US versus Iran

Is Iran taking advantage of a chaotic transition to a Trump led White House? Is Trump diving into a snake pit that they are nowhere near prepared to assess properly? Both?

With Trump being so gung ho and super sensitive to being challenged, and without coming close to a fully staffed and well advised administration, the US is very vulnerable to being sucked into something that could be very difficult to extricate itself.

Diplomacy by Twitter continues (if you can call it diplomacy):

This is potentially very scary stuff.

As is this:Press Secretary Sean Spicer Falsely Accuses Iran of Attacking U.S. Navy Vessel, an Act of War

National Security Adviser Michael Flynn on Wednesday said he was  “officially putting Iran on notice” following the country’s ballistic missile test and an attack on a Saudi naval vessel by Houthi rebels in Yemen (the Houthis are tenuously aligned with Iran’s government but are distinct from it).

The White House press corps wanted to know what being put “on notice” entailed, and Spicer responded by claiming that Iran’s government took actions against a U.S. naval vessel, which would be an act of war. “I think General Flynn was really clear yesterday that Iran has violated the Joint Resolution, that Iran’s additional hostile actions that it took against our Navy vessel are ones that we are very clear are not going to sit by and take,” he said. “I think that we will have further updates for you on those additional actions.”

Major Garrett of CBS News quietly corrected him, saying “a Saudi vessel,” and Spicer then responded almost inaudibly: “Sorry, thank you, yes a Saudi vessel. Yes, that’s right.” He did not in any way address his false claim that it was an Iranian attack, however.

Pentagon spokesman Christopher Sherwood confirmed to The Intercept that the attack was in fact conducted against a Saudi warship, and that the Pentagon suspects Houthi rebels. “It was a Saudi ship – it was actually a frigate” said Sherwood. “It was [conducted by] suspected Houthi rebels off the coast of Yemen.”

Fox News initially misreported that a U.S. ship was somehow the target — which is perhaps where some of the confusion in the White House originated.

Spicer is being informed by Fox News? Next thing he will start believing Breitbart – actually it could be Stephen Bannon pulling his strings anyway.

Inaccurate news, false news, false claims, tweeting from the hip, a very inexperienced and disorganised White House, countries in the Middle East with histories of escalating provocations.

What could go wrong?

Trade with Iran

Iran’s foreign minister is visiting New Zealand for trade talks as part of a six country visit to Asia Pacific. This follows the lifting of sanctions last year after a nuclear deal was made with Iran.

NZ Herald: Iran’s foreign minister arrives in style

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif talks with Foreign Minister Murray McCully kicked off with some small talk about Zarif’s plane and an offer for Mr McCully to visit Tehran in May.

Mr McCully met with Mr Zarif in the Beehive today after Mr Zarif arrived in New Zealand as part of a tour of six countries in the Asia Pacific. It is part of Iran’s efforts to attract more investment following the removal of sanctions after last year’s nuclear deal.

He will meet with Prime Minister John Key tomorrow and speak at an event for the Institute of International Affairs.

Not everyone is happy.

On the eve of Mr Zarif’s arrival Yosef Livne, the Israeli Ambassador to New Zealand, issued a ‘personal reflection’ criticising the willingness of the international community to embrace Iran.

Also from NZ Herald: Trade leads talks with Iran visitor

Trade was top of the agenda for a meeting between Foreign Minister Murray McCully and Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described as a “refresh” of the relationship between New Zealand and Iran.

Mr McCully said Dr Zarif’s visit was the first by an Iranian Foreign Minister in 10 years and let the countries “refresh” their relationship.

He said he had raised human rights issues after thanking Dr Zarif for the role he played in the nuclear deal.

“[I] encouraged Iran to use this opportunity to reset its relationship with the international community. It was in this spirit I raised New Zealand’s concerns about the human rights situation in Iran.”

The two ministers signed off on an arrangement between the Export Credit Office and Export Guarantee Fund of Iran which Mr McCully said would help give exporters more confidence in the trading arrangements. Iran was New Zealand’s fifth largest trading partner in the 1980s before sanctions on Iran bit. The removal of most of those sanctions opens the way for trade again.

Israel is not happy, and neither will be a few fringe anti-Islamists, but better trade relations can contribute to better international relations generally.

Iran nuclear program closed down

The US State department says that Iran has closed down it’s nuclear weapon program.

.@JohnKerry: We can confidently say pathways Iran had toward enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon has been verifiably closed down.

The BBC reports: Iran nuclear deal: International sanctions lifted

International sanctions on Iran have been lifted after its compliance with obligations under its nuclear agreement with world powers was certified.

The EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said the sanctions were lifted in accordance with the deal “as Iran has fulfilled its commitment”.

The international nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, said its inspectors had verified that Iran had taken the required steps.

As part of the deal, Iran had to drastically reduce its number of centrifuges and dismantle a heavy-water reactor near the town of Arak, both of which could be used in creating nuclear weapons.

The Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, congratulated the nation following the IAEA announcement. The deal had “borne fruit,” he tweeted (in Farsi), adding that he took “a bow before a patient nation like ours”.

The US Secretary of State John Kerry has ordered that US nuclear-related economic sanctions against Iran be lifted.

Speaking in Vienna where he had been holding talks with his Iranian counterpart, Mr Kerry said Iran had “undertaken significant steps” which many people “doubted would ever come to pass”.

“In return for the steps Iran has taken, the United States and the EU will immediately lift nuclear related sanctions, expanding the horizon of opportunity to the Iranian people,” he said.

“Today, as a result of the actions taken since last July, the United States, our friends and allies in the Middle East, in the entire world are safer because the threat of a nuclear weapon has been reduced,” he added.

Sounds good.

Amazing fact: Iran surrenders the bulk of its nuclear program, and it is considered a partisan issue in America whether that is good or bad.

 Sounds normal.

The Middle East mess

This could also be titled the Middle East mess. I observe what goes on there but don’t usually comment on it because it’s such a convoluted mess with little apparent chance of resolving the many conflicts. One article on Huffington Post the Syrian/Middle East situation illustrates how messy it is – Israel Strike Underscores Security Concerns In Syria Beyond ISIS, Upping Stakes For U.S.

An Israeli-linked airstrike in Syria on Sunday is drawing attention to an element of the messy Syrian civil war that the U.S. has tried to downplay: the Obama administration’s failure to check the growing influence of Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, within Syria, as the U.S. and its allies have focused instead on rooting out the Islamic State. Analysts say the strike could force the U.S. focus away from the fight against the Islamic State, fuel retribution against Israel and bolster tensions with Iran — just as the West tries to achieve a deal on that country’s disputed nuclear program.

Without going into further detail this is some of the strands to the mess that the article mentions.

  • Israel airstrike in Syria
  • Israel said to have killed an Iranian general in airstrike
  • Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, within Syria
  • Islamic State in Syria (and Iraq)
  • Israel allied with the US.
  • Iran is the main backer of Syrian President.
  • Iran and Hezbollah continue to threaten Israel.
  • US (and allies) bombing Islamic State –  the group that both the U.S.-led and Iranian coalitions are opposing
  • Washington is loath to condemn the nexus of Iran-supported Shiite power in Syria is because of American interests in Iraq, where Iran and its Shiite militia proxies are influential.
  • The U.S. has also expressed its support for Iranian actions against the Islamic State, and it is keen to avoid antagonizing Iran
  • Lebanon based Hezbollah attacking Israel from areas they control in Syria.
  • Hezbollah fights the Islamic State, al Qaeda and moderate rebels in Syria.
  • Israel is suspected to be making that fight more difficult for Hezbollah, Iran and Assad by providing assistance to the Sunni Arab rebels that the Shiite alliance is fighting.
  • Syrian activists have claimed that Israel has gone as far as coordinating with the Syrian al Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front.

The US went back into the Middle East to retaliate and neuter al Qaeda. And in the news this morning Islamic State has two Japanese hostages. Who’s fighting who in Syria and the Middle East?