announcement by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who stated that Trump had decided not to altogether withdraw from the deal — which limits Iran’s development of nuclear weapons — and this was an accurate report, but Trump added some drama.

Trump ultimately declared that the U.S. “cannot make this certification” (as the White House has done twice previously) because “Iran is not living up to the spirit of the deal,” and he announced a new strategy that sets out four main goals from the U.S. Trump emphasized the fourth objective with a flourish:

1. Work with allies to counter Iran’s destabilizing activity and support for terrorist activities;
2. Block the financing of terrorist proxies and missions in the region;
3. Address the Iran regime’s proliferation of missiles that hinder trade and navigation from other countries;
4. Deny the regime all paths to a nuclear weapon.

In addition, Trump slammed JCPOA as “one of the worst and most one-sided” deals that the U.S. has ever joined, but he conceded that “what’s done is done” while expressing disapproval at how the U.S. spent upfront money on the deal.

As Tillerson has already detailed, Trump will now pass the deal to Congress for reevaluation. He didn’t place a time limit on the process, but this can end in a few ways: (1) Congress will take no action, and the U.S. stays in the deal; or (2) Congress will place additional sanctions against Iran, which could eventually sink the deal if Iran or another country decides to leave JCPOA.

Yet in his speech, Trump ruled out option #1 by vowing to take further action and end the deal if Congress doesn’t take satisfactory action. “In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated,” he said.

Ahead of Trump’s speech and after Tillerson’s statements, The Independent reported that a commander within Iran’s Revolutionary Guard essentially threatened to “bury” Trump and America:

“We are not a war-mongering country. But any military action against Iran will be regretted … Trump’s threats against Iran will damage America … We have buried many … like Trump and know how to fight against America.”

Meanwhile, the European Union has declared their collective intent to remain in the deal. You can watch Trump’s full speech below.

(Via CBS News, C-Span & The Independent)


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Iran nuclear deal: Trump ‘will not sign off agreement’


Activists protest in front of the White House October 12, 2017Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Protesters outside the White House have urged Donald Trump to back the deal

US President Donald Trump will accuse Iran of failing to comply with an international nuclear deal, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Mr Trump will refuse to certify the deal and refer it to Congress, he told reporters.

Such a move would not mean a US withdrawal from the deal that freezes Iran’s nuclear programme, but it is part of a tougher strategy on Iran.

President Trump was due to speak from the White House at 16:45 GMT.

He is under pressure at home and abroad not to scrap the seven-country deal agreed in 2015, under which Iran has halted its nuclear programme in return for the partial lifting of sanctions.

In his speech, Mr Trump is expected to accuse Tehran of pursuing “death and destruction”.

It is thought he will also focus on its non-nuclear activities, particularly those of the Revolutionary Guards (RIG), which has been accused of supporting terrorism.

What exactly is Mr Trump proposing?

During the presidential election campaign in 2016, Mr Trump pledged to throw out the agreement concluded under his predecessor, Barack Obama.

But senior cabinet officials advised him not to as Iran was abiding by its terms, so Mr Trump has opted for a middle road, reports the BBC’s Barbara Plett Usher in Washington.

Image copyright

Image caption

Worshippers shouted anti-US slogans during Friday prayers in Tehran

Mr Trump was due to say the agreement did not meet certain conditions of US law, but he would let Congress decide its fate, Mr Tillerson said.

Congress could choose to pull out of the deal, but Mr Tillerson said the administration would advise it instead to establish guidelines under which the US could automatically re-impose sanctions: trigger points, he called them.

The Trump administration wants to broaden Iran policy beyond the nuclear deal. This, said Mr Tillerson, would include sanctioning members of the powerful Revolutionary Guards force for supporting militant groups and terrorist activities.

What does the Trump administration want to change about the deal?

Among the changes it is seeking is the end to the “sunset” clauses in the deal, one of which sees restrictions on Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme lifted after 2025, greater access to nuclear sites and the inclusion of Iran’s ballistic missile programme.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionA timeline of what Trump’s said about the Iran deal

Why is Trump speaking now?

Under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (Ingra), Congress requires the US president to certify every 90 days that Iran is upholding its part of the nuclear agreement.

Mr Trump has already recertified it twice and has a deadline of Sunday to make his latest report back.

Refusal to recertify would give Congress 60 days to decide whether to pull out of the nuclear deal by re-imposing sanctions.

What is the background to this tougher stance?

A strategy paper released by the White House highlights calls for neutralising Iran’s “destabilising influence and constraining its aggression, particularly its support for terrorism and militants”.

The US, it says, will work to revitalise traditional alliances and regional partnerships as “bulwarks against Iranian subversion”.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionPresident Trump and Iran’s President Rouhani traded insults at the UN

Efforts will be made to deny funding for the Iranian government and the RIG’s “malign activities” and counter threats from ballistic missiles “and other asymmetric weapons”.

The nuclear deal does not comprehensively cover the missile development programmes, and last month Iran successfully tested a new-medium range missile with a 2,000km (1,200-mile) range.

The IRGC’s “gross violations of human rights” will be highlighted to the rest of the world,” the strategy paper says.

“Most importantly, we will deny the Iranian regime all paths to a nuclear weapon.”

What will Trump do about the deal?

What do other key players say?

Foreign leaders, including UK Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron, have urged Mr Trump to keep the deal.

“We also have to tell the Americans that their behaviour on the Iran issue will drive us Europeans into a common position with Russia and China against the USA,” German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned in a newspaper interview.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that US withdrawal from the nuclear deal would “damage the atmosphere of predictability, security, stability and non-proliferation in the entire world”.

Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt said a US withdrawal from the deal would show it could not be relied upon and could have ramifications elsewhere, for example on efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.

The IAEA and Congress currently both agree Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear agreement.

What is Iran’s position?

The speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ali Larijani, said on a visit to Russia that a US withdrawal from the deal would signal its end.

He warned that the collapse of the deal could result in global chaos, Russian media report.

What is the nuclear deal?

Formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it is designed to prevent Iran developing a nuclear weapon.

It lifted some sanctions that stopped Iran from trading on international markets and selling oil.

The lifting of sanctions is dependent on Iran restricting its nuclear programme. It must curb its uranium stockpile, build no more heavy-water reactors for 15 years and allow inspectors into the country.

Who are the Revolutionary Guards?

Set up shortly after the 1979 Iranian revolution to defend the country’s Islamic system, they provide a counterweight to the regular armed forces.

They are a major military, political and economic force in Iran, with some 125,000 active members, and oversee strategic weapons.

They have been accused of supporting Shia Muslim militants in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria.


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Trump expected to make U.S. move against Iran nuclear deal


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to strike a blow against the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement on Friday in defiance of other world powers, choosing not to certify that Tehran is complying with the deal in a major reversal of U.S. policy.

While Trump is unlikely to pull the United States out of the agreement, aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, he is expected to give the U.S. Congress 60 days to decide whether to reimpose economic sanctions on Tehran that were lifted under the pact.

That would increase tension with Iran as well as put Washington at odds with other signatories of the accord such as include Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union.

Trump is set to present a tough new strategy against Iran in a 12:45 p.m. EDT (1645 GMT) speech at the White House, the product of weeks of internal discussions between him and his national security team and which will also include a more aggressive approach to the growing Iranian influence in the Middle East.

“It is time for the entire world to join us in demanding that Iran’s government end its pursuit of death and destruction,” Trump said in a White House statement that flagged key elements of the strategy.

U.S. officials said Trump was expected to announce that he will not certify to Congress that Iran is complying with the accord, one he has called the “worst deal ever” as it was not, in his view, in the U.S. national interest.

Michael McCaul, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, told Reuters he thinks Trump “is likely to not completely pull out of the deal, but decertify compliance.”

If Washington quits the deal, that will be the end of it and global chaos could ensue, Iran’s influential parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, was quoted by the Russian news agency TASS as saying during a visit to St Petersburg on Friday.


U.N. nuclear inspectors say Iran is in compliance with the accord, which limited the scope of Iran’s nuclear programme to help ensure it could not be put to developing bombs in exchange for a lifting of international sanctions on Tehran.

Trump says Tehran is in violation of the spirit of the agreement and has done nothing to rein in its ballistic missile programme or its financial and military support for the Lebanese Shi‘ite movement Hezbollah and other militant groups.

Trump found himself under immense pressure as he considered de-certifying the deal, a move that would ignore warnings from inside and outside his administration that to do so would risk undermining U.S. credibility abroad.

He had formally reaffirmed it twice before but aides said he was reluctant to do so a third time. The deal was negotiated under Trump’s predecessor, former President Barack Obama.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said on Thursday the U.S. approach towards Iran is to work with allies in the Middle East to contain Tehran’s activities.

FILE PHOTO: Women hold anti-U.S. banners during a demonstration outside the former U.S. embassy in Tehran November 4, 2015. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/TIMA/File Photo

“We have footprints on the ground, naval and Air Force is there to just demonstrate our resolve, our friendship, and try to deter anything that any country out there may do,” Kelly told reporters.

European allies warn of a split with the United States over the nuclear agreement, in part because they benefit economically from a relaxation of sanctions.

The leaders of Britain and France have personally appealed to Trump to re-certify the nuclear accord for the sake of allied unity.

Germany’s government pledged on Friday to work for continued unity if Trump de-certified the deal as Berlin remain convinced the agreement was an important tool to prevent Iran developing nuclear weapons.

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel underlined German views in a telephone call with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson late on Thursday, his spokeswoman Maria Adebahr told reporters.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that if the United States ditched the nuclear pact, “this will damage the atmosphere of predictability, security, stability and non-proliferation in the entire world”.


McCaul said he expected Trump also to announce some kind of action against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IGRC), the country’s most powerful security entity. Trump is under a legal mandate to impose U.S. economic sanctions on the Revolutionary Guards as a whole by Oct. 31 or waive them.

U.S. sanctions could seriously hurt the IRGC as it controls large swaths of Iran’s economy. The Guards’ foreign paramilitary and espionage wing, the Quds Force, is under U.S. sanctions, as is the Quds Force commander, other officials and associated individuals and entities.

The deputy Quds commander, Brigadier-General Esmail Ghaani, was quoted by Iran’ Tasnim news agency on Friday as saying Trump’s threats would “damage” the United States.

“We are not a war-mongering country. But any military action against Iran will be regretted…We have buried many…like Trump and know how to fight against America,” Ghaani said.

Israel, Iran’s arch-adversary in the Middle East, welcomed Trump’s anticipated announcement on Friday but voiced doubt that the tougher tack by Washington could turn around the Islamic Republic.

The International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that Iran secretly researched a nuclear warhead until 2009, which Tehran denies. Iran has always insisted its uranium enrichment activity is for civilian energy purposes, not for atomic bombs.

The threat of new U.S. action has prompted a public display of unity from rival factions among Iran’s rulers.

Reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Steve Holland and Jonathan Landay in Washington; additional reporting by Warren Strobel in Washington, Andrea Shalal in Berlin, Dmitry Solovyov in Moscow, Parisa Hafezi in Ankara and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Alistair Bell


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Trump resists pressure to soften stance on Iran nuclear deal


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump finds himself under immense pressure as he considers de-certifying the international nuclear deal with Iran, a move that would ignore warnings from inside and outside his administration that to do so would risk undermining U.S. credibility.

Trump is expected to unveil a broad strategy on confronting Iran this week, likely on Friday. There was always the chance he could still have a last-minute change of heart and certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 accord, which he has called an “embarrassment” and the “worst deal ever negotiated.”

Senior U.S. officials, European allies and prominent U.S. lawmakers have told Trump that refusing to certify the deal would leave the U.S. isolated, concede the diplomatic high ground to Tehran, and ultimately risk the unravelling of the agreement.

Signed by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, the European Union and Iran, the deal relieved sanctions on Tehran in exchange for curbing its disputed nuclear programme.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concluded that Iran secretly researched a nuclear warhead until 2009, which Tehran denies. Iran has always insisted that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes and denies it has aimed to build an atomic bomb.

After Trump made clear three months ago he would not certify Iran’s compliance with the deal, his advisers moved to give him options to consider, a senior administration official said.

“They came up with a plan that protects the things they are concerned about but doesn’t recertify, which the president made clear he was not going to do. That ship has sailed,” according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official said Trump has been telling foreign leaders and U.S. lawmakers that his refusal to certify the Iran deal would not blow it up.

“He’s not walking away from it. The chances of him walking away from it go down if they work with him on making it better,” the official said.

White House officials said Trump is expected to announce a broad, more confrontational policy towards Iran directed at curbing its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and financial and military support for Hezbollah and other extremist groups.

Trump has said he believes the nuclear deal is too generous towards Iran and would not stop it from trying to develop a nuclear weapon.

He has criticized the agreement’s “sunset clauses,” under which some restrictions on Iran’s nuclear programme would expire over time. He also wants to toughen language on ballistic missiles and inspections. The International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran is complying with the agreement.


European officials have categorically ruled out renegotiating the deal, but have said they share Trump’s concerns over Iran’s destabilising influence in the Middle East.

Several diplomats have said Europe would be ready to discuss sanctioning Iran’s ballistic missile tests and forming a strategy to curb Iran’s influence in the region.

Officials have also said there could be room to open a new negotiation for what happens once some of the core terms of the deal begin expiring in 2025, although there is no reason to believe Iran would be ready to enter in such a negotiation. Iran has said it may exit the deal if the U.S. withdraws.

De-certifying would not withdraw the United States from the deal but it would give the U.S. Congress 60 days to decide whether to reimpose the sanctions on Tehran that were suspended under the agreement.

One U.S. official involved in administration said that declining to certify Iran’s compliance would probably leave all of the parties to the deal on one side and the United States on the other.

“That means that while the French and others are also interested in curbing Iran’s destabilising activities, they may be less likely to follow (the U.S.) lead at the risk of the agreement blowing up,” the official said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron both spoke to Trump this week to express their concerns about the potential decision not to recertify the Iran deal.

“If the feeling is that the United States no longer supports the agreement, then the political reality is that the agreement will be in serious jeopardy and its implementation will be very difficult,” a senior French diplomat said.

Two other U.S. officials, who also requested anonymity, said Trump’s bellicose rhetoric on a number of fronts is troubling both many of his own aides and some of America’s closest allies, a few of whom have asked U.S. officials privately if Trump’s real objective is attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities.

One of the officials said that like the heated rhetoric with North Korea on its nuclear programme, the Iran discussion has vexed White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “who have tried to advise the President that there are significant risks in the course he’d prefer to pursue.”

“At the end of the day, though, everyone recognises that he’s the decider.”

Trump allies who oppose the deal have watched the president closely to see if he might buckle under pressure.

    “He’s not going to re-certify,” said Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump national security aide. “I‘m not worried. His gut instinct is absolutely right.”

Reporting by Steve Holland and John Walcott; additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Editing by Caren Bohan, Yara Bayoumy and Grant McCool


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Fearing Trump torpedo, Europe scrambles to save Iran deal


BERLIN/PARIS (Reuters) – European countries are scrambling to cobble together a package of measures they hope will keep the Iran nuclear deal on track if U.S. President Donald Trump ignores their pleas and decertifies the landmark 2015 agreement this week.

The package would include a strong statement backing the deal by European powers, together with efforts to lobby the U.S. Congress and put wider pressure on Iran, officials said.

But without strong U.S. support for the deal, senior officials in Berlin, Paris and London say it may be only a matter of time before the pact between Tehran and six world powers unravels, with grave consequences for Middle East security, nonproliferation efforts and transatlantic ties.

The two-year-old agreement, under which Iran agreed to freeze its nuclear programme for 15 years in exchange for sanctions relief, is viewed in Europe as a rare triumph of international diplomacy in the Middle East.

As tensions over North Korea’s nuclear activities risk boiling over into all-out war, any move by the United States to undermine the Iran deal is seen in Europe as utter folly.

European capitals have been delivering this message to the White House and Congress in one of the most intense lobbying campaigns in recent memory. In the past weeks, European ambassadors have met dozens of U.S. lawmakers. And on Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May lobbied Trump by phone.

Despite this, Trump is expected declare this week that Iran is not complying with the pact. He is also due to unveil a tough new strategy towards Iran – including designating its Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organisation – that could sink the deal.

“If the feeling is the United States no longer supports the agreement then the political reality is that the deal will be in serious jeopardy and its implementation will be very difficult,” a senior French diplomat told Reuters.

A decision by Trump to decertify would not automatically kill the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The expectation is that Trump would kick the ball to Congress, which would then have 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions lifted as part of the JCPOA.


European officials said they were preparing a three-pronged strategy if this does occur.

First, Berlin, London and Paris would issue statements reaffirming their commitment to the deal.

Second, they would redouble efforts to lobby Congress, which appears keen to keep the deal, against any rash moves.

And third, they would present measures to pressure Iran over its ballistic missile programme and destabilising policies in the Middle East — areas that fall outside the narrowly-focused nuclear deal.

French President Emmanuel Macron alluded to this at the United Nations last month. Diplomats said the package was still in the works and they had not yet briefed Brussels on it.

With the third step, the Europeans hope to build a bridge to Washington while keeping the JCPOA intact. But a German diplomat said ratcheting up pressure on Tehran was like walking a tightrope: push too hard and the whole deal could fall apart.

FILE PHOTO: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif addresses during a joint news conference with High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini (L) after a plenary session at the United Nations building in Vienna, Austria July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

“We all knew the JCPOA wasn’t perfect, but by calling its benefits into question I see us only losing,” said a senior European diplomat who has been involved in negotiations with Iran since 2003, well before Washington joined the talks under President Barack Obama.

If Trump follows through on his threats it will be the second time in four months that he has distanced the United States from a major multilateral agreement despite intense lobbying by partners and members of his own cabinet.

But in Europe, the Iran move would be seen as far more damaging than Trump’s decision in June to pull out of the Paris climate accord.

“The threat from Iran in terms of nuclear proliferation is more immediate. This is far more dangerous,” said Elmar Brok, a veteran foreign policy expert in the European Parliament and party ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

European officials and analysts fear a breakdown of the JCPOA could lead to an arms race in the Middle East, a military conflict between Iran and Israel and an escalation of regional proxy wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

They fear it would also doom any chances, no matter how slim, for a negotiated deal with North Korea.


“At the end of the day it’s all about the risk of war,” said Francois Heisbourg, chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

There is also the danger of a further deterioration in transatlantic ties, especially if Washington targets European firms that do business in Iran.

Were that to happen, the EU ambassador to Washington, David O‘Sullivan, has said Brussels would revert to a 1990s-era law that shields European companies from extraterritorial sanctions.

Even if the EU were to take such a step, the senior French diplomat said European companies could think twice about their Iran commitments.

Among firms that have announced big deals in Iran since the JCPOA went into force are planemaker Airbus, French energy group Total and Germany’s Siemens.

“One of the big difficulties of the agreement is ensuring the economic operators have confidence in the system and key to that is confidence in the United States,” the diplomat said.

Any signs that European companies are pulling back could prompt the Iranians to reassess the merits of the nuclear deal.

“The agreement with Iran is like a delicate plant,” said Omid Nouripour, an Iranian-born lawmaker with the German Greens party, which is expected to be part of Merkel’s next coalition government.

“It is a sign of what diplomacy can achieve but it is fragile. The American president doesn’t appear to believe in diplomacy. He seems intent on crushing this plant.”

Writing by Noah Barkin; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Berlin and Robin Emmott in Brussels; Editing by Giles Elgood


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Al Qaeda affiliate mining uranium to send to Iran, Somali official warns US ambassador


An Al Qaeda affiliate has seized control of uranium mines in Africa with the intent of supplying the material to Iran, according to a diplomatic letter from a top Somali official appealing to the U.S. for “immediate military assistance.”

The letter, reviewed by Fox News, was addressed to U.S. Ambassador to Somalia Stephen Schwartz. Somalia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ahmed Awad confirmed to Fox News on Thursday that the letter “has indeed been issued” by Minister of Foreign Affairs Yusuf Garaad Omar, whose signature is on the document.

The Aug. 11-dated letter delivered an urgent warning to the U.S. that the al-Shabaab terror network has linked up with the regional ISIS faction and is “capturing territory” in the central part of the country. 


‘Every day that passes without intervention provides America’s enemies with additional material for nuclear weapons.’

– Letter from Somalia’s foreign minister to U.S. ambassador

“This issue can be summed up in a single word: uranium,” the letter said. “Al-Shabaab forces have captured critical surface exposed uranium deposits in the Galmudug region and are strip mining triuranium octoxide for transport to Iran.” 

For the Trump administration, the warning represents yet another potential security threat, as the U.S. government simultaneously grapples with a nuclear standoff with North Korea, the prospect of a stalemate in Afghanistan and ISIS activity across the Middle East and North Africa.

But the letter said “now is not the time to look away,” urging the U.S. ambassador to consider the request for intelligence and military assistance. 

“Only the United States has the capacity to identify and smash Al-Shabaab elements operating within our country. The time for surgical strikes and limited engagement has passed, as Somalia’s problems have metastasized into the World’s problems,” the letter said. “Every day that passes without intervention provides America’s enemies with additional material for nuclear weapons. There can be no doubt that global stability is at stake.” 

The State Department would not comment on the diplomatic letter, but did not dispute its authenticity and referred Fox News to the government of Somalia. Iran was supposed to pull back on its nuclear program under the terms of the agreement struck with the Obama administration.

Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.

Jake Gibson is a producer working at the Fox News Washington bureau who covers politics, law enforcement and intelligence issues.


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Iran rejects U.S. demand for U.N. visit to military sites


ANKARA (Reuters) – Iran has dismissed a U.S. demand for United Nations nuclear inspectors to visit its military bases as “merely a dream”.

It also said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was unlikely to agree anyway.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, last week pressed the IAEA to seek access to Iranian military bases to ensure that they were not concealing activities banned by the 2015 nuclear deal reached between Iran and six major powers.

U.S. President Donald Trump has called the nuclear pact — negotiated under his predecessor Barack Obama — “the worst deal ever”. In April, he ordered a review of whether a suspension of nuclear sanctions on Iran was in the U.S. interest.

Iranian government spokesman Mohammad Baqer Nobakht responded at a weekly news conference broadcast on state television on Tuesday.

“Iran’s military sites are off limits,” he said. “All information about these sites are classified. Iran will never allow such visits. Don’t pay attention to such remarks that are only a dream.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani followed up later by saying the U.S. call was unlikely to be accepted by the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

“The International Atomic Energy Agency is very unlikely to accept America’s demand to inspect our military sites,” Rouhani said in a televised interview.

Rouhani gave no indication why he believed the IAEA would decline the request. Under the deal, the IAEA can request access to Iranian sites including military ones if it has concerns about activities there that violate the agreement, but it must show Iran the basis for those concerns.

That means new and credible information pointing to such a violation is required first, officials from the agency and major powers say. There is no indication that Washington has presented such information to back up its call for inspections of Iranian military sites.


Under U.S. law, the State Department must notify Congress every 90 days of Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal. The next deadline is October, and Trump has said he thinks by then the United States will declare Iran to be non-compliant.

So far, IAEA inspectors have certified that Iran is fully complying with the deal, under which it significantly reduced its enriched uranium stockpile and took steps to ensure no possible use of it for a nuclear weapon.

This was in return for an end to international sanctions that had helped cripple its oil-based economy.

During its decade-long stand-off with world powers over its nuclear programme, Iran repeatedly rejected visits by U.N. inspectors to its military sites, saying they had nothing to do with nuclear activity and so were beyond the IAEA’s purview.

Shortly after the deal was reached, Iran allowed inspectors to check its Parchin military complex, where Western security services believe Tehran carried out tests relevant to nuclear bomb detonations more than a decade ago. Iran has denied this.

Under the 2015 accord, Iran could not get sanctions relief until the IAEA was satisfied Tehran had answered outstanding questions about the so-called “possible military dimensions” of its past nuclear research.

Iran has placed its military bases off limits also because of what it calls the risk that IAEA findings could find their way to the intelligence services of its U.S. or Israeli foes.

“The Americans will take their dream of visiting our military and sensitive sites to their graves … It will never happen,” Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s highest authority, told reporters.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Additional reporting by Francois Murphy and Shadia Nasrallah in Vienna; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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