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.


North Korea’s Kim inspects new submarine, signals possible ballistic missile development

Updated 26 min 19 sec ago
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North Korea’s Kim inspects new submarine, signals possible ballistic missile development

  • The new data and combat weapon systems of submarine was built under Kim’s “special attention”
  • Experts said the size of the new submarine suggests it would eventually carry missiles

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspected a large newly built submarine, state news agency KCNA reported on Tuesday, potentially signaling continued development of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) program.
Kim inspected the operational and tactical data and combat weapon systems of the submarine that was built under “his special attention,” and will be operational in the waters off the east coast, KCNA said.
KCNA said the submarine’s operational deployment was near.
“The operational capacity of a submarine is an important component in national defense of our country bounded on its east and west by sea,” Kim said.
KCNA did not describe the submarine’s weapon systems or say where and when the inspection took place.
North Korea has a large submarine fleet but only one known experimental submarine capable of carrying a ballistic missile.
Analysts said that based on the apparent size of the new submarine it appears designed to eventually carry missiles.
“We can clearly see that it is a massive submarine — much larger than the existing one that’s been well known since 2014,” said Ankit Panda, senior fellow at the US-based Federation of American Scientists.
“What I find significant about the political messaging here is that this is the first time since a February 2018 military parade that he has inspected a military system clearly designed to carry and deliver nuclear weapons.”
“I take that as an ominous signal that we should be taking Kim Jong Un’s end-of-year deadline for the implementation of a change in US policy with the utmost seriousness.”
A South Korean defense ministry spokesman said they were monitoring developments but could not confirm if the submarine was designed to carry missiles.
Kim Dong-yub, a military expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute of Far Eastern Studies in Seoul, said Kim likely also wanted to reassure North Koreans of his commitment to national defense at a time when he is focusing more on the economy.
“Announcing his inspection of the new submarine is also to build internal solidarity, to dispel people’s concerns about national security, reassure them, and boost military morale,” he said.
Submarine development
Kim has declared a moratorium on testing ICBM’s and nuclear weapons while engaging in denuclearization talks with the United States and South Korea.
The North’s submarine report comes amid another delay in dialogue between the United States and North Korea after Kim and US President Donald Trump agreed at a meeting at the Panmunjom Korean border on June 30 to working-level nuclear talks.
Trump said such talks could come in the following two to three weeks. His national security adviser, John Bolton, arrives in South Korea on Tuesday to meet security officials.
A summit between Trump and Kim, in Vietnam in February, broke down after they failed to narrow differences between a US demand for North Korea’s denuclearization and a North Korean demand for sanctions relief.
In April, Kim said he would wait until the end of the year for the United States to be more flexible.
North Korea maintains one of the world’s largest submarine fleets, but many vessels are aging and there are doubts over how many are operational, according to the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI).
Most of North Korea’s fleet consists of small coastal submarines, but in recent years it has made rapid progress in the SLBM program, NTI said in a report released late last year.
In 2016, after a few years of development, North Korea successfully test-fired a ballistic missile from a submarine, while pursuing an intercontinental ballistic missile program (ICBM).
During the submarine inspection Kim was accompanied by Kim Jong Sik, an official who played a major role in North Korea’s missile program.
Another official on the tour was Jang Chang Ha, president of the Academy of the National Defense Science, which the US Treasury has said is in charge of the secretive country’s research and development of its advanced weapons systems, “including missiles and probably nuclear weapons.”
H.I. Sutton, a naval analyst who studies submarines, said judging by the initial photos the hull could be based on old Romeo Class submarines, which were originally acquired from China in the 1970s before North Korea began producing them domestically.
North Korea is believed to have about 20 Romeo submarines in its fleet, the newest of which was built in the mid 1990s, according to NTI.
Sutton told Reuters that the North Koreans appeared to have raised the deck on a Romeo-type design, possibly even modifying an existing Romeo to make a submarine larger than previous indigenous designs.
“I’d bet that this is indeed a missile submarine,” he said.
US-based monitoring group 38 North said in June 2018 that North Korea appeared to be continuing submarine construction at its Sinpo Shipyard of possibly another Sinpo-class ballistic missile submarine, based on commercial satellite imagery.
“This, to my eye, is the submarine that the US intelligence community has been calling the Sinpo-C, a successor to North Korea’s only known ballistic missile submarine,” Panda said.