Connect with us

International

Trump Administration Labels Iran Military Unit a Terrorist Group

Published

on

  • The Trump Administration has designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, marking the first time the U.S. has given the designation to part of a foreign government.
  • This choice has received criticism from military leaders and the intelligence community, as it could set a dangerous precedent for U.S. foreign relations.
  • Iran responded by classifying U.S. Central Command as a terrorist organization and promising further retaliation.

IRGC Designated As Terrorist Organization

The Trump administration announced Monday that the United States was designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization. The unprecedented move marks the first time the U.S. has ever named a part of another country’s government a foreign terrorist organization.

Iran’s IRGC is a military unit that was originally created after the Iranian Revolution in 1979 as security for Iran’s religious rulers. Since that time, the IRGC has become Iran’s most powerful security organization.

The IRGC has an estimated 125,000 personnel that compose army, navy, and air units. They also has control over Iran’s ballistic missiles and nuclear programs.

The IRGC owns a huge network of businesses that range from oil and gas to construction and telecommunication, essentially giving the unit unlimited political influence in business, real estate, and other sectors of the economy.

The U.S. blames the IRGC for facilitating the deaths of U.S. service member in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, because they have financed, trained, and given weapons to terrorist networks.

What Does This Mean?

In a statement released by the White House, Donald Trump said, “The IRGC is the Iranian government’s primary means of directing and implementing its global terrorist campaign.”

“This action will significantly expand the scope and scale of our maximum pressure on the Iranian regime,” said Trump, “This action sends a clear message to Tehran that its support for terrorism has serious consequences.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also addressed the situation in a press briefing, where he further elaborated on the reasoning behind the decision.

“We’re doing it because the Iranian regime’s use of terrorism as a tool of statecraft makes it fundamentally different from any other government,” Pompeo said. “This historic step will deprive the world’s leading state sponsor of terror the financial means to spread misery and death around the world.”

Pompeo also said that the designation will allow the IRGC to, “Take its rightful place on the same list as terror groups its supports.”


With the new designation, many are wondering what the label entails.

Much like Trump said, the designation, which is set to go into effect next week, will give the U.S. a huge scope of actions they can take against Iran. This includes imposing significant economic sanctions and travel bans on the IRGC and any organizations, companies, or individuals that might have ties to it.

It will also allow the Trump administration to bring criminal charges against the IRGC and any foreign officials that aid them.

Opposition From Military & Intelligence Officials

While the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization is new, it is something that has been debated for years because it is highly controversial in the military and intelligence communities.

The Trump administration has championed the move as a step forward in cracking down on Iran, but top Pentagon and C.I.A. officials strongly oppose the designation.

They argue that it is too strong of a hardline, and could allow Iranian officials to retaliate and justify dangerous and deadly actions against U.S. personnel abroad, especially Special Operations units and paramilitary units that work under the C.I.A.

The Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies are also concerned that the designation would prohibit all contact with foreign officials who may have met with or communicated with Guard personnel – a move that could severely damage diplomatic relations in the region.

U.S. military and intelligence officials also oppose the designation because it sets a dangerous precedent that other countries could use against the U.S.

Matt Levitt, the director of the counterterrorism program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the move could prompt Russia and China to start designating U.S. agencies by taking the same actions against the U.S. that the U.S. is taking against Iran.

Others, including an interagency lawyers group, have said the designation is too vague and broad. Some U.S. officials are saying the terrorist designation could include 11 million people, according to the New York Times.

Due to the fact that the IRGC itself is only about 125,000 of that number, the amount of people and organizations that have “ties” to the IRGC under the broad definition could be disproportionately targetted, including U.S. allies.

The Iraq Problem

For example, the designation will likely apply to officials in Iraq, which is a key U.S. ally in the region.

Iraq shares a border with Iran, and the two countries are major trading partners. Senior Iraqi officials are against the designation because it could impose travel bans and sanctions on some lawmakers in the government who have ties to Iranian officials.

U.S. officials are also worried that the move could encourage Iraqi parliamentarians to limit the movements and actions of 5,000 U.S. troops who are based in Iraq. This plan has been proposed before and is very popular in Iraq’s parliament.

If Iraq’s parliament felt as though the U.S. is unfairly restricting them, they could easily retaliate against U.S. troops in their country.

Additionally, U.S. troops and diplomats could be banned from contact with Iraqi authorities who interact with the IRGC and can give the U.S. important intel. That could complicate and even endanger U.S. operations in the region, and will most likely complicate U.S. efforts to stop a resurgence of ISIS.

“This isn’t about taking a tough approach to Iran’s support for terrorism,” said Jeffrey Prescott, a former senior Middle East director at the White House National Security Council, “Rather, it will put our service members in Iraq and throughout the region at additional risk with nothing to show in return.”

Prescott also argued that the backlash against the U.S. will be way worse than any potential benefits, saying:

“There is a reason that successive administrations have held off designating the I.R.G.C. as a terrorist organization, and why many of Trump’s own military and intelligence officials are said to be highly opposed to the move: The potential blowback vastly outweighs the benefits.”

Iran Responds

Iran has already begun its retaliate against the U.S. designation.

Following yesterday’s announcement, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), which is a state-run news source in Iran, reported that Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called for Central Command to be deemed a terrorist organization, writing:

“Zarif in its letter referred to the US military forces’ covert and open support for the terrorist groups in the region and their direct interference in terror activities and offered the Supreme National Security Council to enlist CENTCOM in its terror list.”

According to Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) declared the U.S. a “terrorist government,” and blacklisted CENTCOM.

Fars also reported this morning that Iran’s parliament ratified a bill that stated:

“All US military, security and intelligence forces active in West Asia and all real and legal persons representing them in West Asia region will be declared as terrorist and any financial, technical, training and service and logistical assistance to this group of forces is considered as collaboration in terrorist acts.”

The bill also aims to strengthen the IRGC.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who is also the head of the SNSC, responded angrily to the designation in a televised statement.

“You want to use terrorist groups as tools against the nations of the region,” said Rouhani.“You are the leader of world terrorism.”

Other leaders in the Iranian government have threatened reciprocal action against the U.S. if they actually enforce the designation, including Iran’s Defense Minister and the IRGC General Commander.

The Trump Connection

Some people in both the U.S. and Iran have criticized the move as an effort to help Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the day before the Israeli election.

Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif referred to the move as an “election-eve gift to Netanyahu” in a tweet.

Netanyahu himself seemed to reinforce this idea, thanking Trump for this decision in a tweet.

Others have criticized Trump for a different reason.

Back in 2017, The New Yorker published an extensive investigative report that discovered the Trump Organization had been involved in building Trump Tower Baku a hotel in Azerbaijan.

According to the report, the hotel never opened, and was found “to be a corrupt operation engineered by oligarchs tied to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.”

Currently, it seems like Iran will take action against the U.S. if the designation does take effect, which is it set to do in about a week.

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (NPR) (Fox News)

International

2 Million Protest In Hong Kong After Lam Suspends Extradition Bill

Published

on

  • After last week’s protests in Hong Kong over a controversial extradition bill, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that the bill would be suspended.
  • However, many citizens in Hong Kong want the bill fully withdrawn and are calling for Lam to step down from her position.
  • On Sunday, around two million people hit the streets for protests fighting for those conditions, as well as pushing for police to be investigated for using excessive force during the previous protests.

Protest After Bill’s Suspension

Organizers say that around 2 million people in Hong Kong turned out to protest a controversial extradition bill on Sunday after Cheif Executive Carrie Lam said she would suspend it.

Lam announced Saturday that she would suspend – not withdraw – an extradition bill that would allow Hong Kong citizens to be extradited to China. This move followed a previous round of massive protests that gathered as many as one million Hong Kong residents.  

“I want to stress that the government is adopting an open mind to heed comprehensively different views in society towards the bill,” Lam said in a press conference after announcing its suspension.

However, many thought her actions were not enough. On Sunday, a massive demonstration in Hong Kong saw citizens call for a full withdrawal, along with Lam’s resignation. While organizers claim 2 million people attended the protest, police officers say there were actually about 338,000.

Protesters also referenced last week’s demonstrations, where officers used pepper spray and other tactics to quell crowds. Officers later deemed the protest a riot, which is a crime in Hong Kong. Sunday’s protesters demanded an investigation into the use of police force and called for the “riot” labeling to be rescinded.

Many also honored a man who lost his life protesting on Saturday after he fell trying to hang a banner.

During these protests, police involvement was minimal. Reports say that officers sidelined themselves during the demonstrations and were able to clear the streets by Monday morning.

Lam also issued another statement later on Sunday apologizing for the controversies caused by the bill.

“The Chief Executive apologised to the people of Hong Kong for this and pledged to adopt a most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and make improvements in serving the public,” the statement read.

Responses After Protests

While the protests have lessened, many in Hong Kong still have the urge to keep fighting. Notably, Joshua Wong, a prominent pro-democracy activist who was released from prison on Monday.

Upon his release, he tweeted similar sentiments to the protesters.

Around the globe, others are also responding to what is happening in Hong Kong. After Lam announced the bill suspension, officials in China made a statement.

“We support, respect and understand this decision,” they said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also told Fox News that the United States is monitoring the situation.

“We are watching the people of Hong Kong speak about the things they value,” he said.

Pompeo added that President Donald Trump would meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 Summit at the end of the month and said the two would discuss the protests then.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (NPR) (TIME)

Continue Reading

International

Iran Threatens to Violate Nuclear Deal’s Limits on Uranium

Published

on

  • Iran announced Monday that it will surpass the amount of uranium it has been allowed to stockpile under the 2015 nuclear deal in 10 days if European nations do not do more to help them mitigate U.S. sanctions.
  • The announcement comes after the U.S. blamed Iran for attacking two tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday and provided what U.S. officials believed was video evidence of Iranian military officials removing a bomb.
  • Iran has denied the allegations and Germany, as well as the Japanese owner of one of the tankers, have said the video the U.S. claims proves Iran launched the attack does not provide enough evidence.

Announcement

Iran announced Monday that it has significantly ramped up its enrichment of uranium and said it will exceed the amount of uranium it has been allowed to stockpile under the 2015 nuclear deal in 10 days.

While certainly a big deal, Monday’s announcement does not necessarily come as a surprise. On May 8, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani announced that the country would stop complying with some of their commitments under the nuclear deal.

Rouhani said Iran would no longer respect certain restrictions under the deal, such as building stockpiles of enriched uranium and heavy water.

He also said Iran would give the other countries that signed the deal 60 days to help ease the sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Irans oil and banking industries, or Iran would slowly stop their compliance with the deal piece by piece.

While that 60-day period technically does not end for a few more weeks, Iran has made it clear that they are not happy with the progress that has been made.

In a televised speech earlier today, Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesperson for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization specifically targetted the European signatories of the nuclear deal for not doing enough, but said they still had time to save the agreement.

“If it is important for them to safeguard the accord, they should make their best efforts,” Kamalvandi said. “As soon as they carry out their commitments, things will naturally go back to their original state.”

“There is still time for European countries, but if they want more time it means that they either can’t or don’t want to honor their obligations,” he continued later. “They should not think that after 60 days they will have another 60-day opportunity.”

Tanker Attack

Monday’s announcement comes as tensions between Iran and the U.S. have increasingly escalated in recent weeks.

On Thursday, two tankers were attacked just off the coast of Iran in the Gulf of Oman. The attack caused one of the boats to be set on fire and caused both to be set adrift. A few hours later, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of attacking the tankers.

In a press conference, Pompeo said attacks were part of a “campaign” of “escalating tension” by Iran. “It is the assessment of the United States that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks,” he said.

U.S. officials also later claimed that Iran had launched a missile at a U.S.-operated drone surveying the area after the attack.

Pompeo did not immediately provide any evidence for Iran launching the attack, but later on Thursday, U.S. Central Command released a video they claimed showed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) removing an unexploded mine from one of the tankers hit by explosions.

While the administration of Donald Trump, backed by Saudi Arabia, believed that the video clearly proved the IRGC was guilty, others were not so sure.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said, “The video is not enough. We can understand what is being shown, sure, but to make a final assessment, this is not enough for me.”

Additionally, the Japanese operator of one of the ships that was attacked also disputed the U.S government’s claim. In a statement, the president of the company that operates the ship, Yutaka Katada, said he did not believe there was a mine attached to the ship at all.

“I do not think there was a time bomb or an object attached to the side of the ship,” Katada said. “Our crew said that the ship was attacked by a flying object.”

Iran for its part has strongly denied the allegations. Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif condemned the accusations in a tweet, referring to the incident as “sabotage diplomacy.”

Escalating Tensions

The incident on Thursday and the U.S. response is only part of increased tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

It is not even the first tanker attack that the U.S. has blamed on Iran. Last month, four tankers were attacked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, which is close to the Gulf of Oman. Again, the U.S. was quick to blame Iran but did not provide any evidence, and again, Iran denied the accusation.

Over the last few months, numerous world leaders have come forward and called for the U.S. and Iran to de-escalate the situation, with many fearing the situation would lead to an all-out war.

Multiple European governments and leaders have called on the Trump administration to exercise “maximum restraint.”

Response

Currently, it remains unclear what will happen next. In an interview with Fox & Friends on Sunday, Pompeo indicated that the U.S. had not ruled out military action.

“The United States is going to make sure that we take all actions necessary, diplomatic and otherwise, to achieve that outcome,” he said. In a separate interview with CBS, Pompeo also said the U.S. might tighten sanctions on Iran in response to the country ramping up its nuclear program.

According to reports, Pentagon officials are considering tactical responses to the attacks, including deploying as many as 6,000 Navy, Air Force, and Army personnel to the Persian Gulf.

Last month, National Security Advisor John Bolton announced that the U.S. was deploying an aircraft carrier strike group and Air Force bombers to the Middle East in an effort to counter Iran.

At the same time, many are skeptical that Trump would send troops to directly engage Iran. Trump has repeatedly said he does not want a war in the Middle East.

During an interview with Fox & Friends on Friday, Trump said Iran did attack the tankers, but also said he was not looking for war. He even went as far as to say he wanted engagement with Iranian leadership.

“I’m ready when they are,” Trump said. “Whenever they’re ready, it’s O.K. In the meantime, I’m in no rush.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Al Jazeera) (CNN)

Continue Reading

International

Brazil’s Supreme Court Votes to Criminalize Homophobic Acts

Published

on

  • Brazil’s Supreme Court has ruled in favor of criminalizing homophobia under current legislation until Congress creates a law that specifically addresses the issue.
  • Eight of the 11 justices voted Thursday to treat violent acts and other crimes against gay and transgender people like racism, which was made a crime in Brazil in 1989 with prison sentences of up to five years.
  • President Jair Bolsonaro criticized the justices last month when it became clear that they would likely vote in favor of the move, and he suggested that it was time to appoint an evangelical Christian.

The Vote

Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court voted Thursday to criminalize acts of hate and discrimination against the LGBT community.

Eight of the 11 justices voted in favor of the move arguing that Congress failed to fulfill its constitutional duty by passing similar legislation. According to the Wall Street Journal, the country’s constitution allows the high court to make these types of moves in the event that lawmakers fail to take action.

For now, any acts of violence or other crimes against gay or transgender people will be judged under current antiracism law until Congress passes a specific law that addressed the LGBT community. Racism was made a crime in Brazil in 1989 with prison sentences of up to five years.

“Sexual orientation and gender identity are essential to human beings, to the self-determination to decide their own life and seek happiness,” Justice Gilmar Mendes said, according to the court’s Twitter account.

It may take some time for Congress to act further. In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that every state should recognize civil unions between same-sex couples. However, Congress has yet to pass legislation for those unions.

Bolsonaro’s Position

President Jair Bolsonaro, who took office in January, criticized the court last month when it became clear that most justices would rule in favor of criminalizing homophobia. He argued that the court was overstepping and suggested it was time to appoint an evangelical Christian to the Supreme Court.

Bolsonaro himself has been criticized for what many consider a long history of homophobic, racist, and sexist comments.  The social conservative won the October election last year, promising to overturn years of liberal social policies. Many LGBT rights groups feared that he would try to roll back gay rights if elected.

The court’s decision “is a step forward, but it won’t make much of a difference unless we improve education and change attitudes,” Claudia Regina, president of the LGBT Pride Parade Association of São Paulo told the Journal.

“There’s been a subtle worsening of attitudes” since Bolsonaro was elected, she said, adding that he “is encouraging this, indirectly. He inspires his followers to behave this way.”

According to the rights group the Grupo Gay da Bahia, 420 LGBT people were killed across Brazil in 2018 and at least 141 others have been killed so far this year. On top of that, Brazil leads the world in transgender homicides with 171 in 2017, according to the organization Transgender Europe.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (The Wall Street Journal) (The Independent)

Continue Reading