Category Archives: Iran

Obama’s R-Word

If this event and subject even needs to be explained, then we have more basis problems.
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WSJ 8/19/2016

The Obama Administration’s handling of the Iran ransom-for-hostages story brings to mind the classic Chico Marx line in the movie “Duck Soup”: “Who are you going to believe— me or your own eyes?”

After everyone in the Administration from President Obama on down denied that a $400 million cash payment to Iran had anything to do with the same-day release of four American hostages, the State Department on Thursday said your own eyes had it right the first time.

While still not using the R-word, State Department spokesman John Kirby said of the two events: “We of course wanted to seek maximum leverage in this case as these two things came together at the same time.”

Credit here goes to Wall Street Journal reporters Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee, who on Aug. 3 broke the story of the $400 million payment to Iran coincident with the hostage release in January. Despite Mr. Obama himself trying to knock down the Journal’s story by asserting, “we do not pay ransom for hostages,” the reporters this week established the linkage.

U.S. officials acknowledged to the Journal that they wouldn’t allow a plane from Iran Air, loaded with pallets of cash, to take off from a runway in Geneva until the hostages’ plane in Tehran was “wheels up.” State’s Mr. Kirby was finally obliged to admit this publicly.

One may reasonably ask: Why did the Obama Administration persist with such an obviously preposterous cover story? Mr. Obama offered one honest answer amid his original denial. We didn’t pay a ransom, the President said, “precisely because if we did we’d start encouraging Americans to be targeted.”

There’s another reason. Mr. Obama didn’t want to sully what he obviously considers the crowning foreign-policy achievement of his Presidency with an admission that a grubby payoff to Iran’s mullahs is what got it done. Coming clearer by the day is the reality that Mr. Obama in fact ransomed his second term’s entire foreign policy to getting the nuclear deal, which along with lifting sanctions was supposed to be the incentive for Iran to help stabilize the Middle East. Iran had its own ideas about that.

On Tuesday the Russian foreign ministry ostentatiously announced that four of its Tu-22M3 bombers had flown from an Iranian airfield to hit anti-Assad forces in three Syrian provinces. The long-range bombers then returned to Russia.

Russia doesn’t need the Iranian air base to bomb Syria. Russia and Iran were making a political point about their budding alliance in the Middle East. They did this, moreover, after persuading Secretary of State John Kerry to persuade Mr. Obama to share with Russia U.S. intelligence on bombing targets in Syria. Mr. Obama sided with Mr. Kerry despite Pentagon objections. Oh, and Vladimir Putin is now sending tens of thousands of Russian soldiers to newly built installations near the border with Ukraine. Perhaps this is the Russian’s way of thanking Mr. Kerry for the intel.

Mr. Obama, meanwhile, spent August denying that a ransom was a ransom. Since the January “leverage” moment, Iran has taken three more Americans as hostage and is now demanding the return of $2 billion in funds that U.S. courts have ordered held for the victims of Iranian- sponsored terrorism. The eyes of the world can simply stare.

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Your President negotiating on your behalf…

Not sure how many more days I can simply go on … “Oh, well, Not a concern of mine…”
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WSJ 1/21/2016 By David Locke Hall

The release Saturday during a prisoner swap of four Americans held by Iran, including the reporter Jason Rezaian and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, is certainly welcome news. But the details of this deal, arranged after a year of secret negotiations, are troubling.

In exchange the U.S. freed seven Iranian men, six with dual American citizenship—though they seem to have decided against returning to Iran. Most were charged with export violations: in other words, smuggling goods and technology, including those with military applications, from the U.S. to Iran. By making this deal, which traded law-abiding U.S. citizens for Iranian defendants charged with or convicted of federal crimes that jeopardize U.S. national security, the administration has stooped to Iran’s level. That’s a high price to pay, and it sets a dangerous precedent for federal law enforcement.

I served as an assistant U.S. attorney for 23 years, working with counter- proliferation agents from Homeland Security Investigations to investigate and prosecute unlawful arms procurement by Iran. The reason for our focus on Iran was its sustained effort over decades to obtain munitions from the U.S.

One of the defendants I helped to prosecute was Amir Ardebili, an agent operating from Shiraz, Iran, who attempted to buy weapons components from American companies. Starting in 2004 Mr. Ardebili dealt with Cross International, a Pennsylvania-based front company run by undercover agents. Among the components he agreed to buy from Cross were microchips used in phased-array radar (for missile tracking and target acquisition) and a digital air-data computer for the F-4 Phantom fighter aircraft.

In 2007, Mr. Ardebili agreed to meet undercover agents in Tbilisi, Georgia, where he was arrested and extradited. He entered a guilty plea in 2008, admitting that he willfully and knowingly violated U.S. export laws to procure weapons for Iran. He served a five-year sentence, and was deported back to Iran in 2012, so he was not among those recently released.

Yet the seven men freed Saturday have similar stories. One was convicted of hacking an American defense contractor to steal software. A second man was convicted of conspiring to enable Iran to launch its first satellite in 2005. Another was convicted of conspiring to buy and export marine navigation components (fiber-optic gyrocompasses) and military electronic components (electron tubes). Three were awaiting trial for participating in an illegal procurement network to supply Iran with controlled microelectronics used in surface-to-air and cruise missiles. The seventh was convicted after trial of smuggling advanced industrial components to Iran.

These men’s crimes posed a direct threat to U.S. national security. President Obama described the swap as a “one-time gesture.” But this gesture diminishes any deterrent effect their arrests and convictions may have had. It also erases years of hard work by investigators and prosecutors.

The administration’s actions send a clear signal to federal agents and prosecutors that their labors produce nothing more than political capital, to be traded away when it is politically expedient. Arms-procurement investigations are always difficult and labor intensive. Nabbing Mr. Ardebili required years of sustained effort, travel to Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and a significant expenditure of national treasure. These prosecutions require proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew he was violating U.S. export laws and was doing something wrong. For this reason, few exportenforcement actions are brought to begin with. Now, there will likely be even fewer.

Most troubling, the administration is equating law-abiding Americans— guilty of nothing more than reporting for a newspaper, advocating better Iranian-American relations, and preaching the Christian faith—with Iranians arrested for violating federal laws and sending components and technology to a country preparing for war with the U.S.

When Mr. Ardebili met with undercover agents in Georgia, he said that Iran’s leaders “think the war is coming.” Tehran’s ballistic-missile test last fall, its firing of rockets near the USS Harry S. Truman last month, and its capture and public humiliation of U.S. sailors in the Persian Gulf last week tell the same story. Freeing those who transfer American technology to such an aggressor seems like a very bad deal indeed.

Mr. Hall, a former Justice Department official and intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, is the author of “CRACK99: The Takedown of a $100 Million Chinese Software Pirate” (W.W. Norton, 2015).

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Who Lost Saudi Arabia?

He is negotiating with Iran and Russia. He snubs his nose at the Saudis, at Israel, at Egypt.  Let me ask: Who are our friends? Who are the enemy?  And Obama thinks he is the smartest guy on the planet.
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WSJ Jan. 3, 2016 5:20 p.m.

That headline question may seem premature, but it’s worth asking if only to reduce the odds that the Saudis are lost as we enter the last perilous year of the Obama Presidency. Iran and Russia have an interest in toppling the House of Saud, and they may be calculating whether President Obama would do anything to stop them.

This comes to mind watching the furious reaction by Iran and its allies to Saudi Arabia’s New Year execution of 47 men for terrorism. Most of the condemned were Sunnis, including members of al Qaeda, but the Saudis also executed prominent Shiite cleric Nemer al-Nemer, who had led a Shiite uprising in 2011.

“The divine hand of revenge will come back on the tyrants who took his life,” said Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday, among many other denunciations across the Shiite Middle East. Protesters ransacked and set fire to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran before police belatedly stopped them. The Saudis responded by cutting off diplomatic relations with Iran.

Nouri al-Maliki, the Iranian ally and former Prime Minister of Iraq, put regime change on the table by saying the execution “will topple the Saudi regime as the crime of executing the martyr al-Sadr did to Saddam” Hussein. He was referring to the death of another prominent Shiite cleric in Iraq in 1980.

Iran already has ample reason to want to topple the Saudis, who are its main antagonist in the Shiite vs. Sunni conflict that has swept the region amid America’s retreat. The two are fighting a proxy war in Yemen, after a Saudi-led coalition intervened to stop a takeover by Iran’s Houthi allies. The Saudis are also the leading supporter of the non-Islamic State Sunnis who are fighting Syria’s ally Bashar Assad. Russia and Iran are allied with Assad.

Then there’s Saudi oil production keeping oil prices low. As the biggest exporters in OPEC, the Saudis have refused to cut production to stem a supply glut that has cut prices to $37 a barrel. This means Iran will get much less benefit from its renewed ability to export oil under its nuclear accord with Mr. Obama.

Saudi exports are also punishing Russia, the world’s second largest oil producer, which by some accounts needs oil at $100 a barrel to satisfy Vladimir Putin’s domestic promises. The ruble dropped to its lowest level to the dollar in 2015 last week on the prospect of still-lower oil prices. Russia and Iran would benefit greatly from internal Saudi turmoil or the threat of a larger regional war that caused oil prices to spike.

None of this means a direct Iran-Saudi conflict is imminent, though with dictatorships you never know. Iran had no good reason to fire rockets within 1,500 yards of the USS Truman last month, but it may have been testing to see how the U.S. would react. The Administration didn’t respond until the news was leaked, and then with a mild military statement.

The White House decision last week to walk back U.S. sanctions against Iran after its recent ballistic-missile tests may also embolden Iran to take greater risks. Iran’s leaders may believe the nuclear deal is a greater restraint on the U.S. than on their own regional ambitions. They can always threaten to leave the nuclear deal if the U.S. imposes new sanctions. The Revolutionary Guard may also believe they have more freedom of action given Russia’s support in Syria and its plan to deliver S-300 anti-aircraft missiles.

As for the Saudis, they can be forgiven for doubting that they can count on President Obama. Fairly or not, they concluded from the fall of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak that this Administration will abandon its friends in a pinch. They saw his “red-line” reversal in 2013 in Syria, Mr. Obama’s accommodation to Russian revanchism in Crimea, and that he now may let Assad keep power in Syria. The Saudis intervened in Bahrain in 2011 without telling the U.S., and they recently formed a new Sunni-state coalition to fight Islamic State—again without the U.S.

The Saudis treat domestic dissenters harshly, but the Shiite cleric Nemer was no human-rights activist. Joseph Braude of the Foreign Policy Research Institute says that in the 1980s and 1990s Nemer was a leader in Hezbollah al-Hejaz, an armed group in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province. Nemer followed the teachings of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini and declared the Sunni ruling dynasties in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait to be illegitimate. While he later toned down his revolutionary rhetoric, by 2009 he was again advocating a military option.

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The Saudis are often difficult allies, especially the support by rich Wahhabi sheikhs for radical Islamist mosques and schools around the world. But in a Middle East wracked by civil wars, political upheaval and Iranian imperialism, the Saudis are the best friend we have in the Arabian peninsula. The U.S. should make clear to Iran and Russia that it will defend the Kingdom from Iranian attempts to destabilize or invade

http://www.wsj.com/articles/who-lost-the-saudis-1451859635

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Bring them Home:

Impotent. That’s the polite term. C______ is the other . . .

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By William McGure WSJ Dec. 28, 2015 6:39 p.m.

On Thursday night as the ball drops in Times Square, millions of Americans watching on TV will join the revelers in Manhattan to celebrate the new year. For other Americans, alas, the arrival of Jan. 1 will mark only the beginning of another year behind Iranian bars.

It’s long past time to bring these men home.

At last year’s White House welcome for Bowe Bergdahl—the soldier who walked away from his combat post in Afghanistan and will soon be tried for desertion and misbehavior before the enemy—President Obama did manage to refer to other Americans “unjustly detained abroad” who also “deserve to be reunited with their families.”

So what has happened since? Last summer, scarcely a year after that Rose Garden ceremony, Secretary of State John Kerry announced a nuclear deal with Tehran. The agreement puts the Iranians on a path to a bomb and releases billions of dollars that had been frozen by sanctions. But no American walked free. When asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” about these prisoners, Mr. Kerry answered this way:

“There was not a meeting that took place, not one meeting that took place—believe me, that’s not an exaggeration—where we did not raise the issue of our American citizens being held.”

Mr. Kerry is oblivious to the obvious: If what he says is true, it only confirms his impotence.

Back when the nukes deal was being negotiated, the idea was that an agreement would clear the way for these Americans to be freed. That hasn’t happened, and it hasn’t happened because the Iranians are not stupid. As Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin noted recently, “Each American prisoner makes Iran that much more confident that nothing it does will tempt Obama to stop the deal.”

This helps explain why Iran in October convicted a Washington Post reporter of bogus espionage charges, after the deal was reached. Indeed, that same month Iran arrested an Iranian-American businessman named Siamak Namazi.

The reporter’s name is Jason Rezaian, and he has been held captive for more than 500 days since his arrest. A year ago, Mr. Kerry released a statement saying he was “personally dismayed and disturbed” by the charges against Mr. Rezaian. Unfortunately, Mr. Kerry’s personal dismay hasn’t disturbed the Iranians.

Robert Levinson is another story. The former FBI agent disappeared in Iran in 2007 while on a half-baked CIA mission. The Iranians say they don’t know what happened to Mr. Levinson, the father of seven. At one point he was written off as dead, until photos surfaced showing him alive. And now Mr. Kerry expects a regime that won’t come clean about Mr. Levinson to be forthcoming about its nuclear program?

Amir Hekmati is an American-born Marine veteran arrested in Iran in 2011 while visiting his grandmother. He has kept up the fight from prison, at one point smuggling out a letter in which he said that a televised confession he’d made had been done under duress—and asked Mr. Kerry to reject any overture from Tehran to trade him for Iranian operatives held in the U.S.

Saeed Abedini is another detained Iranian-American and a convert to Christianity. Though Iran claims to respect the right of Christian worship, Christians are harassed and Mr. Abedini was arrested when he returned to Iran to build an orphanage. Such are the menaces to Iran these days. He has been in jail since 2012.

It’s important to repeat these names—loudly, frequently and in public. The reason is that such Americans have no natural constituency pleading for them, outside of their families and the occasional congressman. For a White House, there’s always some trade deal, some military exercise or other agreement that can make the plight of an individual American seem less a call for action than an irritant to the diplomatic agenda.

While we’re on the subject of Americans unjustly locked up abroad, Pakistan continues to hold the doctor who helped us get Osama bin Laden. Dr. Shakil Afridi is not a U.S. citizen. But how can we expect people to help us if we leave them to the wolves when they do? Dr. Afridi’s incarceration is a testament to both Pakistan’s bad faith and President Obama’s bad policies.

Every one of these lives is important, not least to the families who pray for the safe release of their loved ones. But their cases hold a larger importance too. Because the world becomes a much more dangerous place when the message goes out that it’s open season on Americans.

The only real protection for our vulnerable citizens abroad is this: The certainty among bad guys that they will pay a swift and severe price for molesting an American citizen.

In the first Iranian hostage crisis, Jimmy Carter at least made Iran pay by banning Iranian imports and freezing its assets. In this new hostage crisis, by contrast, the Americans held prisoner are paying off for Iran, not only by making it harder for Mr. Obama to punish any Iranian cheating on the nuclear deal but in the regime’s access to tens of billions in unfrozen assets.

Why should Iran change a winning hand?

Write to McGurn@wsj.com.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/bring-them-home-mr-president-1451345958

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