White House picks fight with Iran (et al.)

Undiplomatic exchanges between Trump and Iran - “President Trump and Iran traded sharp statements Thursday, with Trump amplifying warnings over Tehran’s missile tests and a top adviser to Iran’s leader saying it was not the first time an ‘inexperienced person has threatened’ his country,” write Anne Gearan and Eric Cunningham for The Washington Post. “The shifts appear to ­sideline traditional diplomacy and concentrate decision-making among a small group of aides who are quickly projecting their new ‘America First’ approach to the world.”

--“On Wednesday, national security adviser ­Michael Flynn made a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room to deliver a tight-lipped warning to Iran over its most recent ballistic missile test… On Thursday, Trump reiterated his administration’s warning to Iran, writing in a tweet that Tehran was ‘formally PUT ON NOTICE for firing a ballistic missile.’ A top adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also fired back, saying that ‘the American government will understand that threatening Iran is useless,’ according to the Reuters news agency, citing local media. ‘This is not the first time that an inexperienced person has threatened Iran,’ the adviser, Ali Akbar Velayati, said. ‘Iran does not need permission from any country to defend itself.’” Full story here. http://wapo.st/2jB7igv

Not Trump’s job to determine Iran’s compliance status - “In a brief statement citing Iran’s ballistic missile launch over the weekend and an attack against a Saudi naval vessel conducted by Iran-supported militants, [National Security Advisor Michael] Flynn charged that the Obama administration had failed to respond adequately to Tehran’s ‘malign’ actions, called the Iran nuclear deal ‘weak and ineffective’ and announced that as of today ‘we are officially putting Iran on notice,’” writes the Editorial Board of Los Angeles Times. “‘On notice’? What does that mean? A senior Trump administration official later said ‘a whole range of options’ were being considered, and repeatedly refused to rule out military action.”

--“Fortunately, it will be hard for Trump to kill the Iran nuclear deal too quickly or on his own: It was reached through negotiations that included the United Kingdom, Russia, France, China and Germany. And while far from perfect, the agreement has achieved its prime goal of throttling Iran’s ability to create nuclear weapons for at least 10 years… Iran claims its [missile] test Sunday did not violate the [United Nation Security Council] resolution; Flynn says it did. Whether it was a violation is not for the Trump administration to determine, but for the Security Council… it’s still unclear whether Iran was testing a missile or testing Trump. If the latter, Iran got its answer: The new president is easily, and perhaps dangerously, baited.” Full story here. http://lat.ms/2ktWAbd

See also - “Iran’s Ballistic Missile Test: Troubling But Not Cause for Provoking Confrontation,” by Kelsey Davenport and Daryl Kimball for Arms Control Association. http://bit.ly/2kZW415

Ramifications for JCPOA - “Iranian leaders were testing more than technology when they fired a medium-range ballistic missile on Sunday. They were, and are, also testing whether the new Trump administration will use any pretext to ‘dismantle’ the 2015 nuclear deal,” writes George Perkovich for Politico. “The missile test itself does not violate the nuclear deal – officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – but if President Trump is looking for a pretext to rip it up, he and his team certainly are creative enough to seize this one.”

--“On the other hand, Trump the dealmaker could heed his own statement on Meet the Press in August, when he said that rather than ripping it up he would ‘police that contract so tough that they don’t have a chance.’ Trump’s policing instinct serves him well here. Causing the Iran nuclear deal to unravel would alienate governments otherwise friendly toward him and unify those who oppose him. Such a negative shift in alignments would weaken his international power and undermine his domestic image. An early failure like this could hearten Trump’s opponents, but the impact on international security would be grave.” Full essay here. http://politi.co/2l0gdnN

International experts debate Iran’s compliance with the UN - “European and Russian officials weighed in on the legality of Iran’s missile tests, after the U.S. called for an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss a reported launch,” write Ladane Nasseri and Alexei Anishchuk. “Nabila Massrali, spokeswoman for EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini, told reporters in Brussels that ‘the Iranian ballistic-missile program was not part’ of the 2015 nuclear pact with world powers and ‘hence the tests are not a violation of it.’ She said it was up to the top UN body to determine if they contravened its resolution 2231 on ballistic technology.”

--“Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, ruled that out, saying the resolution calls on Iran only to abstain from launching missiles able to ‘carry nuclear warheads,’ Interfax reported. Russia is confident Iran has no nuclear weapons program, he said… Iran’s missile program ‘has nothing to do’ with the nuclear agreement, Zarif said at a joint press conference with his French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault. ‘We will not use our weapons against anyone unless it’s in our own defense.’” Full story here. http://bloom.bg/2kLT9Kj

Tweet - @Livableworld: There's a "direct link" between eliminating #nuclear weapons, ending poverty & more sustainable world. http://bit.ly/2jZSP9H

Pakistan’s nuclear security - “Nuclear weapons today are a part of Pakistan’s belief system, having been built up over the years because they seem to have provided a credible deterrent against Indian aggression,” writes Sajid Farid Shapoo for The Diplomat. “Pakistan is now on a journey to strengthen its deterrent… Pakistan believes the most credible way to deter a conventional war against a nuclear India is to asymmetrically escalate a conflict by threatening first use of tactical nuclear weapons on advancing Indian forces once they cross the border into Pakistani soil — deterrence by denial.”

--“Pakistan takes immense pride in its nuclear capability... But it is time Pakistan conveyed its nuclear maturity by talking more about its nuclear security provisions… The innately unstable civilian-military dynamic, the risk of an internal rogue threat, the highly charged domestic jihadi environment, and rapidly multiplying [tactical nuclear weapons] TNW arsenal combine to put Pakistan near the top of the list of global nuclear threats. Unless these adversarial threats are eliminated, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons will continue to be a source of high threat perceptions. Pakistan needs to appreciate that a robust and impregnable security system is essential not only for its own nuclear stability, but also for global peace and security.” Full story here. http://bit.ly/2kSD4S1

Tweet - @SecDef19: US and Russia can learn from China: bigger isn't always better http://atfp.co/2k92Ty5

POTUS & Russian sanctions - Recently, “Donald Trump suggested that he would offer to lift U.S. sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as part of a nuclear arms control agreement. At a time when tensions between the two countries are growing, a verifiable and stabilizing new arms control agreement would be genuinely welcome. But a bad deal would only make matters worse,” write Adam Mount and Richard Nephew for The Hill. “The comments about sanctions relief raise real questions about whether the incoming administration is willing to pay any price to improve relations with Russia (and why).”

--Yet, “We’re pleased to learn that Trump recognizes the value of nuclear reductions. Good arms control agreements are those that exchange stabilizing, verifiable, and mutually beneficial reductions. A good accord can indeed lead to better relations — but closing our eyes to Russian aggression in Ukraine or rushing into a bad arms control deal are too high a price. It is incumbent on Congress to use its oversight powers to prevent either from happening. Congress must insist that any arms control measures be verifiable and stabilizing, that Russia make real progress in Ukraine before any U.S. sanctions are relieved, and that the two issues be clearly separated.” Full story here. http://bit.ly/2kwbX2x

Nuke waste is expensive - “The Nevada commission charged with overseeing nuclear waste issues on Tuesday warned that it expects Congress to seek funding to revive the shuttered Yucca Mountain repository project this year,” writes Keith Rogers for Las Vegas Review Journal. “The report states it is not yet clear whether the Trump administration would support reviving the shuttered program to permanently store 77,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste... Based on past estimates, completing the licensing process could cost $2 billion or more. The NRC chairman has set the task’s cost at $330 million over multiple years.” Full story here. http://bit.ly/2kVmkKa

Tweet - @nukes_of_hazard: Resuming #nuclear arms control talks is mutually beneficial, sanctions relief should be kept out of it http://bit.ly/2kwbX2x

Mattis to Asia - “President Donald Trump's defense secretary is expected to underscore U.S. security commitments to key allies South Korea and Japan on his debut trip to Asia this week as concerns mount over North Korea's missile program and tensions with China,” write Phil Stewart and Nobuhiro Kubo for Reuters. “Analysts expect Mattis to seek an update on South Korea's early moves to host a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, which, once in place sometime in 2017, would defend against North Korea's nuclear and ballistic capabilities.”

--“Officials say the fact that Mattis is first heading to Asia - as opposed to perhaps visiting troops in Iraq or Afghanistan - is meant to reaffirm ties with two Asian allies hosting nearly 80,000 American troops and the importance of the region overall... ‘It's a reassurance message... This is for all of the people who were concerned during the campaign that then-candidate, now-president, Trump was skeptical of our alliances and was somehow going to retreat from our traditional leadership role in the region,’" one Trump official said. Full story here. http://reut.rs/2jTE3By

See also - “Pentagon boss makes 1st trip to Asia; North Korea plans unclear,” by Matthew Pennington and Robert Burns for Military Times. http://bit.ly/2klzMb4

Quick Hits:

--“Outgoing U.S. Official Urges Diplomats to ‘Stay’ and Protect Constitution,” by John Hudson for Foreign Policy. http://atfp.co/2koMUyh

--“ The Doomsday Clock Is Now at Two and a Half Minutes to Midnight,” by James Carden for The Nation. http://bit.ly/2jxikmO

--“After a missile test, where is Trump’s Iran policy?” by Jennifer Rubin for The Washington Post. http://wapo.st/2jAM5my

--“UK stresses key role of IAEA during Brexit debate,” by World Nuclear News. http://bit.ly/2l0shFy

--“Time Expires on Obama Nuclear Agenda,” by Kingston Reif for Arms Control Association. http://bit.ly/2jHoKe8

--“A Serious Human Rights Negotiation with North Korea,” by Roberta Cohen for 38 North. http://bit.ly/2kt86mC


--“Debate: European Missile Defenses for NATO,” hosted by CSIS. February 16 from 4:30-7:30pm at Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW, Washington. Details here. http://bit.ly/2kNRdnB

--"Nuclear Early Warning: The President's 3 AM Phone Call," with Jaganath Sankaran. The event will be held on February 23, 2017, from 12:00p.m. to 1:15 p.m., at the Center for International Security Studies at Maryland, University of Maryland, 4113 Van Munching Hall, College Park, MD. More information here. http://bit.ly/2jZSwvX

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