US launches campaign to erode support for Iran’s leaders

US President Donald Trump, second right, is flanked by, from left, Security Adviser John Bolton, the US ambassador to Finland Robert Frank Pence and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a working breakfast with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in Helsinki, Finland, in this July 16, 2018 photo, prior to his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Finnish capital. (AP)
Updated 22 July 2018
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US launches campaign to erode support for Iran’s leaders

  • Washington has long called Iran the world’s leading “state sponsor of terrorism” because Tehran arms and funds proxy militant groups like Lebanese Hezbollah
  • Iranian leaders refused to spend on their people funds freed by the nuclear weapons deal, using it instead for proxy wars and corruption

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration has launched an offensive of speeches and online communications meant to foment unrest and help pressure Iran to end its nuclear program and its support of militant groups, US officials familiar with the matter said.
More than half a dozen current and former officials said the campaign, supported by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, is meant to work in concert with US President Donald Trump’s push to economically throttle Iran by re-imposing tough sanctions. The drive has intensified since Trump withdrew on May 8 from a 2015 seven-nation deal to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
The current and former officials said the campaign paints Iranian leaders in a harsh light, at times using information that is exaggerated or contradicts other official pronouncements, including comments by previous administrations.
The White House declined comment on the campaign. The State Department did not respond to detailed requests for comment, including on Pompeo’s role.
A senior Iranian official dismissed the campaign, saying the United States had sought in vain to undermine the government since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. He spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Their efforts will fail again,” the official said.
MORE CRITICAL POSTS
A review of the State Department’s Farsi-language Twitter account and its ShareAmerica website — which describes itself as a platform to spark debate on democracy and other issues — shows a number of posts critical of Tehran over the last month.
Iran is the subject of four of the top five items on the website’s “Countering Violent Extremism” section. They include headlines such as “This Iranian airline helps spread violence and terror.”
In social media posts and speeches, Pompeo himself also appeals directly to Iranians, the Iranian diaspora and a global audience.
On June 21, Pompeo tweeted out graphics headlined: “Protests in Iran are growing,” “Iranian people deserve respect for their human rights,” and “Iran’s revolutionary guard gets rich while Iranian families struggle.” The tweets were translated into Farsi and posted on the ShareAmerica website.
On Sunday, Pompeo will give a speech titled “Supporting Iranian Voices” in California and meet Iranian Americans, many of whom fled the Islamic Revolution that toppled Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
In a briefing to reporters this week ahead of the speech, a senior State Department official said Pompeo plans to address in his speech the “last 40 years of stealing from the Iranian people, the terrorism they have committed around the region, the brutal repression at home.”
AGGRESSIVE CAMPAIGN
Some of the information the administration has disseminated is incomplete or distorted, the current and former officials said.
In a May 21 speech in Washington, Pompeo said Iranian leaders refused to spend on their people funds freed by the nuclear weapons deal, using it instead for proxy wars and corruption.
By contrast, in March testimony before a US Senate committee, the US Defense Intelligence Agency director, Robert Ashley, said social and economic expenditures remained Tehran’s near-term priority despite some spending on security forces.
Pompeo also accused “Iran-sponsored Shia militia groups and terrorists” of infiltrating Iraqi security forces and jeopardizing Iraq’s sovereignty throughout the period of the nuclear agreement.
While opponents accuse the Iran-backed Iraqi militias of human rights abuses against civilians, which the groups deny, the militias fought Daesh extremists and helped keep them from overrunning Iraq in 2014 after Iraq’s army collapsed. They then aided the US-backed offensives that liberated Daesh-held territory and some units are being incorporated into Iraqi security forces.
Experts said the administration also is exaggerating the closeness of the relationship between Iran and Afghanistan’s Taliban militants and Al-Qaeda by calling them co-conspirators.
The State Department did not respond to requests for comment about the accuracy of the information it was disseminating.
It is too early to determine the impact of the administration’s communications campaign, US officials said.

TWO POSSIBLE OUTCOMES
Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank, said the strategy to economically strangle Iran and stoke public discontent with the leadership aimed to produce one of two outcomes.
“Outcome one is capitulation, forcing Iran to further curtail not only its nuclear program but also its regional ambitions,” Sadjadpour said. “Outcome two is the implosion of the Islamic Republic.”
But some US officials and other experts cautioned that by fueling turmoil in Iran, the US administration could foster greater authoritarian rule and a more aggressive foreign policy, raising the threat of a US-Iran confrontation.
Washington has long called Iran the world’s leading “state sponsor of terrorism” because Tehran arms and funds proxy militant groups like Lebanese Hezbollah. Iranian leaders urge the destruction of the United States and Israel, and Iranian proxies have killed hundreds of US soldiers and diplomats since the Islamic Revolution.
That record provided previous administrations with ample material for waging their own public relations campaigns against Tehran, including trying to communicate directly with the Iranian people.
President George W. Bush’s administration established Radio Farda, a US-funded broadcaster that beams into Iran what it says is “objective and accurate news and information to counter state censorship and ideology-based media coverage.” The Obama administration launched a Farsi Twitter account — @USAdarFarsi – in 2011.


US media: Trump Lawyer Cohen reaches plea deal with prosecutors

Updated 25 min 46 sec ago
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US media: Trump Lawyer Cohen reaches plea deal with prosecutors

  • Michael Cohen, 51, was to appear in federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon
  • Reports say prosecutors were focused on more than $20 million in loans obtained by Cohen from taxi businesses

NEW YORK: US President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen has entered into a plea agreement with federal prosecutors in New York, on campaign finance violations, bank fraud and tax evasion, news media outlets reported.
Cohen, 51, was to appear in federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon, a court official told Reuters.
News that Cohen had entered into a plea agreement followed a reports he was discussing a deal with prosecutors.
A plea bargain could increase legal risks for the president, as it raises the possibility that Cohen will provide information to US Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign.
Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion and has called the Mueller investigation a witch hunt. Russia has denied meddling in the election. US intelligence agencies have concluded Moscow interfered.
Cohen was part of Trump's inner circle for more than a decade, working as his personal attorney at the Trump Organization and continuing to advise the president after the election. But their relationship has frayed in recent months.
Lanny Davis, a lawyer for Cohen, declined to comment. Cohen and another of his lawyers, Guy Petrillo, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the earlier reports.
The probe is being led by the office of US Attorney Geoffrey Berman in Manhattan.
Federal agents had seized documents and files from Cohen in April that stemmed from a referral from Mueller's office.
Cohen once said he would "take a bullet" for Trump, but their relationship has deteriorated since the April FBI raid on Cohen's office, hotel room and home.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that federal prosecutors were focused on more than $20 million in loans obtained by Cohen from taxi businesses owned by him and his family.
The loans are part of the investigation into whether Cohen committed bank and tax fraud, and for possible campaign law violations linked to a $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels.
Mueller's investigation, which began in May 2017, has resulted in the indictment of more than 30 people and five guilty pleas.
Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is on trial in Alexandria, Virginia, for 18 counts of financial crimes resulting from the Mueller probe. The jury in his case was in its fourth day of deliberations on Tuesday.