Iran hawks see open­ing on nukes with Trump

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY DAVID R. SANDS

Hawks crit­i­cal of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s out­reach to Iran over the past eight years were in a dis­tinctly up­beat mood as they took over an or­nate Se­nate cau­cus room Thurs­day to pro­mote their cause. The in­com­ing Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, many said, un­der­stands their case and the threat posed by the regime in Tehran far bet­ter than Pres­i­dent Obama ever did.

Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man John McCain and Demo­cratic Sen. Robert Me­nen­dez, a long­time mem­ber of the Se­nate Com­mit­tee on For­eign Re­la­tions, were among the law­mak­ers say­ing Mr. Trump and the team he is as­sem­bling will clearly be more skep­ti­cal of Iran and ready to call out any vi­o­la­tions of the multi­na­tional nu­clear deal Mr. Obama helped ne­go­ti­ate in 2015.

“There is every rea­son to believe and be hope­ful that the pres­i­dent-elect will take a new set of eyes and a new ap­proach to this theoc­racy. I’m very hope­ful that will hap­pen,” for­mer Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, the first sec­re­tary of home­land se­cu­rity, told the brief­ing on the pol­icy op­tions on Iran held in the Rus­sell Se­nate Of­fice Build­ing.

Mr. McCain said he was heart­ened by Mr. Trump’s choice of James N. Mat­tis to head the De­fense Depart­ment, say­ing the re­tired Marine gen­eral was deeply fa­mil­iar with the threat posed by Tehran to the U.S. and its re­gional al­lies. Gen. Mat­tis has crit­i­cized the Iran nu­clear deal as “im­per­fect” and said in an April speech that “the Ira­nian regime, in my mind, is the sin­gle most en­dur­ing threat to sta­bil­ity and peace in the Mid­dle East.”

“I don’t know, frankly, what Don­ald Trump wants to do [about Iran], but I do know the peo­ple he has se­lected so far for ma­jor po­si­tions I’ve been very pleased to see,” the Ari­zona Repub­li­can said.

The Capi­tol Hill event it­self marked another step in the re­mark­able evo­lu­tion of its or­ga­nizer, the Paris-based Na­tional Coun­cil of Re­sis­tance of Iran and the NCRI’s largest com­po­nent, the Mu­ja­hedeen-e Khalq (Peo­ple’s Mu­ja­hedeen of Iran), or MEK. A fierce op­po­nent of the Is­lamic repub­lic regime in Tehran and a source of many of the in­tel­li­gence scoops de­tail­ing Tehran’s clan­des­tine nu­clear pro­grams, the sec­u­lar coali­tion broke with other el­e­ments of the coali­tion that top­pled the Shah of Iran in the 1979 revo­lu­tion, and has operated in ex­ile ever since.

The MEK was placed on the State Depart­ment’s list of ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions in the mid-1990s but, backed by a grow­ing num­ber of sup­port­ers on Capi­tol Hill, was re­moved from the list in 2012. MEK of­fi­cials say they have re­nounced vi­o­lence but remain com­mit­ted to the peace­ful over­throw of the theo­cratic regime in Tehran in fa­vor of a new sec­u­lar, demo­cratic gov­ern­ment.

Camp Lib­erty re­solved

The group was buoyed this year by the end of a long stale­mate over Camp Lib­erty, a one­time U.S. mil­i­tary base in Iraq that be­came a hold­ing post for over 3,000 MEK mem­bers, held there by the Iraqi gov­ern­ment and con­stantly crit­i­cized by Ira­nian au­thor­i­ties. The last of those de­tained at the camp left Iraq this fall, many hav­ing been taken in by the gov­ern­ment of Al­ba­nia.

For­mer Sen. Joseph Lieber­man, the 2000 Demo­cratic can­di­date for vice pres­i­dent, told Thurs­day’s gath­er­ing that he voted for Hil­lary Clin­ton last month but that Mr. Trump’s sur­prise elec­tion, cou­pled with strong con­gres­sional ma­jori­ties crit­i­cal of the Ira­nian regime, could mean a ma­jor change in Ira­nian pol­icy in the months ahead.

“I re­ally think a new day is dawn­ing for the cause of a free, sta­ble, in­de­pen­dent and demo­cratic Iran,” said Mr. Lieber­man, who noted the res­o­lu­tion of the Camp Lib­erty stand­off means the NCRI “can fo­cus on re­sis­tance and chang­ing the regime” in Iran.

“Elec­tions have con­se­quences,” Mr. Lieber­man said. “I can tell you, when it comes to Iran, the change from Barack Obama to Don­ald Trump is a very hope­ful one. … Now we go to an ad­min­is­tra­tion that is not pro­tec­tive or defensive of the Iran agree­ment, but is ready to chal­lenge it.”

Mr. Trump has been sharply crit­i­cal of the deal — and the tens of bil­lions of dol­lars in frozen and sanc­tioned funds re­turned to Iran — but has been un­clear on whether he would scrap it uni­lat­er­ally or take a far more ag­gres­sive ap­proach to en­forc­ing it and call­ing out Ira­nian vi­o­la­tions. Many of the other sig­na­to­ries to the deal, in­clud­ing Rus­sia, China, Ger­many and France, have been ac­tively ex­plor­ing new com­mer­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties with Iran, in the en­ergy sec­tor and be­yond.

For its part, Iran has stepped up its warn­ings against any move by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to tor­pedo the nu­clear deal and the lift­ing of in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions Iran de­manded as part of the agree­ment.

Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani, con­sid­ered a rel­a­tive “mod­er­ate” on the Ira­nian po­lit­i­cal spec­trum, said just this week Mr. Trump “may wish many things, he may wish to weaken or tear up [the nu­clear deal], but will we and our na­tion al­low such a thing? America can­not in­flu­ence our path of strength and en­durance.”

But Mr. McCain and other crit­ics of the deal say Iran has al­ready vi­o­lated both the let­ter and the spirit of the deal, with lit­tle sign that Tehran has mod­i­fied its poli­cies or stopped sow­ing in­sta­bil­ity in re­gional hot spots from Syria to Ye­men.

Mr. Lieber­man said Mr. Trump and the Repub­li­can-dom­i­nated Congress could take a num­ber of steps to check Iran’s ag­gres­sive­ness short of tear­ing up the nu­clear deal, in­clud­ing new uni­lat­eral sanc­tions and des­ig­nat­ing Iran’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps, the mil­i­tary unit specif­i­cally charged with de­fend­ing the coun­try’s Is­lamic theo­cratic sys­tem, as a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion. The sanc­tions could hurt, be­cause the IRGC has built up a ma­jor busi­ness em­pire in ad­di­tion to its mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions.

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