Thursday, February 02, 2017

02-Feb-17: What's the US view of Iran's friendly-ties initiative and the nuclear-capable rockets it doesn't plan to use?

Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif [Image Source] There's
probably a simple reason for why he's laughing in so many
published news photos
There's some elaborate dancing going on as the US, Iran and Hamas make efforts to explain their relations with each another.

From a disturbing Reuters report published this afternoon:
Iran has tested a cruise missile called "Sumar" that is capable of carrying nuclear weapons in addition to test-firing a medium-range ballistic missile on Sunday, German newspaper Die Welt reported Thursday, citing unspecified intelligence sources... The newspaper said the Sumar cruise missile was built in Iran and traveled around 600 km in its first known successful test. The missile is believed to be capable of carrying nuclear weapons and may have a range of 2,000 to 3,000 km, the paper said, citing intelligence sources... [T]he biggest advantage from Iran's point of view, a security expert told Die Welt, was that cruise missiles are not mentioned in any United Nations resolutions that ban work on ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons... Iran confirmed on Wednesday that it had test-fired a new ballistic missile, but said the test did not breach the Islamic Republic's nuclear agreement with world powers or a U.N. Security Council resolution endorsing the pact.
A nuclear agreement? As we (and others) keep saying there is no nuclear agreement. That's because the astoundingly ineffective JCPOA was never signed by the Iranians - deliberately. See "09-Sep-15: Figuring out what people have figured out about Iran and its nuclear plans" where we explain ourselves. But that's the undoubted bottom line: despite all the reportorial and editorial claims to the contrary, there is no signed agreement with Iran on its nuclear weapons program. And there almost certainly never will be.

What did happen, as the Reuters piece recounts, is that massive sanctions on the Iranians were lifted in January 2016 under the JCPOA in exchange for their agreeing to curb - such an ambiguous term - the Iranian nuclear program.

But according to the terms of a 2015 U.N. resolution endorsing the JCPOA, Iran
is still called upon to refrain from work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons for up to eight years. [Reuters]
Aren't they the same as cruise missiles? No.
Cruise missiles are harder to counter than ballistic missiles since they fly at lower altitudes and can evade enemy radar, confounding missile defense missiles and hitting targets deep inside an opponent's territory... [Reuters]
Also yesterday, President Trump’s national security adviser announced in Washington that the US is putting Iran "on notice" for its ballistic missile test and warning of new sanctions:
Calling Iran a “destabilizing influence” in the Middle East, National Security Adviser Mike Flynn declared Wednesday: “As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice.” The pronouncement marked a pivot away from the Obama administration’s policy of diplomatic engagement, which led to a 2015 multinational nuclear deal that has been denounced repeatedly by President Donald Trump and his aides. Iran has warned that new U.S. sanctions could constitute a violation of the nuclear deal, setting up a scenario in which the agreement could unravel—something that hardliners in both countries would welcome. Administration officials, while providing few specifics, said Mr. Trump has begun a process of reviewing current U.S. policy and is “considering a whole range of options,” including tougher sanctions. Asked if military force also was one of the options, the officials didn’t rule it out... “The important thing is here is that we’re communicating that Iranian behavior needs to be rethought by Tehran,” one senior official said. “That is something Tehran needs to think through, because we are considering these things in a different perspective.” Mr. Flynn said the latest missile launch was a violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the nuclear deal and “called upon” Iran to avoid any activity related to missiles designed to be capable of carrying nuclear warheads. ["Trump White House Puts Iran ‘On Notice’ After Missile Launch", Wall Street Journal, February 1, 2017
Iran's propaganda machine didn't see things that way and had already pushed back by Wednesday evening via FARS (often called a "semi-official" news agency of the Iranian regime), asserting that Iran's
missile program is legal as per International Law, has nothing to do with the nuclear deal, and is non-negotiable...  [and that] Washington's latest cat-and-mouse games with Tehran... seeks pretexts to decrease international pressures and condemnations following their thoughtless decision to ban Muslims and Syrian refugees from travelling to the United States... Missile tests are Iran’s inalienable right to defend its security and interests. No country or international body can have any say in this regard... Over the past decade, Iran has made steady and gradual advances in its missile development, pursuing advancement of its strategic missile capabilities with incremental increases in range and payload technology. Iran is developing all these defense capabilities through international cooperation, legal purchases, and indigenous development. As per International Law, nothing is wrong with that. Nothing at all. ["A Risky Proposition: Is Iran Ready to Drop Missile Defense?", FARS News Agency, February 1, 2017] 
So to what extent do the Iranians now see themselves as having to comply with American wishes? The answer suggested by the FARS article is: not so much:
Whatever one thinks of Iran, it has no ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons – unlike the United States, Israel, and their NATO allies. But it is always under constant military threat... [E]very now and then, the bloodthirsty warmongers reveal the real reason for viewing an Iranian missile defense capacity as unacceptable: The war against Iran is a risky proposition. Iranian ballistic missiles and military capabilities would prevent the US from attacking Iran at will. What scares the US is Iranian armed forces that have combat experience and a fighting doctrine of their own, able to take advantage of local and geographic factors, and design their combat style outside the traditional American box. That is what’s intolerable. [FARS]
We might be hearing more in the coming days about how intolerable US policy seems to the Iranians. Iran was
among seven Muslim-majority countries whose citizens he barred from the U.S. in an executive order Friday the White House said is aimed at keeping terrorists from entering the country. [National Security Adviser] Flynn said agreements Iran has made with the Obama administration and the U.N. are “weak and ineffective.” “Instead of being thankful to the United States for these agreements, Iran is now feeling emboldened,” he said... The senior U.S. officials briefing reporters on Mr. Flynn’s comments said the president at the moment doesn’t want “to take any action that would foreclose options or unnecessarily contribute to a negative response.” They also sought to separate the nuclear deal from U.S. concerns about Iran’s other actions such as ballistic missile tests. Tehran has maintained its nuclear program is for peaceful power generation and research, and that its missiles are conventional and for defensive purposes. [Wall Street Journal again]
A few hours ago, Bahram Qassemi who speaks for Iran's Foreign Ministry told interested parties that Flynn’s claims are “baseless, repetitive and provocative”. His statements appear in a report on the oddly-named Iranian PressTV website [here]:
Qassemi further expressed regret that instead of expressing gratitude for the Iranian nation’s continued anti-terror struggles, the US administration keeps leveling groundless accusations and adopting unwise policies, which practically promote terrorist groups... [He] further slammed as “inappropriate and discriminatory” Washington’s recent ban on the entry of travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations as well as refugees into the US [and] stressed that the Islamic Republic's regional policies are transparent, expressing Tehran’s keenness to have friendly ties with all regional states based on mutual respect and non-interference in their domestic affairs. ["US claims on Iran missile tests baseless, provocative: Foreign Ministry", PressTV, February 2, 2017]
If you're wondering how "Friendly ties with all regional states" translates into action, the jihadists of Hamas might have an answer.

Sami Abu Zuhri who, in addition to being an advocate for the usefulness of human shields, a groper of women, a sexual molestor of visiting reporters, a fan of slashing praying Jews to death in their synagogues and a one-time smuggling "mule" [all explained here], is one of Hamas' official spokes-thugs. He visited Algeria last weekend and while there was quoted [here] saying Hamas is keen to build "strong relations with all Arab and Islamic states, including Iran". Without giving any details, he said “Efforts and contacts are underway to boost relations with Iran and we hope we will achieve something positive”.

From here in Jerusalem, something positive is not the most likely of the outcomes we're expecting to see.

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