Saturday, June 30, 2018

Trump’s Iran Gambit Won’t Pay Off

It is as clear as day that President Trump is obsessed with regime change in Iran.  What is not made clear is how much his gambit is damaging to Americans and American interests.
Without cause or justification, Mr. Trump  pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA), striking a hard blow to America’s European allies – and its own credibility.  Moreover, he threatened European countries with secondary sanctions should they continue to trade with Iran.
To top it all, in his latest move, he has called for all Iranian oil exports to be cut off by November. Or in practical terms, he is imposing an economic blockade on Iran.  This is a similar scenario that was played out by the British in 1951 against Iran and Dr. Mossadegh – who was later overthrown in the 1953 British-US coup. But today, the IR of Iran is not the Iran of 1953, and the brunt of American demands and actions will not be borne by Iran alone.   
Demanding that no country purchase oil from Iran is in fact an economic blockade.  It is an illegitimate use of power to force a sovereign nation to surrender.  It must be made clear however, that it is not just Iran that is the target here.  The Trump administration’s demands are an offensive exercise of extraterritorial authority with no regard for sovereign equality between states. All states involved in trade with Iran will either have to cower to his demands or be punished.  
But there is more than state sovereignty and indignation that is involved. These actions will have a dire effect on the economy of allies, and they will hit Americans in the wallet – hard.   If Mr. Trump is giving a November deadline, he hopes to postpone the impact this will have on the November elections.  He wants total rule over America before totally bankrupting it.
To fully appreciate how Mr. Trump intends to make ‘America great again’ where his policy regarding Iranian oil is concerned, one must take a look at some numbers and empirical evidence.
The oil strikes leading up to the toppling of Iran’s Shah were felt around the world.  During the 1978-79 revolution, Iranian oil production dropped 3.8 million barrels per day for 3 months.  Although outside production increased by 1.8 million barrels to make up for the loss, the net loss to the world was 150 million barrels of oil.  However, the compounding results of the production loss were significant around the globe. 
Many Americans may recall the lines at the fuel pumps, but that was just what met the eyes.  The increase in oil prices impacted farming, production, transportation of goods and services, and so on.  At that time, China, currently the second biggest oil consumer behind America, was a net exporter of oil.  The loss to U.S. economy was estimated at many billions of dollars in 1979 and 1980 (Deese and Nye 308-309)[i].  
More recent studies show that Iranian oil has a major impact on the U.S. economy even though America does not import a single barrel of oil from Iran.  In 2008, economists Dean DeRosa and Gary Hufbauer presented a paper in which they claimed that if the United States lifted sanctions on Iran, the world price of oil could fall by 10 percent which would translate into an annual savings of $38-76 billion for the United States[ii].
But sanctions alone were not responsible for oil price hikes in 2008 and beyond.  In July 2008, oil had reached a peak of $142.05/bbl (see chart HERE).   This price hike came on the heels of some important events.  In May, President Bush sent a ‘warning message’ to Iran on the same day that additional aircraft carriers with guided-missile destroyers were sent to the Persian Gulf.
In June of the same year, the New York Times reported that: “Israel carried out a major military exercise earlier this month that American officials say appeared to be a rehearsal for a potential bombing attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.”
In July, then presidential candidate Barak Obama asked for tougher sanctions to be imposed on Iran. 
It was not until September 2008 when President Bush declined to help Israel attack Iran that oil prices started to relax.  They hit a low of just over $53 /bbl in December 2008. 
Oil prices continued to rise again under Obama’s sanctions and reached well past the $100 mark.   The prices climbed down once again during the JCPOA negotiations reaching an all time low of $30.24/bbl in January 2016 – after the signing of the JCPOA. 
Today, oil prices stands at $74.30/bbl.  A fact not lost on any American who has filled up his/her gas tank lately– and paid for groceries.   The deadline for Iran oil cut off is yet months away, but the impact has started.
Given that other countries may step in to compensate for some of the Iranian oil loss, other factors which effect prices must be considered – the most important of which is the security of the Strait of Hormuz.  As mentioned previously, the British oil blockade scenario of 1951 will have far different consequences in 2018 should America impose an economic blockade or oil embargo.
In the 1950’s, Iran did not have the military might to retaliate to the oil embargo and the naval blockade was aimed at crushing the economy in order to bring about regime change.   This economic blockade, should it be allowed to happen, would crush the economy of much of the world.
As it stands, 35% of seaborne oil goes through the Strait of Hormuz 85% of which goes to Asian markets.   As the US Energy Information Administration  (EIA) has stated: “The blockage of the Strait of Hormuz, even temporarily, could lead to substantial increases in total energy costs.”  Today, Iran not only has the military might to block the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation, but it also has the legal right.

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) stipulates that vessels can exercise the right of innocent passage, and coastal states should not impede their passage. Under UNCLOS framework of international law, a coastal state can block ships from entering its territorial waters if the passage of the ships harms “peace, good order or security” of said state, as the passage of such ships would no longer be deemed “innocent”[iii].   Saudi Arabia and the UAE export oil through Iran’s territorial waters.   Should they help America choke Iran’s economy, their passage is not deemed ‘innocent’.

Even if Iran simply chooses to merely delay the passage of tankers by exercising its right to inspect every hostile oil tanker that passes through the Strait of Hormuz, such inspections and subsequent delays would contribute to higher oil prices.
No doubt, the Iranian navy is no match for the formidable US navy.  However, the shallow, narrow waters of Hormuz do not allow for the maneuvering of US battleships.  The very presence of warships can lead to incidents.  At its narrowest point, the Strait of Hormuz is 21 miles wide – hardly wide enough for a naval battle to take place and allow the passage of oil tankers at the same time. In recent years (2012), the USS Porter, a US navy destroyer, collided with an oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.   The collision left a big whole in the navy destroyer.

American officials and oil companies have attempted to assuage the concern of over oil shortages by stating that America is one of the top oil producers.  Some fact checking is in order.

According to EIA’s latest available data, America’s total exports in 2018 (thousands of barrels/month) was 7,730 bbl in April.  The same governmental body stated that total imports for the same month was 310,295.    According to the EIA: “In 2017, the United States produced about 15.4 million barrels of petroleum per day (MMb/d), and it consumed about 19.9 MMb/d. Imports from other countries help to supply demand for petroleum.” (Click HERE for explanation of imports and exports).

These facts do not stop the spread of such news.  As recently as June 4, 2018, Offshore Technology announced America is marching toward being the biggest oil producer.    Important factors to bear in mind are that 1.  America is the largest oil consumer and continues to have a deficit, and 2. Shale oil production is up thanks to higher oil prices.

While environmentalists objected to shale oil production, oil companies halted the extraction of oil when prices dropped. Anything above $50/bbl makes shale oil production feasible – which also makes it more expensive of the consumer.  Although Mr. Trump and his administration have no regard for the environment, many states and countries have banned shale oil production (see LINK for list as of December 2017).

So the American people (and much of the rest of the world) is left with a stark choice.  Either cave in to Mr. Trump’s demands, accept loss of business, pay much higher oil prices at the pump and for consumer goods, prepare for a potential war, and sacrifice the environment – especially water, and mortgage the future of the earth more than we already have, or, don’t heed Trump’s demands – even if means a short term loss. 
Either way, messing with Iran’s oil exports is not an alternative that the world can afford.  It may well be that Mr. Trump is beholden to Mr. Netanyahu.   He may well feel comfortable enough to subject the American people – and their allies to financial hardship; but the question is will Americans and the rest of the world sacrifice themselves at the Trump-Netanyahu altar?  

[i] Deese, David A. and Joseph S. Nye, ed. Energy and Security. Cambridge: Balllinger Publishing Co.: 1981.
[ii] Dean A. DeRosa & Gary Clyde Hufbauer. Normalization of Economic Relations Consequences for Iran’s Economy and the United States. National Foreign Trade Council  2008
[iii] Martin Wahlisch, The Yale Journal of International Law, March 2012, citing UNCLOS, supra note 12, , art. 19, para1, and art. 25, para1.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Algiers Accords: Decades of Violations - And Silence

This week marks the 37th anniversary of a pledge made by the United States in 1981:
The United States pledges that it is and from now on will be the policy of the United States not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran's internal affairs.”

This week also marks 37 continuous years of the United States failing to uphold its pledge: the 1981 Algiers Accords.

Just how many people have heard of the 1981 Algiers Accords, a bilateral treaty signed on January 19, 1981 between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Iran? Chances are, not many.   Just as chances are that not many are fully aware of what actually led to the signing of this treaty.

Following the success of the 1979 Iranian Revolution that overthrew the Shah, America’s strongman in Iran, plans were made to topple the new government in Tehran.   In 1980, under the Carter administration, the United States began clandestine radio broadcasts into Iran from Egypt. The broadcasts called for Khomeini's overthrow and urged support for Shahpur Bakhtiar[i], the last prime minister under the Shah.  Other plans included the failed Nojeh coup plot as well as plans for a possible American invasion of Iran using Turkish bases[ii].

The new Revolutionary government in Iran, with a look to the past and the 1953 British-CIA coup d’état that overthrew the Mossadegh government and reinstalled the Shah, had good reason to believe that the United States was planning to abort the revolution in its nascent stages.  Fearful, enthusiastic students took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took the diplomats as hostages in order to prevent such plans from fruition.

These events led to the negotiation and conclusion the Algiers Accords, point 1 of which was the pledge by the United States not to intervene in Iran’s internal affairs in anyway. The Algiers Accords brought about the release of the American hostages and established the Iran–U.S. Claims Tribunal (“Tribunal”) at The Hague, the Netherlands.   The Tribunal ruled consistently “the Declarations were to be interpreted in accordance with the process of interpretation set out in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.”[iii] ([*])

 A pledge is only as valid and worthy as the person making it. From the onset, the United States failed to uphold its own pledge.  For instance, starting in 1982, the CIA provided $100,000 a month to a group in Paris called the Front for the Liberation of Iran. The group headed by Ali Amini who had presided over the reversion of Iranian oil to foreign control after the CIA-backed coup in 1953[iv]. Additionally, America provided support to two Iranian paramilitary groups based in Turkey, one of them headed by General Bahram Aryana, the former Shah's army chief with close ties to Bakhtiar [v].
In 1986, the CIA went so far as to pirate Iran's national television network frequency to transmit an address by the Shah's son, Reza Pahlavi, over Iranian TV in which he vowed:  "I will return,"[vi].  The support did not end there. Pahlavi had C.LA. funding for a number of years in the eighties which stopped with the Iran-Contra affair.  He was successful at soliciting funds from the emir of Kuwait, the emir of Bahrain, the king of Morocco, and the royal family of Saudi Arabia, all staunch U.S. allies[vii].   
In late 2002, Michael Ledeen joined Morris Amitay, vice-president of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs; ex-CIA head James Woolsey; former Reagan administration official Frank Gaffney; former senator Paul Simon; and oil consultant Rob Sobhani to set up a group called the Coalition for Democracy in Iran (CDI)[viii].  In spite of his lack of charisma as a leader, in May, 2003, Michael Ledeen wrote a policy brief for the American Enterprise Institute Web site arguing that Pahlavi would make a suitable leader for a transitional government, describing him as “widely admired inside Iran, despite his refreshing lack of avidity for power or wealth.”[ix]   In August 2003, the Pentagon issued new guidelines -All meetings with Iranian dissidents had to be cleared with Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith.  Reza Pahlavis’ name was included in the list of contacts that had been meeting with Pentagon analysts[x].
Concurrent with this direct interference, and in the following decade, Washington concentrated its efforts into putting a chokehold on the Iranian economy.    A provision of the Algiers Accords was that  "the United States will revoke all trade sanctions which were directed against Iran in the period November 4, 1979, to date." Embargoes and sanctions became the norm.  Failing to interfere in Iran’s domestic affairs in order to topple the Islamic Republic through economic hardship, the United States once again turned up pressure through broadcasts and direct support for dissidents and terrorists – in conjunction with economic sanctions.

This stranglehold was taking place while concurrently, and in violation of the Algiers Accords, the CIA front National Endowment for Democracy was providing funds to various groups, namely “Iran Teachers Association” (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994,2001, 2002, 2003); The Foundation for Democracy in Iran (FDI founded in 1995 by  Kenneth R. Timmerman, Peter Rodman, Joshua Muravchik, and American intelligence officials advocating regime change in Iran),   National Iranian American Council (NIAC) 2002, 2005, 2006), and others[xi].   
Funds from NED to interfere in Iran continued after the signing of the JCPOA.  The 2016 funding stood at well over $1m.  
In September 2000, Senators openly voiced support for the MEK Terror group Mojaheddin-e-khalgh.   Writing for The New Yorker, Connie Bruck revealed that:  “Israel is said to have had a relationship with the M.E.K at least since the late nineties, and to have supplied a satellite signal for N.C.RI. broadcasts from Paris into Iran.”[xii].  Perhaps their relationship with Israel and their usefulness explains why President Bush accorded the group ‘special persons status’[xiii]
During the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, the terrorist group got protection from the U.S. troops in Iraq despite getting pressure from the Iraqi government to leave the country (CNN[xiv]).  In 2005, “a Farsi-speaking former CIA officer says he was approached by neoconservatives in the Pentagon who asked him to go to Iran and oversee “MEK [Mujahedeen-e Khalq] cross-border operations” into Iran.”

Moreover, according to Pakistani Intelligence, the United States secretly used yet another terrorist group – the Jundallah, stage a series of deadly attacks against Iran.  The United States seems to have a soft spot for terrorists. 

In addition to CIA funding and covert operations with help from terrorists, the United States actively used radio broadcasts into Iran to stir up unrest including Radio Farda and VOA Persian.   It comes as no surprise then that the recipient of NED funds, NIAC, should encourage such broadcasts.  Also, the BBC “received significant" sum of money from the US government to help combat the blocking of TV and internet services in countries including Iran and China.”

It is crucial to note that while the United States was conducting secret negotiations with Iran which led to the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA), the  MEK were delisted as a foreign terror organization.   This provides them with the legitimacy to write opinion pieces in leading American papers.
Also important to note that during the JCPOA negotiations  in which the United States participated as a party to an agreement, it was busy flouting  the Treaty with its broadcasts in to Iran – apparently, without objection.  But the violation was not limited to broadcasts.  Item B of the Treaty’s preamble states:  

Through the procedures provided in the declaration relating to the claims settlement agreement, the United States agrees to terminate all legal proceedings in United States courts involving claims of United States persons and institutions against Iran and its state enterprises, to nullify all attachments and judgments obtained therein, to prohibit all further litigation based on such claims, and to bring about the termination of such claims through binding arbitration. “

Unsurprisingly, the US again failed to keep its pledge and a partisan legislation allocated millions for the former hostages

Clearly, the United States clearly felt bound by the Treaty for it recognized Point 2. Of the Algiers Accords when in January 2016 Iran received its funds frozen by America in a settlement at the Hague.   Perhaps for no other reason that to pacify Iran post JCPOA while finding the means to re-route Iran’s money back into American hands.

It would require a great deal of time and verse to cite every instance and detail of United States of America’s violation of a Treaty, of its pledge, for the past 37 years. But never has its attitude been more brazen in refusing to uphold its pledge and its open violation of international law than when President Trump openly voiced his support for protests in Iran and called for regime change.  The US then called an emergency UNSC meeting on January 5, 2018 to demand that the UN interfere in Iran’s internal affairs.
America’s history clearly demonstrates that it has no regard for international law and treaties.  Its pledge is meaningless.  International law is a tool for America that does not apply to itself. This is a well-documented fact – and perhaps none has realized this better than the North Korean leader - Kim Jong-un.  But what is inexplicable is the failure of Iranians to address these violations.  

The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties defines a treaty "as an international agreement concluded between States in written form and governed by international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments and whatever its particular designation." 
Under United States law, however, there is a distinction made between the terms treaty and executive agreement. " Generally, a treaty is a binding international agreement and an executive agreement applies in domestic law only. Under international law, however, both types of agreements are considered binding. Regardless of whether an international agreement is called a convention, agreement, protocol, accord, etc.

[i] David Binder, "U.S. Concedes It Is Behind Anti-Khomeini Broadcasts," New York Times, 29 June 1980,
[iv] Bob Woodward, “Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987”, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987, p. 480.  (Cited by Stephen R. Shalom, “The United States and the Gulf War”, Feb. 1990).
[v] Leslie H. Gelb, "U.S. Said to Aid Iranian Exiles in Combat and Political Units," New York Times, 7 Mar. 1982, pp. A1, A12.
[vi] Tower Commission, p. 398; Farhang, "Iran-Israel Connection," p. 95. (Cited by Stephen R. Shalom, “The United States and the Gulf War”, Feb. 1990).
[vii] Connie Bruck, ibid
[viii] Andrew I KillgoreThe Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.  Washington:Dec 2003.  Vol. 22,  Iss. 10,  p. 17 

[ix] Connie Bruck, ibid

[xi] International Democracy Development, Google Books, p. 59

[xii] Connie Bruck, “A reporter at large: Exiles; How Iran’s expatriates are gaming the nuclear threat”.  The New Yorker, March 6, 2006

[xiii] US State Department Daily Briefing
[xiv] Michael Ware, “U.S. protects Iranian Opposition Group in Iraq” 6, April 2007