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Geopolitics

A New Iran Nuclear Deal? Khamenei And The Man In The White House

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei claims he has no interest in engaging with Washington. But the U.S. president, fighting right now to win reelection, tells a different story.

Iran's Supreme Leader on Saturday.
Iran's Supreme Leader on Saturday.

-Analysis-

At a recent campaign rally in Florida, U.S. President Donald Trump boasted that his administration had killed "the world's number one terrorist... a mass murderer of American troops and many many people all over the world."

He was talking about Qasem Soleimani, the general of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards assassinated this past January in a U.S. drone strike. Now he's "dead, gone," the U.S. president told the crowd of cheering supporters.

Trump also talked about how he withdrew from the "disastrous Iran nuclear deal, which was a catastrophe... they cannot have a nuclear weapon." He went on to suggest that after he wins the election, "the first call I'll get... will be from Iran dying to make a deal, because they're down 28% GDP. Nobody's ever heard of a thing like that."

In recent months, whenever Trump has mentioned Iran in his speeches, he tends to stress four points: leaving the 2015 nuclear pact with the West, the strike on Soleimani, blocking Iran's bid to access nuclear weapons, and the Iranian regime's desire to talk with the United States.

The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has added his voice to these comments, telling Newsmax TV that the administration saw the deal as idiotic and dangerous, and fundamentally changed the approach to stabilizing the Middle East. Thanks to American pressures and restrictions, he argues, Iran's regime had little money left to pursue its nuclear program or terrorist activities.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tells a very different story. His claim, made repeatedly over the past two years, is that the country simply refused to negotiate with the United States.

So who is right? Is there a current or political sector in Iran, separate from top officials, sending signals to the United States? And if it's true, who is sending such signals without Khamenei's approval, when there can be no negotiations and no deal without his permission?

Khamenei repeated his position in an online speech to military graduates on Oct. 12 — the same day that Trump led the aforementioned rally in Florida. "Certain cowardly people are unwittingly repeating the enemy's words inside the country," the supreme leader said.

Khamenei's partisans consider the nuclear deal a failure.

He referred to U.S. officials as "boastful louts' and said their provocative declarations on Iran's defensive and ballistic capabilities were due to their fears. Iran, he said, would turn the maximum pressure it faces into "maximum disgrace" for the United States.

Khamenei's partisans consider the nuclear deal a failure, one they attribute to the government of President Hassan Rouhani and the fruit of fear. And yet, there is no doubt that it happened with Khamenei's go-ahead.

The Rouhani team, including Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, came to power with Khamenei's blessing and represent his notion of "heroic flexibility." In a 2016 interview, Khamenei's foreign affairs adviser, Aliakbar Velayati, said that negotiations with the West had been a state decision, taken to avoid the only other option: war.

Iran's circumstances then were very similar to those it faces today, with the difference being that the Trump administration is setting far tougher conditions. Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, set conditions that the regime was able to meet. And not only was Iran in a position to resume its nuclear program, once the pact expired, but it was was surreptitiously engaged in activities at various sites during the pact.

Now, with or without Trump, there can be no other such deal while Khamenei lives. Otherwise he would have to demonstrate a "heroic flexibility" that could prove his undoing.

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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