The Iran nuclear deal - What's Your Point? October 15, 2017

- The panelists this week include Bob Price - associate editor for Breitbart Texas, Wayne Dolcefino - media consultant, Tony Diaz - educator and Chicano activist, Nyanza Moore - Houston attorney and progressive commentator, Marcus Davis, radio host of "Sunday Morning Live", and Republican strategist Jessica Colon join host Greg Groogan for a lively discussion regarding President Trump's refusal to certify Iran nuclear deal.

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - President Donald Trump's refusal to certify the Iran nuclear deal has sparked a new war of words between the Islamic Republic and America, fueling growing mistrust and a sense of nationalism among Iranians.

The speech has served to unite Iranians across the political spectrum - fed also by anger over Trump's refusal to refer to the Persian Gulf, the waterway through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes, by name.

The reaction is undercutting those trying to change Iran's clerically overseen government from within, and likely will strengthen the hand of hard-liners who long have insisted the U.S. remains the same "Great Satan" denounced in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

"Under the deal, it was supposed to be that we get concessions, not that we give more concessions," the hard-line newspaper Kayhan raged.

Iranian officials and media outlets on Saturday uniformly condemned Trump for accusing Iran of violating the spirit of the 2015 accord and calling on Congress to toughen the law governing U.S. participation. Trump said he was not ready to pull out of the deal but warned he would do so if it were not improved.

In a televised speech shortly after Trump made his announcement, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country would remain in the deal, but criticized Trump's words, referring to them as "cursing and futile accusations."

Rouhani also said Iran would continue to build and test ballistic missiles, something allowed under the nuclear deal though Americans believe it violates the accord's spirit.

"We have always been determined, and today we are more determined," Rouhani said. "We will double our efforts from now on."

The Iranian president also offered a list of moments that showed the United States could not be trusted by the average Iranian, dating back to the 1953 CIA-backed coup that cemented U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's power.

Like many others in Iran, Rouhani focused on the fact that Trump used the term "Arabian Gulf" to refer to the Persian Gulf. Some traded online video clips of past American presidents calling it the Persian Gulf, while one semi-official news agency published a photo gallery with the title "Persian Gulf forever."

Posts with (hashtag)PersianGulf and the Iranian flag circulated on social media.

The name of the body of water has become an emotive issue for Iranians who embrace their country's long history as the Persian Empire, especially as U.S. Gulf Arab allies and the American military now call it the "Arabian Gulf." Rouhani even suggested during his speech that Trump needed to "study geography."

"Everyone knew Trump's friendship was for sale to the highest bidder. We now know that his geography is, too," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter.

Zarif went on, with sarcasm, to mention Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, all hereditarily ruled Gulf nations, writing: "No wonder supporters of Trump's inane Iran speech are those bastions of democracy in the Persian Gulf."

Later in the day, Zarif said in a televised interview that "Trump and the U.S. are not in a position to certify Iran's compliance to its commitments" under the deal.

Zarif said the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is the only authorized body for certification of the deal.

"Any time that the Islamic Republic feels activities are not enough in lifting sanctions, it can have its own options, and one of them is quitting the deal," he said.

Reformist activist Mostafa Tajzadeh, who spent seven years in prison following the turmoil of the 2009 disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also urged a united stance against Trump.

"One nation, one message: No to (hashtag)Trump. We're all in this together," Tajzadeh tweeted.

Recent surveys have said an increasing majority of Iranians are skeptical that the U.S. will live up to its obligations in the nuclear deal. Meanwhile, most have yet to see the benefits of the deal itself as Iran's economy still struggles to overcome rampant inflation, few jobs and bad loans to its banks.

"Iran has in no way violated the nuclear deal, and as far as we know it has always remained committed to its promises, but it has always been (the Americans) who have broken their promises and have had other options on the table," Tehran resident Hamed Ghassemi said.

The U.S. has also levied new sanctions against Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, whose forces fight the Islamic State group in Iraq, support embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, have tense encounters with U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf and run the country's ballistic missile program.

However, the U.S. has balked at adding the Guard's name to a formal State Department list of foreign terrorist organizations. That could have proven problematic, especially with the Guard's vast economic holdings across Iran.

Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, a Guard commander and spokesman for Iran's joint armed forces staff, said late Friday that the country's military will continue boosting its power and influence.

"We tell the corrupt and evil government of the U.S. that we will continue promoting defensive power of the country, more determined and with more motive than before," Jazayeri was quoted as saying by the Guard's news website. "We do not spare a while for defending suppressed people in any point of the world."

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - U.S. President Donald Trump angered Iran with his speech on refusing to re-certify the nuclear deal, but Tehran is unlikely to walk away from the agreement in retaliation.

Brinksmanship aside, Iran needs to sell its oil on the international market as allowed by the atomic accord. And politically, Trump's speech helps the same hard-liners America's president says he wants to target, offering them a convenient punching bag as many Iranians took his words as a personal insult.

"Iran relents when it faces international unity and lacks domestic unity," wrote Karim Sadjadpour, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "Trump is unifying Iran internally, splintering international unity."

In particular, Trump's insistence on using the term "Arabian Gulf" in place of the Persian Gulf riled the Iranian public. Online, Iranians shared historical maps and videos of former U.S. presidents all calling it the Persian Gulf. Many saw it as a nod to the Gulf Arab states of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two major U.S. allies that long have criticized the nuclear deal.

The comments could also be seen as validating Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's longtime warnings against trusting the U.S. or expanding negotiations beyond the narrow scope of Iran's nuclear program.

Since Trump's speech, which puts the burden on Congress to decide the nuclear deal's fate, Iranian officials have threatened that they too could decide to unilaterally walk away.

"If someday our interests are not realized and other parties want to violate their commitments, they should be aware that Iran will not hesitate a moment," warned Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

But the posturing belies the fact that Iran can ill-afford to risk the deal, which lifted crippling international sanctions in return for restrictions on its nuclear activities.

Iran rushed back into the global oil markets once the deal took effect, boosting its gross domestic product by 7.4 percent in the first half of 2016 and 2017, recovering from a recession in the period prior, according to the International Monetary Fund. That's even with global oil prices now halved, after falling from highs of over $100 a barrel in the summer of 2014.

U.S. lawmakers have about two months to decide whether to put the accord's previous sanctions back into place, modify them or do nothing. But even if Congress restores all the pre-2015 sanctions, Iran could agree to a revised deal with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the European Union, the other parties to the accord, which have been telling Trump's administration to stay in. That would hurt Boeing and other American companies, and make EU firms with U.S. business interests wary, but Iran would likely see it as a far better outcome than the pre-2015 status quo.

"Iran is very unlikely to reflexively abrogate the agreement, given the substantial economic benefits it continues to receive," wrote Cliff Kupchan, the chairman of the Eurasia Group.

However, the IMF warned that GDP growth outside of the oil industry averaged just 0.9 percent, a sign of the continued difficulties the average Iranian faces in the deal's wake. While authorities announced landmark billion-dollar deals with Boeing, Airbus and other global entities, the typical person still struggles to find a job or have their stagnant salary keep pace with Iran's lowered but still nagging inflation.

"We are sure that despite all this rhetoric, foreign investment and participation in infrastructural projects will be continued in our country," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Sunday. So far, Iran's stock market and hard currency markets remain unchanged.

Rallying around the flag does have its limits in Iran. Iranians applauded when Zarif challenged Trump on the naming of the Persian Gulf, but the foreign minister drew criticism from some quarters when he tweeted that "Iranians - boy, girls, men, women are all" part of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

The Guard, while fighting against the Islamic State group in Iraq, supports embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country's civil war, which some Iranians have started criticizing in public in recent months. The Guard also routinely arrests and imprisons dual nationals and others over espionage charges on secret evidence, drawing international rebukes. Its hand in putting down the Green Movement protests born out of Iran's disputed 2009 presidential election also lingers in Iranians' memory.

The Guard has made a series of threatening remarks around Trump's speech. It could test-fire another ballistic missile or force another tense encounter with the U.S. Navy, which bases its 5th Fleet in Bahrain.

So far this year, the Navy has recorded 14 instances of what it describes as "unsafe and/or unprofessional" interactions with Iranian forces, the most recent coming in August, when an unarmed Iranian drone flew close to a U.S. aircraft carrier as fighter jets landed at night. The Navy recorded 36 such incidents in 2016 and 22 in 2015. Most involved the Revolutionary Guard.

"We're watching closely," said Cmdr. Bill Urban, a 5th Fleet spokesman.

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EDITOR'S NOTE - Jon Gambrell, an Associated Press reporter since 2006, has covered the Middle East from Cairo and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, since 2013. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap. 

 

 

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