Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cancelled a scheduled meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in order to go to Baghdad on a sudden unannounced visit. His purpose was to warn Iraq’s leaders about a “very specific” threat of Iranian attacks which, he said, “were imminent.” Secretary Pompeo told reporters after his meetings that he wanted assurances that Iraq is “able to adequately protect Americans in their country." Secretary Pompeo’s warning followed the deployment of a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group to the Middle East. The Pentagon has also sent nuclear-capable B-52s to the region.
There are approximately 5,200 U.S. troops currently in Iraq, who the Iranian regime has declared are legitimate targets. The regime has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, which is a vital navigation route for the shipments of global oil. Israel had also reportedly passed on intelligence to the United States within the last couple of weeks of an Iranian plan to attack either U.S. or U.S.-allied interests in the Gulf.
The Trump administration decided, along with the ratcheting up of its sanctions against Iran, that a strong military presence in the region is the best deterrence. The administration is positioning the United States to be fully prepared to protect the interests of the U.S. and its allies in the region against any aggression the Iranians may decide to launch themselves or through their proxies. Secretary Pompeo’s visit to Iraq was meant to convey personally the need for Iraq to do its part in preventing the Iran-backed militias in the country from attacking U.S. forces stationed in Iraq.
"The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or regular Iranian forces," U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said in a statement last Sunday. The latest U.S. military deployments were intended, he said, “to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”
It has been a year since President Trump pulled the United States out of the disastrous Obama-negotiated nuclear deal with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The other parties to the JCPOA - China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom – have remained in the deal. However, the Iranian regime is getting impatient with the Europeans for allegedly not fulfilling their supposed economic commitments while the Trump administration has imposed escalating sanctions that are crippling Iran’s economy.
The administration’s oil sanctions have been strengthened to the point that no more waivers to countries still purchasing oil from Iran will be granted. This means that countries that continue purchasing oil from Iran will face U.S. sanctions of their own. The Trump administration has also designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism while also controlling vast sectors of the Iranian economy, as a foreign terrorist organization. Any individual or company subject to U.S. jurisdiction doing business with any individuals or entities affiliated with any part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and/or the vast pieces of the Iranian economy it controls may find itself in serious legal jeopardy under U.S. law.
The Iranian economy’s free-fall is accelerating with even more U.S. sanctions being imposed. As a result, the Iranian regime’s leaders are lashing out in all directions, including military threats as well as steps to lay the groundwork for resuming their nuclear enrichment program at any level they wish.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted after meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that the “JCPOA is in critical condition bec (sic) of US - and Europe's failure to uphold its obligations. EU/E3 must step up for JCPOA to survive.” Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said in a speech on Wednesday that Iran no longer considered itself bound by its commitments regarding limits on the storage of enriched uranium and heavy water stocks. These are the building blocks for producing nuclear weapons. Moreover, he warned that Iran would resume high level uranium enrichment if the remaining parties to the JCPOA do not act to protect Iran’s banking and oil sectors within the next 60 days. "If the five countries came to the negotiating table and we reached an agreement, and if they could protect our interests in the oil and banking sectors, we will go back to square one (and will resume our commitments)," he said. President Rouhani also tweeted: “The EU/E3+2 will face Iran's further actions if they can not (sic) fulfill their obligations within the next 60 days and secure Iran's interests.”
Secretary of State Pompeo called Iran’s announcement “intentionally ambiguous” at a news conference in London with British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, following his Iraq visit. Secretary Pompeo added that for now the U.S. would “have to wait and see what Iran’s actions actually are.”
While Russia and China are backing Iran and blaming the United States, the Western European countries still in the JCPOA may re-impose their own sanctions against Iran if Iran does resume its high level nuclear enrichment and other activities banned by the JCPOA. At his news conference with Secretary Pompeo, British Foreign Secretary Hunt warned Iran’s leaders of “consequences” if they break the nuclear deal.
Ben Rhodes, Barack Obama’s former Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications who now is the co-chair of a group calling itself National Security Action, is very upset that the disastrous nuclear deal he so vigorously promoted is unraveling. Rhodes re-tweeted on his own twitter account the following tweet sent by his group: “The Trump administration has goaded Iran into escalation across realms: politically, economically, and, with Bolton’s recent saber-rattling, even militarily. We’re now in a confrontation that’s entirely needless because the Iran deal was working…”
Rhodes is spinning now, just as he did when he was selling Obama’s nuclear deal to Congress and the American people with smoke and mirrors. The JCPOA worked only to serve Iran’s interests.
Perhaps the biggest flaw in the deal is the lack of effective international inspection mechanisms to verify Iran's full compliance with the JCPOA. Rhodes overpromised on this issue back in April 2015 when he said that under the nuclear deal, which was the still being negotiated, “you will have anywhere, anytime, 24/7 access as it relates to the nuclear facilities that Iran has.” He added that “if we see a site that we need to inspect on a military facility, we can get access to that site and inspect it. So if it's a suspicious site that we believe is related to its nuclear efforts, we can get access and inspect that site through the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency].” That turned out to be wishful thinking at best. The fact is that the Obama administration caved on the inspection issue in the face of Iran’s demands, including that its military sites were off limits to outside inspectors unless Iran agreed otherwise. After the nuclear deal was finalized in July 2015 without the access guarantees that Rhodes had promised, Rhodes shamelessly raised a red herring. “We never sought in this negotiation the capacity for so-called anytime, anywhere where you can basically go anywhere in the country, look at whatever you wanted to do, that had nothing to do with the nuclear program,” Rhodes said. There is no such access for activities that have everything to do with Iran's nuclear program.
The Iranians have made sure that the UN’s IAEA inspectors are not able to freely visit Iran’s military sites for unannounced inspections. Work on nuclear explosive trigger devices appears to have taken place at one or more of such off-limits military sites in the past. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano has admitted that when it comes to the IAEA’s capacity to check whether Iran was still conducting work on nuclear explosive device technology, which the JCPOA prohibits, his agency’s “tools are limited.”
The Obama administration also made a last-minute concession by agreeing to keep out of the text of the nuclear deal itself any prohibitions on Iranian testing of ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear weapons. The Obama administration’s explanation was that the missiles had become a separate issue, to be dealt with under a United Nations Security Council resolution endorsing the nuclear deal that has turned out to be toothless. Iran has brazenly tested ballistic missiles since then, including missiles with the phrase “Israel must be wiped out” emblazoned on the sides. And Obama granted Iran relief upfront from the economic sanctions that had brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. Iran has used the freed up monies, together with the cash ransom it received for releasing several American hostages, to finance its global terrorist network led by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The Obama administration was even weaker than a paper tiger. The Trump administration, on the other hand, is tenacious. It will not let up its maximum pressure on the rogue Iranian regime and will not accept mere words on a piece of paper with enough loopholes to fire a missile through.