Ankit Panda: What Really Happened in the Persian Gulf on April 28, 2015?

USS_Farragut;99_Turn_Burn

Ankit Panda writes: A 65,000 ton, Danish-owned, Singapore-chartered, container ship, en route to the United Arab Emirates from Saudi Arabia, manned mostly by Eastern European and Asian sailors, is intercepted, boarded, and confiscated by the Iranian navy, prompting a U.S. destroyer to investigate.*

“Iran’s reasons for seizing the ship were at first unclear. Speculation abounded that the incident was a show of force intended to strike back at the United States after it sent the USS Theodore Roosevelt to intercept an Iranian arms shipment to Yemen’s Houthis last week.” 

That wasn’t an anecdote from Tom Friedman’s next book on globalization–it’s a rough description of what took place on Tuesday, April 28, in the strategically important sea lanes of the Strait of Hormuz.

“Additionally, others suggested that the seizure could have been a move by hardliners opposing Iran’s negotiations with the West over its nuclear program  –  an attempt to spark a broader crisis to derail those talks.”

Allow me to get into the details:

The shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz have long been highlighted as a potential flashpoint amid the simmering geopolitical tensions between the United States and Iran. Its waters are of particular geostrategic significance given that over a third of the world’s petroleum traded by sea passes through the region. Iran has repeatedly emphasized its dominance over the waters, threatening to blockade the strait in a time of crisis. Today, we saw an acute manifestation of Iran’s audacity when the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) seized and escorted the Marshall Islands-flagged MV Maersk Tigris, a shipping vessel belonging to Denmark’s A.P. Moller–Maersk Group and chartered by Singapore-based Rickmers Shipmanagement, toward the Iranian port at Bandar Abbas.

[Read the full text here, at The Diplomat]

The incident sparked a response by U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), which ordered the USS Farragut, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer that was 60 miles from the point of the Tigris’ interception, to respond to the vessel’s distress signal. The incident took place as Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif led a delegation to New York City for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference at the United Nations, meeting with Western diplomats on the sidelines to discuss the ongoing P5+1 talks over his country’s nuclear program.

Map depicting the MV Maersk Tigris’ original path toward the UAE and diversion after being intercepted by the IRGCN. (Source: marinetraffic.com)

Map depicting the MV Maersk Tigris’ original path toward the UAE and diversion after being intercepted by the IRGCN. (Source: marinetraffic.com)

Saudi Arabia-backed, UAE-based Al Arabiya was among the first sources to break the news in English. It reported that Iran had fired warning shots (true) and seized a U.S.-flagged vessel (false). Nevertheless, the initial reports sparked considerable online panic at the prospect that the United States and Iran could be headed for a major confrontation. The report also noted that the crew of the ship numbered 34 and were American. Needless to say, U.S. citizens being held against their will by Iran hits a raw nerve for the United States given certain historical events. We’ve since learned, thanks to Reuters, that the Tigris’ has a crew of 24, most of whom hail “from Eastern Europe and Asia.”  Read the rest of this entry »


Bret Stephens: Obama and the ‘Inevitable Critics’

WSJ-map

We are dealing with a case of Mutually Assured Obfuscation

Bret Stephens writes: ‘So when you hear the inevitable critics of the deal sound off, ask them a simple question: Do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, backed by the world’s major powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East?”

That was Barack Obama on Thursday, defending his Iran diplomacy while treating its opponents to the kind of glib contempt that is the mark of the progressive mind. Since I’m one of those inevitable critics, let me answer his question.

Yes, it’s worse. Much worse.

Yes, because what the president calls “this verifiable deal” fails the first test of verification—mutual agreement and clarity as to what, exactly, is in it.

[Read the full text here, at WSJ]

Take sanctions. Iran insists all sanctions—economic as well as nuclear—will be “immediately revoked” and that “the P5+1 member countries are committed to restraining from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions.” But the Obama administration claims Iran will only get relief “if it verifiably abides by its commitments.” The administration adds that “the architecture of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be retained for much of the duration of the deal.”

IMG_9162

So who is lying? Or are we dealing with a case of Mutually Assured Obfuscation?

Yes, too, because the deal fails the second test of verification: It can’t be verified.

Here again there are significant discrepancies between the U.S. and the Iranian versions of the deal. The administration claims “Iran has agreed to implement the Additional Protocol,” a reference to an addendum to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that permits intrusive inspections. But Tehran merely promises to implement the protocol “on a voluntary and temporary basis,” pending eventual ratification by its parliament, inshallah.

We’ve seen this movie before. Iran agreed to implement the Additional Protocol in 2003, only to renounce it in early 2006, after stonewalling weapons inspectors. Read the rest of this entry »


‘Hey Bitches, There’s No Need to Spin Using ‘Fact Sheets’ So Early On’: Iran Smacks Down U.S. with Accusations of Lying

Javad Zarif New York

Following the signing of an interim agreement with Iran aimed at scaling back its nuclear work, Iran accused the United States of lying about details of the agreement

LAUSANNE, Switzerland —  reports: Just hours after the announcement of what the United States characterized as a historic agreement with Iran over its nuclear program, the country’s leading negotiator lashed out at the Obama administration for lying about the details of a tentative framework.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif accused the Obama administration of misleading the American people and Congress in a fact sheet it released following the culmination of negotiations with the Islamic Republic.

Drudge-Iran-Nuke

Zarif bragged in an earlier press conference with reporters that the United States had tentatively agreed to let it continue the enrichment of uranium, the key component in a nuclear bomb, as well as key nuclear research.

Zarif additionally said Iran would have all nuclear-related sanctions lifted once a final deal is signed and that the country would not be forced to shut down any of its currently operating nuclear installations.

kerry-phone

Following a subsequent press conference by Secretary of State John Kerry—and release of a administration fact sheet on Iranian concessions—Zarif lashed out on Twitter over what he dubbed lies.

“The solutions are good for all, as they stand,” he tweeted. “There is no need to spin using ‘fact sheets’ so early on.”

Zarif went on to push back against claims by Kerry that the sanctions relief would be implemented in a phased fashion—and only after Iran verifies that it is not conducting any work on the nuclear weapons front.

Zarif, echoing previous comments, said the United States has promised an immediate termination of sanctions.

“Iran/5+1 Statement: ‘US will cease the application of ALL nuclear-related secondary economic and financial sanctions.’ Is this gradual?” he wrote on Twitter.

He then suggested a correction: “Iran/P5+1 Statement: ‘The EU will TERMINATE the implementation of ALL nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions’. How about this?”

The pushback from Iran’s chief diplomat follows a pattern of similar accusations by senior Iranian political figures after the announcement of previous agreements. Read the rest of this entry »


Hamilton’s Warning Against Obama and the Iran Deal: Federalist No. 75

Hamilton-Cleaning-Reuters-640x480

Congress should heed Hamilton’s warning before it is too late

“An ambitious man might make his own aggrandizement, by the aid of a foreign power, the price of his treachery to his constituents.”

Thus did Alexander Hamilton warn the American people, in Federalist No. 75, against allowing the president to make treaties alone.

Hamilton, while a supporter of executive power, nevertheless argued for the Senate’s treaty role, because “it would be utterly unsafe and improper to intrust that power to an elective magistrate of four years’ duration.”

“An avaricious man might be tempted to betray the interests of the state to the acquisition of wealth.”

It would be unsafe, he said, because even the most virtuous individuals, with the best of intentions, would fall prey to the temptations that negotiations with foreign powers would certainly provide.

How much more so does his advice apply to a president of lesser virtue, such as Barack Obama, who intends to decrease the power of the United States as a matter of ideological conviction, and who seeks narcissistic satisfaction in the attention a deal with Iran would temporarily provide!

Hamilton also anticipated the greed allegedly displayed by Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, whose perambulations around the globe in service of the president’s dubious foreign policy agenda coincided with generous donations from foreign governments to her family’s personal foundation. Read the rest of this entry »


Iran Foreign Minister Alludes to Deceiving Obama Administration

iran-image

Reza Kahlili writes: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called America’s assertions about the interim nuclear agreement reached recently in Geneva “nonsense” and said the Islamic Republic’s strategy will collapse the sanctions program.

U.S. officials have called the nuclear agreement a first step in rolling back the Islamic regime’s nuclear program. President Barack Obama praised them as “substantial limitations” on Iran’s nuclear activities — but Zarif said Iran can easily reverse any enrichment limitations.

Zarif, reporting on the Geneva negotiations to the regime’s parliament last Wednesday, alluded to deceiving the Obama administration and the 5+1 world powers, the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany.

“The Americans talk nonsense [on enforcing limitations on Iran’s nuclear program]… All of these [negotiations] are ultimately for [the representatives] to protect the interests of the country,” he said.

Referring to what Iran claims is its right to enrich uranium, he added, “This right is there, regardless if the West accepts it or not.”

Zarif said there is nothing in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons that can affect “the inalienable right of all the parties to the treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. An inalienable right is an inherent and undeniable right that no one can take away… American claims are nonsense.”

Watch:

Zarif told parliamentarians that the regime’s goal is to lift U.N. sanctions, which would prevent the U.S. and the European Union from enforcing their own sanctions.

“I promise you, the moment the U.N. Security Council sanctions are lifted, all other U.S. sanctions will be nothing but scrap paper,” he said.

Read the rest of this entry »


America’s Moment of Truth on Iran

The future of America’s standing as a great power depends on the choices it makes in dealing with Iran

ovalofficeOFlynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett write: America’s Iran policy is at a crossroads.  Washington can abandon its counterproductive insistence on Middle Eastern hegemony, negotiate a nuclear deal grounded in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and get serious about working with Tehran to broker a settlement to the Syrian conflict.  In the process, the United States would greatly improve its ability to shape important outcomes there.  Alternatively, America can continue on its present path, leading ultimately to strategic irrelevance in one of the world’s most vital regions—with negative implications for its standing in Asia as well.

U.S. policy is at this juncture because the costs of Washington’s post-Cold War drive to dominate the Middle East have risen perilously high.  President Obama’s self-inflicted debacle over his plan to attack Syria after chemical weapons were used there in August showed that America can no longer credibly threaten the effective use of force to impose its preferences in the region.  While Obama still insists “all options are on the table” for Iran, the reality is that, if Washington is to deal efficaciously with the nuclear issue, it will be through diplomacy.

In this context, last month’s Geneva meeting between Iran and the P5+1 brought America’s political class to a strategic and political moment of truth.  Can American elites turn away from a self-damaging quest for Middle Eastern hegemony by coming to terms with an independent regional power?  Or are they so enthralled with an increasingly surreal notion of America as hegemon that, to preserve U.S. “leadership,” they will pursue a course further eviscerating its strategic position?

Read the rest of this entry »