By Joseph Braude
In a speech to Israel’s Knesset in Jerusalem, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence vowed that “America will never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. … The United States will continue to work with Israel and with nations across the world to confront the leading state sponsor of terrorism: the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pence said, receiving a round of applause. “As the world has seen once again, the brutal regime in Iran is merely a dictatorship that seeks to dominate its citizens and deny them of their most fundamental rights. History has proven those who dominate their own people rarely stop there, and increasingly, we see Iran seeking to dominate the wider Arab world … Unless the Iran nuclear deal is fixed, President Trump has said the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal immediately.”
AP reports that French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that “we have observed with interest that President Trump has not broken the [Iranian nuclear] agreement, even if, on the other hand, he has made a certain number of demands that at times seem like ultimatums.” Le Drian, according to the report, emphasized France’s support for the agreement, dubbing it an “essential element in the fight against proliferation” of nuclear weapons.”
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is to meet with Le Drian Tuesday. The session is part of a series of meetings to be held between senior State Department officials and their European counterparts over the coming week, reports the Wall Street Journal, the purpose of which is to explore the potential means to address “what the Trump administration considers flaws in the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement.”
Meanwhile, in an interview with Le Figaro, Le Drian said he plans to visit Iran on March 5 to discuss Iran’s ballistic missile program. He also plans to raise “Iran’s destabilizing military influence in the Middle East,” notably its support for Lebanese Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi militias.
Iranian state television reports that the country’s navy has launched its annual two-day exercises near the strategically vital Strait of Hormuz. Air and ground forces will join the drills in nearby parts of the Indian Ocean and Sea of Oman.
In economic news, Bloomberg News reports that Iran’s central bank has ceased issuing permits and licenses for new private banks or commercial lenders, “following a credit crisis that has seen the collapse of a parallel financial industry, freezing the savings of thousands of depositors.”
On a Tuesday visit with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence warned European countries that the White House would withdraw from the JCPOA unless significant changes are negotiated: “If our allies won’t join us, President Trump has made clear we will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal immediately.” Pence added that the changes must include removal of the “sunset provisions,” which would permit restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program to expire; and add the option to place “punitive sanctions” on Iran “for many years to come.”
CIA Director Mike Pompeo warned of the risk of nuclear proliferation should Iran’s nukes program register further advances. At a speech Tuesday at the American Enterprise Institute, he said, “If Iran makes advances in their [nuclear capabilities] … then many other countries are going to say, ‘Me too!’”
Some information about Iranian soft power outreach to Africa emerged in Ghanese media Tuesday. Modern Ghana reports that the Iranian Ambassador to Ghana, Dr Nasrollahi Maleki, visited the Northern Region of Ghana “to engage the region in creating avenues of establishing further collaborations in addressing issues of health, education and agriculture development whilst placing much emphasis on youth empowerment through business and commerce.”
The America private intelligence company Stratfor has published a report analyzing yesterday’s statements by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei calling on the IRGC to reduce its economic activity. Among its conclusions: “Reining in the IRGC will make it more difficult for the European Union to heed U.S. calls to apply more pressure on Iran related to its nuclear program and other military activities.”