Three English Editorials shedding light On Iran’s Nuclear Planes, Foreign Policy, Threats & Terrorism/What is behind Iran’s foreign policy stalemate?/What is behind Iran’s foreign policy stalemate?/China Challenges the US on Iran/ثلاث مقالات باللغة الإنكليزية تلقي الأضواء على ارهاب إيران وملفها النووي وسياساتها الخارجية

42

Three English Editorials shedding light On Iran’s Nuclear Planes, Foreign Policy, Threats & Terrorism/What is behind Iran’s foreign policy stalemate?/What is behind Iran’s foreign policy stalemate?/China Challenges the US on Iran/ثلاث مقالات باللغة الإنكليزية تلقي الأضواء على ارهاب إيران وملفها النووي وسياساتها الخارجية

What is behind Iran’s foreign policy stalemate?
Dr.Majid Rafizadeh/Jerusalem Post/April/2021
د. مجيد رافيزادا/جيروزاليم بوست: ما هو سبب جمود السياسة الخارجية الإيرانية؟

What is behind Iran’s foreign policy stalemate?
Dr.Majid Rafizadeh/Jerusalem Post/April/2021
د. مجيد رافيزادا/جيروزاليم بوست: ما هو سبب جمود السياسة الخارجية الإيرانية؟

China Challenges the US on Iran
Judith Bergman/Gatestone Institute/April 01/2021
جوديث بيرجمان/معهد جيتستون: الصين تتحدى الولايات المتحدة بشأن إيران

***
What is behind Iran’s foreign policy stalemate?
Dr.Majid Rafizadeh/Jerusalem Post/April/2021
د. مجيد رافيزادا/جيروزاليم بوست: ما هو سبب جمود السياسة الخارجية الإيرانية؟
Iran considers its regional influence as its winning card. Weakening Iran’s influence in the region’s countries will directly impact the outcome of the JCPOA negotiations.
New forms of geopolitics are taking shape in the Middle East, starring Turkey, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Sergey Lavrov’s visit to the Persian Gulf sent similar messages to Iran. Russian officials have indicated they are looking for new partners in the region, as evidenced by developments in Syria. These events will put more pressure on Iran and block more international political avenues for the regime.
Iran is losing some areas that previously provided security or political influence and advantage. The Syrian conference held with Turkey, Qatar and Russia in Iran’s absence demonstrates the regime is probably no longer an active recruiter in this field.
In Syria, where Iran has invested heavily financially and humanly, the result appears to be almost nil. The same scenario is happening in Iraq. Iraq is increasing its political distance from Iran and gravitating closer to the West. The pope’s visit to this country was another clear message in this regard. Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi could not be considered a faithful ally of Iran. Iran’s investment in Iraq has reached a record low. The whole relationship is entirely different from six years ago.
Iran is banking on the return of the 2016 nuclear deal to continue to benefit from it. This belief is a hoax though. Every international agreement is the result of the balance of power at that time. The balance of power says March 2021 is not a continuation of February and January 2015. It is more apparent US President Joe Biden’s administration does not support the old JCPOA, acknowledging the changing international and regional situation for both Iran and the US. Even those who negotiated and defended the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action recognize the agreement needs to change, reflecting the new regional and international standings. Wendy Sherman, America’s chief negotiator for the deal, did not defend it at a recent Senate approval meeting.
Changing conditions in Iran
Iran has gone through two uprisings since the JCPOA. President Hassan Rouhani said it was after the 2017 uprising that president Donald Trump dared to abandon the deal. With the recent Balochistan uprising on the border area with Pakistan, the Iranian Foreign Ministry rejected non-aligned talks with the United States because it was not a good opportunity. For this reason, the role of Iran in this new balance of power is so minimal that the Iranian regime is currently attacking American bases in Iraq or Afghanistan in an attempt to force the US to negotiate on their terms.
Geopolitical changes in the region
At the regional level, both Israel and the Arab states have become closer. In response to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez, Sherman referred to the Abraham Accords, which has altered relationships and power within the region. This new partnership makes it harder to deal with Iran, as the regime feels backed into a corner. After all, we face a new wave in Congress, which only compounds Iran’s challenges to achieve its version of successful negotiations.
So far in Biden’s tenure, Republican lawmakers in Congress have put forward eight plans to prevent the US government from returning to the JCPOA. The plans are to tighten sanctions against Iran, declare non-support for the deal, and oppose the easing of sanctions; all to try to prevent the US from rejoining the agreement. Republican Sen. Bill Hagerty has introduced a bill that oversees any government action to lift sanctions, which garnered the support of 27 other senators. Another plan is a resolution introduced by Sen. Tom Cotton. The plan opposes any form of easing of sanctions unless all disputes with Iran, including its nuclear, missile and regional programs, are addressed. Thirty-one senators also supported the bill. Two parallel schemes have also been introduced in the House of Representatives, with the Hagerty parallel schemes having 24 supporters and schemes similar to Cotton having 30 supporters.
JCPOA did not achieve its goals
The main criticism of conservative US Republicans and prominent Democrats in Congress in 2015 was that the JCPOA temporarily blocked Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and that a series of deadlines were coming. These deadlines would lift all restrictions imposed on Iran’s nuclear and missile program within the agreement’s framework.
In 2030, Iran can enrich indefinitely and increase its centrifuges’ number and quality indefinitely, as it is already enriching. This level of capability to enrich uranium will put Europe at risk as well. At the Senate session to approve Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, Mitt Romney criticized the JCPOA for temporarily blocking Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, but what about in the long run? Sherman was expected to oppose this notion and understanding because she was one of the architects of the JCPOA. This time, she did not respond to Romney and only said, “Yes, the situation has changed.”
The Islamic Republic’s illusory notion
In 2015, it was unclear when Iran would acquire a nuclear weapon over the course of a few months. President Barack Obama was willing for this acquisition to happen. The idea of Obama and secretary of state John Kerry in 2015 was that if they come to terms with Iran, then the regime can be managed, change its foreign policy, and be moderate in the region.
Those beliefs proved to be illusions, and there are no moderates in Iran. Instead, there are executions, arrests and hostages in Iran. There is no moderation in foreign policy. In broad daylight, the regime wanted to blow up an Iranian opposition rally in France in 2018 using its sitting diplomat. That diplomat was recently sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Over the years, Iran has backed down from its involvement in the region, but with the money released, it developed a ballistic missile program and fired a missile with the slogan “Death to Israel” written on it. The US and the world have seen the blood shed by Iranian-backed militias in the Middle East over the past five years.
End of the regime’s strategic capacity
The nuclear deal was the product of the balance of power in 2015. The strategic capacity of the regime has diminished since. A large part of its nuclear facilities has been lost or dismantled. It will not be able to acquire a nuclear weapon any time soon.
Diplomatic imagination
Biden’s administration will give Iran incentives and is interested in diplomacy, but the primary basis of Biden’s work today is coercive diplomacy. The idea that Trump is gone so we can work better with the Americans is a childish perception and a kind of diplomatic imagination.
Biden will not quickly eliminate the levers created by Trump for US foreign policy. Biden indeed announced that he intends to return to the JCPOA, but not the one that Iran negotiated back in 2015. What was Biden’s most important criticism of Trump’s strategy of maximum pressure? We can get tough on Iran through smart diplomacy.
Biden never said Trump was tough. In 2019, Biden outlined his clever ways to crack down on Iran, including pressure plus diplomacy. Trump prepared the ground for pressure. Even now, Biden is increasing the dose of diplomacy. While consulting with his partners, he has never concealed that the JCPOA is the first step. For Biden, the agreement is a facilitator for the disarmament of the Islamic Republic. This aim means a deadlock of the Iranian regime.
Meanwhile, the regime wants to negotiate, but it does not want to abort its missile program and its meddling in the region’s countries. Though the Americans are primarily looking for nuclear consensus, they have repeatedly said they do not want Iran to have a nuclear bomb. Iran has lost its advantage in this area.
However, Iran does not like to link a possible 2021 JCPOA to its ballistic missile program and regional influence. It needs them as bargaining chips, hence its insistence on a return to the 2015 JCPOA. Given the positions that exist on both sides and the positions within Congress, it seems the Iranian regime will find it difficult to push ts agenda.
Sanctions are more than just an economic matter; they are a security issue for Iran’s Islamic Republic. One of the most important goals of Iran’s foreign policy is to try to lift the sanctions. The regime cannot maintain funding for its militias and all its forces inside and outside Iran, thus reducing its regional influence. Any compromise on behalf of the Iranian regime is considered a setback and a sign of giving in.
Iran considers its regional influence as its winning card. Weakening Iran’s influence in the region’s countries will directly impact the outcome of the JCPOA negotiations because the regime has always said that diplomacy without the support of power and bargaining levers is not successful.
If it does not give up regional influence, it must live up to the global consensus against the Islamic Republic and possible UN resolutions against it. The other solution for the regime is to bow to the new 2021 agreement demands. Trying to lift sanctions, keeping a tight grasp on power, and preventing global consequences are pieces of a puzzle the Iranian regime is trying to solve. Is it possible for the regime to get out of these paradoxical situations?
*The writer is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist and president of the International American Council on the Middle East and North Africa.

Is Iran operating terrorist cells across Europe? – opinion
Rachel O’Donoghue/Jerusalem Post/April/2021
راشيل أودونوغ/جيروزاليم بوست: هل تدير إيران خلايا إرهابية في أنحاء أوروبا؟
Just after midday on June 30, 2018, Belgian police surrounded a Mercedes-Benz being driven by a Belgian-Iranian couple through Brussels. The couple had set off on a four-hour journey to Paris that morning and did not know unmarked police vehicles had been tailing them since they left their rented accommodations in Antwerp. When they took a detour through the Belgian capital after hitting traffic on the motorway, police swooped in.
With guns drawn, officers warned Amir Saadouni, 40, and his female accomplice, Nasimeh Naami, 36, to exit the car slowly. Saadouni and Naami were handcuffed and taken into custody. A search of the car uncovered a large suitcase containing a bomb made of triacetone triperoxide (TATP) – an extremely volatile explosive known as the “mother of Satan” because just tiny quantities of it can cause catastrophic damage. In the passenger foot-well was a women’s make-up bag that held a disguised detonator.
According to Belgian prosecutors, Saadouni and Naami had planned to plant the bomb at a political rally in Villepinte, on the outskirts of Paris. The annual event, which was attended by tens of thousands of people, had been organized by Iran’s exiled opposition movement, the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI). High-profile attendees included Donald Trump’s former lawyer Rudy Giuliani, ex-speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, as well as dozens of parliamentarians from European Union member states, and five British MPs. The couple evidently hoped to kill hundreds, if not thousands of people, but their primary target was NCRI leader Maryam Rajavi, who delivered the keynote speech that afternoon.
Less than 24 hours after this terrorist attack was foiled, another covert police operation was carried out successfully. This time, it was German police who stopped a car close to the Austrian border and arrested its driver and alleged mastermind of the previous day’s terrorist plot, Vienna-based Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi.
The case of the Iranian bomb-plotters finally drew to a close in February this year when a judge at Antwerp Criminal Court sentenced the trio to prison terms ranging from 15 to 20 years on various terrorism charges. A fourth defendant, Mehrdad Arefani, was given a 17-year term after being found guilty of being a co-conspirator. Saadouni, Naami and Arefani were also stripped of their dual Belgian citizenship.
The Iranian bomb plot could be the tip of the iceberg. Iran’s European terrorist network appears to stretch far deeper than an isolated incident. Evidence presented in court indicates Assadi was not simply a rogue agent. Rather, he was operating with the knowledge and authority of his superiors in Tehran. As well as being a third counselor for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, he was also a senior officer within the Islamic Republic’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). He had been, as the French Government contended, instructed by Iranian intelligence to organize at least one terrorist attack in Paris – something Tehran has vehemently denied.
Assadi refused to stand in the dock in court. He claimed he should be immune from such proceedings by virtue of his diplomatic status. However, German police demonstrated his diplomatic immunity did not extend beyond Austria, and they were able to extradite him to Belgium. Evidence presented before the judge shows Assadi did not spend all that much time at his embassy office. Instead, he appears to have been busy travelling across Europe, visiting countries including Italy, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. His visits rarely lasted longer than a day, and neither he nor the Iranian Embassy could produce any documentation that indicated he went to any of these locations in a professional capacity.
ACCORDING TO receipts seized by German police, Assadi used the holiday website booking.com to reserve rooms at budget hotels. Investigators established he had visited 289 locations across 11 European countries. While traveling, he allegedly met scores of unidentified Iranian citizens at busy restaurants, department stores and tourist sites. A notebook found in Assadi’s car when he was arrested shows he logged every one of these meetings and recorded payments to these individuals.
If there was a plausible explanation for his extensive travel, Assadi was not forthcoming with it. What seems more likely is that he had been helping to operate a spy network across Europe – a web of Iranian operatives who could be called upon to launch terrorist attacks against targets on European soil.
In interviews with investigators, Saadouni and Naami admitted they were contacted in 2015 by an Iranian agent calling himself Daniel, who was later revealed to be Assadi. The couple agreed to meet him in Munich in the summer of 2015, and were paid 4,000 euros for expenses. They exchanged a number of emails with Assadi over the next few months before allegedly meeting him again at the MIOS headquarters in Tehran in November 2015.
During that meeting, they are believed to have received instructions to gather information about the headquarters of their eventual target, the NCRI, in Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris. Over the course of the next two years, the couple met with Assadi on a number of occasions in various European cities, including Munich, Milan and Vienna. During this time, Assadi also transferred more than 200,000 euros to the duo in numerous smaller transactions.
Belgian, German and Austrian police have not revealed the identity of the individuals Assadi met with as logged in his notebook. The NCRI, which acted as civil plaintiffs in the case, has accused the Iranian MIOS of using operatives, working legally as diplomats in European embassies, to organize a vast network of terrorist sleeper cells across Europe. Assadi was able to use his cover as a diplomat to smuggle the TATP bomb in a diplomatic bag on a commercial flight from Iran to Austria.
Assadi’s conviction – the first of an Iranian official on such charges in Europe since the 1979 Islamic Revolution – raises some serious questions about the EU’s Iran policy. While the Belgian judiciary made it clear in its ruling that the Iranian state was not on trial, it said it accepted Assadi had been operating at the behest of Iran’s intelligence services. For a long time, Iran has been seen as the Middle East’s problem, and its terrorist threat has been confined to that region. The Assadi affair, however, shows the Iranian state may be implicated in the commission of terrorist atrocities in Europe.
The Belgian state security service warned the court the bomb plot was devised by Iranian leadership, and yet the EU has refused to draw Iran into the actions of Assadi and his accomplices. EU spokesman Peter Stano framed the attempted attack as the action of an individual, rather than state-sponsored terrorism. The case shows that the EU needs to be alert to the threat posed by Iran. Its policy of appeasement is simply not working and the bloc now needs to take a robust stance on Iran. The NCRI has suggested downgrading diplomatic ties with Iran and reviewing the status of its embassies. Without swift action, Iran will only be emboldened.
**The writer is a freelance journalist who splits her time between London and Tel Aviv. She has contributed to newspapers and media organizations including the BBC, Daily Mail, Daily Star and Daily Mirror.

China Challenges the US on Iran
Judith Bergman/Gatestone Institute/April 01/2021
جوديث بيرجمان/معهد جيتستون: الصين تتحدى الولايات المتحدة بشأن إيران
According to a leaked draft of the comprehensive strategic partnership agreement, circulated last year, Iran will receive $400 billion dollars in Chinese investments over the next 25 years in key Iranian economic sectors, including energy, telecommunications, defense, infrastructure, banking, petrochemicals, railways and ports. According to the leaked draft, there will be also an expansion of military assistance, training and intelligence-sharing. Nearly 100 projects are cited in the draft. In return, Iran will commit to providing regular and heavily discounted oil, gas and possibly other natural resources to China.
“Strategically, the BRI is how China is seeking to collapse Western-American dominance in the region peacefully… the BRI is a sophisticated Chinese plan to transfer hegemony from the West and the U.S. to China without war or conflict”. — Dr. Mordechai Chaziz, author of China’s Middle East Diplomacy: The Belt and Road Strategic Partnership, thediplomat.com, March 10, 2021.
The timing seems hardly a coincidence, but rather an outcome of the Biden administration’s appeasing overtures to Iran with its formal offer of restarting nuclear talks. The signing of the agreement itself can be seen as a Chinese-Iranian act of defiance against the US, undercutting sanctions against Iran by supplying the regime with an economic lifeline, while showing China off as an active global power that is able and willing to stand up to the US.
For China, Iran is a welcome counterbalance to US influence in the region, as the only large regional power that is not aligned with the US, in addition to having enormous oil and natural gas resources and providing a large market of more than 80 million citizens for Chinese goods.
“China is pivoting towards more autocratic regimes that represent greater stability for its supply lines than democracies that are, or may become, hostile to Beijing.” — Verisk Maplecroft risk consultancy firm, March 17, 2021.
Pictured: Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (right) and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the signing of the China-Iran comprehensive strategic 25-year partnership agreement on economic and security cooperation, in Tehran, Iran on March 27, 2021.
On March 27, China and Iran signed a comprehensive strategic 25-year partnership agreement on economic and security cooperation. The agreement was signed in Tehran, where China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi was visiting as part of his tour of the Middle East.
Details of the agreement were not immediately published. The Iranian Foreign Ministry communicated that it was a “roadmap for cooperation” and that no “contracts” were included in it. “Prospects for cooperation, whether economic, political, cultural or strategic, have not been quantified, therefore it does not include numbers on investment or financial and monetary resources,” a statement of the Iranian Foreign Ministry reported.
The agreement has been underway for five years, ever since Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Iran in January 2016, when establishing a “comprehensive strategic partnership” was agreed. At that meeting, according to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Xi Jinping stressed that China will enhance all-round practical cooperation with Iran within the ‘Belt and Road’ framework”. At the time, the two countries also signed a Memorandum of Understanding “on jointly advancing construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road” as well as “multiple bilateral cooperation documents covering energy, production capacity, finance, investment, communications, culture, justice, science, technology, news, customs, climate change and human resources”. China and Iran also agreed then to “strengthen exchanges between think-tanks, colleges and universities and youths, [and] jointly ensure the successful operation of the Confucius Institutes” to “tell China’s story well” and shape the narrative about China in Iran.
According to a leaked draft of the comprehensive strategic partnership agreement, circulated last year, Iran will receive $400 billion dollars in Chinese investments over the next 25 years in key Iranian economic sectors, including energy, telecommunications, defense, infrastructure, banking, petrochemicals, railways and ports. According to the leaked draft, there will be also an expansion of military assistance, training and intelligence-sharing. Nearly 100 projects are cited in the draft. In return, Iran will commit to providing regular and heavily discounted oil, gas and possibly other natural resources to China. China, as the world’s top importer of both oil and gas, is obsessive about energy security for its growing economy.
The agreement reportedly also formalizes the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Iran. Iran participates in China’s so-called Digital Silk Road, the Silk Road of Innovation and the “Green” Silk Road. The Digital Silk Road represents the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) ambition, among other things, to shape the course of 5G technology in the world, whereas the Silk Road of Innovation is about technology transfers. The “Green” Silk Road is about transitioning to renewable energy sources. “China is the largest foreign investor in the… Middle East region”, according to Dr. Mordechai Chaziz, author of China’s Middle East Diplomacy: The Belt and Road Strategic Partnership.
“Strategically, the BRI is how China is seeking to collapse Western-American dominance in the region peacefully. The connection between the BRI and the strategic partnerships it creates in the region… allows it to gradually take over the region without creating tensions with the U.S. or the West. In other words, the BRI is a sophisticated Chinese plan to transfer hegemony from the West and the U.S. to China without war or conflict”.
The question is why, after five years, the two countries decided to sign the agreement now. Last year, Iran rejected media reports that talks about the recently signed comprehensive agreement were suspended until the outcome of the US presidential election. However, the timing seems hardly a coincidence, but rather an outcome of the Biden administration’s appeasing overtures to Iran with its formal offer of restarting nuclear talks. The signing of the agreement itself can be seen as a Chinese-Iranian act of defiance against the US, undercutting sanctions against Iran by supplying the regime with an economic lifeline, while showing China off as an active global power that is able and willing to stand up to the US. The more so, as the signing came just one week after the Chinese foreign minister’s unprecedented lecturing of his US counterpart at their March 19 meeting in Alaska.
The signing of the agreement comes at a time when China is already defying US sanctions on Iran in other ways — such as by reportedly importing record volumes of crude oil. “Iran moved about 17.8 million tonnes (306,000 barrels per day) of crude into China during the past 14 months, with volumes reaching record levels in January and February” Reuters reported. In March, according to some estimates, China has been taking in some 856,000 barrels per day of Iranian crude oil, a 129% surge compared to February.
“If it sells 1 million barrels a day at current prices, Iran has no incentive to negotiate,” said Sara Vakhshouri, an expert on Iran’s oil industry. “The informal Chinese purchases” one U.S. official said, “have reduced the need [for Tehran] to negotiate on oil sanctions”, the Wall Street Journal noted.
As China is Iran’s largest trading partner, the agreement, in addition to providing Iran with modern technology, would help its economy to grow. China, among other countries, helped Iran with its nuclear development several decades ago and has been regularly championing a return to the Iran nuclear deal or the JCPOA. For China, Iran is a welcome counterbalance to US influence in the region, as the only large regional power that is not aligned with the US, in addition to having enormous oil and natural gas resources and providing a large market of more than 80 million citizens for Chinese goods. The two countries, despite their marked ideological differences, share an authoritarian, anti-Western outlook, making each attractive to the other. According to a recent report by risk consultancy firm Verisk Maplecroft:
“China is pivoting towards more autocratic regimes that represent greater stability for its supply lines than democracies that are, or may become, hostile to Beijing”.
China has even helped Iran crack down on dissidents by exporting its digital authoritarianism in the form of surveillance equipment.
How much of a lifeline the Chinese will ultimately be able to give the Iranians — and the extent to which they will be able to chip away at US leverage over Iran in the process — now depends on how the US responds to the comprehensive agreement. The Biden administration still seems intent on pursuing a strategy of accommodating Iran. According to the Wall Street Journal, “A senior Biden administration official said the U.S. is open to taking a step that would relax sanctions even before meeting Iranian officials”.
“We’ve made clear that withdrawing from the JCPOA was a mistake, that maximum pressure was a failure,” the official said. “But this needs to be part of a process in which Iran also takes steps to reverse its nuclear decisions.”
*Judith Bergman, a columnist, lawyer and political analyst, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.
© 2021 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.