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Donald Trump's Iran nuclear deal ramps up tensions

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    Posted: October 14 2017 at 2:57pm

Donald Trump's Iran nuclear deal strategy leaves unanswered questions and ramps up tensions

By Middle East correspondent Matt Brown

Updated yesterday at 11:21am

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VIDEO: Donald Trump says the Iran nuclear deal is no longer in US national security interests (ABC News)

Donald Trump's new Iran strategy is a risky gamble.

It introduces confusion over US policy on nuclear proliferation in the Middle East while seeking tougher measures on long-standing grievances over Iranian behaviour.

It has been met with joy in Israel and defiance in Iran.

Well beyond the nuclear program, the strategy signals growing tension over Iran's conventional weapons program and targets a controversial military unit that was at the core of an agreement to share intelligence with Australia.

Shortly after Mr Trump's speech, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said, "No president can revoke an international deal ... Iran will continue to respect it as long as it serves our interests."

But he warned Iran would respond if its interests are harmed and pledged to redouble efforts to build conventional military forces, especially Iran's controversial long range missile program.

For Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu it was a landmark moment in a year's long campaign against the deal.

"President Trump has just created an opportunity to fix this bad deal, to roll back Iran's aggression and to confront its criminal support of terrorism", he said.

When Mr Netanyahu addressed the UN General Assembly last month, he said of the deal, "fix it or nix it".

And he zeroed in on the sunset clauses which would see limits on Iran's ability to enrich uranium lifted eight to 13 years from now: "... above all, fixing the deal means getting rid of the sunset clause".

That's exactly what Donald Trump has now made a priority.

He also wants more aggressive inspections, in particular of military sites.

As part of the agreement, the world powers established a Joint Commission on which the US and its allies have the numbers and this could be used to push more aggressively for those military site inspections.

But only if the agreement is still in place.

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps will be a focus

Hassan Rouhani has already said "Iran's deal cannot be renegotiated" and it's not clear if it will be dead a couple of months for now or simply on life support.

What is clear is that there will be immediate, increased confrontation on a critical front.

Mr Trump has imposed sanctions on the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a parallel military structure answering to Iran's Supreme leader, Ali Khamanei.

The IRGC runs the Quds Force, which is responsible for foreign operations and accused of supporting terrorism and, while individual members have been sanctioned in the past, imposing a blanket ban will have an effect well beyond its military operations.

The IRGC has substantial economic interests and trading arms.

Many people talking, with much agreement, on my Iran speech today. Participants in the deal are making lots of money on trade with Iran!

It's shared in the billions of dollars of investment that flooded into Iran after the nuclear sanctions were lifted at the start of last year.

But Mr Trump has signalled to potential investors in Iran that they could be walking into a minefield, with US Treasury Secretary Steven T Mnuchin, warning, "the private sector to recognise that the IRGC permeates much of the Iranian economy, and those who transact with IRGC-controlled companies do so at great risk".

While the IRGC is accused of supporting terrorism by Hamas and Hezbollah it also trains and supports Shiite militias in Iraq which have played a key role, fighting alongside government forces, in the war on the Islamic State group.

The IRGC's influence and intelligence gathering capability in Iraq were key factors in the Australian government's decision to agree to share intelligence with Iran about IS and Australians fighting for IS.

"I believe Iran has information that we would seek and they were very agreeable to share that information with us," Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in Tehran in April 2015.

That made an organisation with an odious reputation, including individuals sanctioned by the US and Australian governments, a de-facto intelligence partner.

If the agreement ever bore fruit, it would be interesting to know if the new blanket ban on the IRGC has any effect on Australia's cooperation with Iran.

The Iranian backed militias in Iraq may be seen as less important now that the war on IS is devolving to a more unconventional, counter-terrorist conflict.

But they have the ability to target US troops working with Iraqi government forces or to launch attacks on Kurdish troops who are at this moment in a tense armed stand-off with them on the outskirts of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

And they could turn on Iraq's Prime Minister, Haidar al Abadi, who Washington favours over former PM Nouri Al Maliki, who is much closer to Iran and whose sectarian policies aided the rise of IS.

Donald Trump wants a tougher line on missiles

While all of this is playing out, Mr Trump will be trying to garner international cooperation for a tougher line on Iran's missile program.

In parallel to the nuclear deal a UN Security Council resolution that said Iran "shall not" develop missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons was watered down, and replaced with one that merely "called upon"Iran not do so.

And Iran has exploited that loophole, continuing to test missiles with a range of 2,000 kilometres.

European powers say they share US concerns about these missiles. But there's doubt about their willingness to do much about it.

"When Mr Obama sought to include a prohibition on ballistic missiles in the Iran deal, or at least extend a previous Security Council resolution banning them, not just Russia and China but even our European allies in the nuclear negotiations refused," former Obama White House official Philip Gordon wrote in the New York Times in February.

In Iraq and Syria, where Iran is backing the government of Bashar al Assad, it has strategic interests it is unlikely to relinquish, despite increased sanctions.

It has successfully used militias and terrorist networks to exert influence over the Middle East. And it's exploited the chaos unleashed by the US-led invasion of Iraq and the brutal civil war in Syria, to deepen that influence to a remarkable degree.

But on the broader front, America's friends in the region, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have war chests much better able to handle the economic destruction conflict brings and possess advanced weapons systems for which Iran has no match.

That's one reason why stopping Iran from breaking out and leap-frogging up to the next level of nuclear arms was so important to them: and yet now we are entering a period in which the agreement which limits Iran's nuclear program is in doubt and successful international action on its long-range missile program seems unlikely.

While the stakes couldn't be higher, the path to put this new strategy into action couldn't be less clear.

Topics: donald-trumpworld-politicsgovernment-and-politicsunrest-conflict-and-warunited-statesiran-islamic-republic-of

First posted yesterday at 8:50am

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