Trump Team Offers Conflicting Takes on Iran

Trump decries JCPOA; experts disagree - “The Trump administration ratcheted up the rhetoric on Iran Wednesday, declaring the international deal to restrain Tehran's nuclear program had failed and that Iran continues to be ‘the world's leading sponsor of terrorism,’” write Elise Labott and Nicole Gaouette for CNN. “‘The nuclear deal forged by the Obama administration and allies ‘completely ignored all of the other serious threats that Iran poses,’ Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said from the department's ornate Treaty Room.”

--“Administration officials said the US is looking at ways to more strictly enforce the terms of the nuclear deal and impose tougher sanctions related to Iran's activities in the Middle East, which the US and its allies see as destabilizing… But [Ahmad] Majidyar argued that scrapping the deal wouldn't help Washington. ‘It would more isolate the United States than it would isolate Iran,’ he said, noting that other world powers are party to the deal.” For the full article, click here.

Tweet - @DarylGKimball: Tillerson doesn’t say it doesn’t achieve its goal. Why? #IranDeal is effectively blocking Iran’s path to the bomb.

Trump’s team reports effectiveness of JCPOA - “After almost two years of Donald Trump railing against the Iranian nuclear agreement, his administration admitted that Iran is complying with its obligations under the deal,” writes Adrienne Mahsa Varkiani for ThinkProgress. “And it’s likely that the United States will do the same — pending further review. Late on Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) informing him that Iran is fully compliant with the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement, known as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).”

--“Despite noting Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA — which has repeatedly been certified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — Tillerson’s statement on Monday said the United States would have to review the agreement and decide whether to continue suspending U.S. nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, a key requirement of the international agreement… ‘This [statement] is interesting in the way that they have presented it, by focusing on the negative first and kind of burying the fact that Iran is in compliance with the deal,’ Trita Parsi, founder of the National Iranian American Council and author of Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy, told ThinkProgress. ‘It would now be even more bizarre if they first certify that Iran is in compliance, and then decide to put the U.S. out of compliance by not renewing the [sanctions] waivers.’” For the full article, click here.

Iran deal proves invaluable - “President Trump has flip-flopped many times during his first months in office. But none may be as consequential as his decision on April 18 to certify that Iran is abiding by the nuclear deal of 2015, paving the way for further waiving of sanctions,” writes Trita Parsi for the New York Times. “The administration has now said it will conduct a 90-day review of whether lifting sanctions — as required by the nuclear deal — will be in line with American national security interests. But that timeline is not long enough to save the deal and stop the United States and Iran from sliding dangerously back to a path toward war.”

--“If the United States reneges on its obligations under the deal, Iran is likely to follow suit and start expanding its nuclear activities — regardless of who wins the presidential elections. The deal aimed to make an escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran more difficult and costly for both countries. And therein lies the true promise of the nuclear deal: Precisely because of its value, both sides are incentivized to contain their other disputes to ensure its survival. Over time, this could convert the United States and Iran from sworn enemies into mere competitors.” Find the full article here.

Tweet - @suzannedimaggio: Concern re: Iran's activities in region is all the more reason to sustain the nuclear deal. A milestone to build on.

Take action - Ready to restore checks and balances to the nuclear codes? Inspired by the legislation proposed by Rep. Ted Lieu and Sen. Ed Markey, Ploughshares Fund, along with sixteen other public interest groups, has created a new petition urging Congress to keep America safe by preventing any U.S. President from unilaterally launching a nuclear weapon. Sign and share the petition today.

New nukes and their $1 trillion pricetag - “A projected trillion-dollar price tag to upgrade, support and maintain the U.S.’s three-legged nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years is likely to be confirmed in a new assessment now under way by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office,” writes Anthony Capaccio for Bloomberg. “The project to modernize the air-land-sea triad of nuclear weapons was initiated under former President Barack Obama. It’s been endorsed by President Donald Trump, who’s now focused on pressuring North Korea to give up its expanding nuclear arsenal.”

--“No matter the number used, ‘all three legs of the nuclear triad are due for modernization nearly simultaneously,’ so the ‘big unknown is how it will be paid for, especially since many conventional weapons are planning replacement programs at the same time,’ said [Todd] Harrison, who was co-author of a review of the nuclear affordability issue. ‘Barring a significant increase in the defense budget in the 2020s, something is going to have to give.’” Read the full article here.

Are your nukes in good hands? - “I don’t wish to alarm you, but right now the majority of the world’s nuclear warheads are in the hands of men for whom the idea of using them is becoming thinkable,” writes Paul Mason for The Guardian. “We don’t know what secret diplomacy went on between Xi Jinping and Trump at Mar-a-Lago, but the US is sounding confident that China will rein the North Koreans in. What we do know is that Trump has been obsessed since the 80s with nuclear weapons, that he refuses to take advice from military professionals and that he seems not to understand the core Nato concept of nukes as a political deterrent, as opposed to a military superweapon.”

--“It has been human nature, given the scale of devastation a nuclear war would bring, to blank the possibility from our minds, to worry about small risks because the big one is incalculable. But from the 50s to the 00s, we had – in all nuclear powers – military/industrial complex politicians who understood the value of multilateralism… This sudden mania for speaking of nuclear warfare, among men with untrammeled power, should be the No 1 item on the news, and the No 1 concern of democratic and peace-loving politicians.” For the full article, click here.

See also - “No President Should Be Able to Start a Nuclear War Single-Handedly” by Eryn MacDonald for Union of Concerned Scientists. here.

Job Announcement - Ploughshares Fund seeks applicants for a competitive, one-year paid position as a Roger L. Hale Fellow. The Fellow works primarily with the policy (analysis/advocacy) team to conduct research on current nuclear weapons-related topics, monitor government policy, and write for publication on the Ploughshares Fund website and other venues. The Fellow will be based in the Washington, DC office of Ploughshares Fund. For details, click here.

Military threats entrench bad behavior - “Following a two-month review, the Trump administration has moved to implement a policy that emphasizes pressure — including the threat of military force and new sanctions against North Korea, as well as new restrictions intended to punish Chinese businesses with ties to Pyongyang,” writes Joel S. Wit for the New York Times. “These threats will make the North Korean government only more likely to dig in its heels and move forward with its nuclear and missile programs, embroiling the United States in a festering crisis on the Korean Peninsula that could escalate out of control.”

--“If the Trump administration’s current course continues, it will lead to a dead end. Pyongyang will push forward with its nuclear and missile programs, American threats will ring increasingly hollow if force is not exercised because of the very real risks of triggering a North Korean military response against South Korea and Japan, and Beijing’s support will soften as it looks for a way out of the tensions. The next step for the administration should be to initiate ‘talks about talks,’ allowing both sides to raise their concerns — in the case of the United States, North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. There are no guarantees that this approach will work. But the Trump administration’s constant refrain that ‘all options are on the table’ should mean just that — not only a military strike but also a diplomatic offensive.” Find the full article here.

See also - “North Korea and Mar-a-Lago: Did It Make Any Difference?” by Alan D. Romberg for 38North here.

Decoding Kim Jong Un’s new missiles - “North Korea’s military parade on Saturday, more than rallying its citizens, appeared intended to send a message to the rest of us: The country is seeking a program sophisticated enough to fire a guaranteed nuclear retaliation in any war, including one day against the United States,” writes Max Fisher for The New York Times. He analyzes the four new missile systems unveiled on Saturday and what they reveal about North Korea’s “rapidly growing capabilities,” with the help of Melissa Hanham and Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute and George William Herbert, an independent analyst.

--“Parading these weapons proves only North Korea’s ambitions, not its capabilities, the analysts said. But the country, they added, has already taken a number of steps long thought out of reach — steps that, if they continue, could make those ambitions reality.” Full article here.

Tweet - @nowthisnews: Rep. @tedlieu is not impressed with President Trump’s North Korea strategy — because there isn't one. Video here.

Quick Hits

--“A Vision of Trump at War” by Philip Gordon for Foreign Affairs here.

--“China left as observer as tensions rise on Korean Peninsula” by Christopher Bodeen for Associated Press here.

--“South Koreans Feel Cheated After U.S. Carrier Miscue” by Choe Sang-Hun for The New York Times here.

--“How the U.S. and China Can Find Common Ground on North Korea” by the Editorial Board for Bloomberg View here.


--The Federation of American Scientists presents: "Science & Security Summit 2017: How Can Scientists & Engineers Keep Us Safe?" Featuring: John P. Holdren, Richard Meserve, and Rodney Wilson. Introducing: Three distinguished graduate-level scientists and engineers. Friday, April 21 (12-3 p.m.) at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (1779 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036). Full event details here.

--“Short Course on Nuclear Weapon and Related Security Issues." American Physical Society. George Washington University, Elliott School of International Affairs, April 21-22, 2017. 1957 E St. NW, Washington, DC 20052. RSVP here.

--“Toward a Fundamental Change in Nuclear Weapons Policy" Soka Gakkai International-USA. Thursday April 27, 2017, 9:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m. at the United States Capitol Visitor Center - Congressional Meeting Room South (CVC-217). Details here.

--“Reducing the Threat of Nuclear War.” Featuring: Joe Cirincione, William Hartung, Elaine Scarry, and others. Massachusetts Peace Action. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Saturday May 6, 2017, 9:00a.m.-5:00p.m. MIT Room 34-101, 50 Vassar St, Cambridge, MA 02139. Details here.

--“The Women’s March to Ban the Bomb.” Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Saturday, June 17, 2017, 12:00p.m.-4:00p.m. Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, Greenmarket, 2nd Avenue, New York, NY 10017. Details here.

--“PONI 2017 Summer Conference.” The first conference of the 2017-2018 PONI Conference Series will be held June 21-22 at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Center for Global Security Research in Livermore, California. The two-day conference will feature a series presentations from emerging nuclear experts, a keynote address, tours of facilities at Lawrence Livermore, and a breakout discussion on nuclear terrorism adapted from a ministerial-level scenario that will led by Corey Hinderstein and Heather Looney from NNSA. The conference will be off-the-record. Details here.


Nuclear volleyball follies - “After readying a possible nuclear test, it seems that North Korea's nuclear technicians are entitled to some downtime,” writes Euan McKirdy for CNN. “North Korean monitoring service 38 North says satellite images from April 16 show what appears to be ‘three volleyball games underway at different locations throughout’ at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.”

--“38 North notes that satellite imagery has previously captured games in progress throughout the nation. ‘Personnel playing volleyball at the Punggye-ri nuclear test facility have also been identified on a number of occasions as far back as 2006 prior to the first nuclear test and more recently in February,’ it said.” Full article here.

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