Trump’s pounding of Iran less harsh than expected, leaves arrangement open

President Donald J. Trump receives the former Secretary of State and guru of international relations, Dr. Henry Kissinger, at the Oval Office of the White House Tuesday, October 10, 2017. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead).

Trump did again what he has been good at. This time he pounded the non-nuclear proliferation agreement with Iran. To be reminded, this was the P5+1 nations (US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) agreement of 2015 with Iran , by which the latter country accepted to stop its nuclear program and be duly inspected about that. In exchange, the P5+1 nations lifted a long and devastating embargo.

With his latest action, however, Trump opened a new front of conflict with his country’s allies, who had worked hard for the deal (Britain, France, Germany) just to serve his motto, ‘America first’. He just wants to be seen as the champion of his followers and voters. In most cases there are no immediate effects of what great things he thinks he does, and invariably it’s the Senate that has to clear up the mess.

An insecure partner

It’s the fourth time he pulls the US out of a major multilateral deal Washington has signed under the Obama administration. First was the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal, meant to avert trade skirmishes if not wars in the Pacific, a prospect Trump obviously didn’t like. Then, he pulled out of the key for the global well being ‘Paris Climate Agreement’.

Currently, he threatens to change the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement-NAFTA, actually pushing Mexico out and blackmailing Canada to make disproportionate concessions. Speaking of wars, Trump has almost declared war against North Korea, prompting Rex Tillerson, the Foreign Secretary, to call him a moron. In less than ten months in the White House Trump has managed to make the US an untrustworthy partner.

Less harsh

Coming back to last Friday’s developments, Trump didn’t actually kill the nuclear deal with Iran. He took an aggressive approach towards Tehran, though, calling the recently elected administration a dictatorship. He accused Iran of supporting terrorism and upsetting the region and concluded he will do what it takes to make Tehran accountable for all that. To be noted, Iran regularly holds Presidential and legislative elections, unlike the close US ally Saudi Arabia a long time foe of Iran. Last May, Hassan Rouhani, considered a moderate politician, was reelected as Iranian President, but now Trump’s latest move will weaken his position internally, offering strong arguments to hardliners. In 2015 it was his government that struck the nuclear deal with the six major world powers.

With the P5+1 deal Tehran ended a harsh decades old embargo, which had isolated the country from the rest of the world. Moderate Rouhani was the architect of the agreement, vying to end isolation and open Iran to the world. The Europeans were the first to profit from the lift of the embargo. Major EU business groups like Airbus and Total have signed huge contacts with the Tehran government. Actually, it was the Europeans who pressed the other three to strike the deal and open the Iranian market.

Enraging the European

Understandably now Britain, France and Germany are let down by the Trump decision to undermine the Iranian agreement. What Trump did was not to certify that Iran is fully complying with the terms of the deal. According to the relevant law voted by the US Senate in 2015, the American President is expected to certify that every 90 days. After Trump refused last Friday to do it, the ball is in the Senate’s court.

Within 60 days the US lawmakers either have to re-impose the embargo on Iran, change the terms of the deal or do nothing. In this last case the deal stands. However, it’s rather certain the Senate will ask for some more checks and controls to make sure the Iranian side sticks to the agreed terms. It’s a good question though how far those changes will go.

An open door?

In any case, what Trump did was less than many had feared. Before Friday, there was information that the White House would include in the list of terrorist organizations the elite army corps of Iran, the hard line Islamic Revolutionary Guards. In such a case, Washington would have left no door open for Tehran to discuss any changes to the deal. After Trump delivered his Iranian speech last Friday afternoon, the Tehran government said they will stick to its terms and discuss no changes.

Given that the deal doesn’t cover other aspects of the Iranian armory than the country’s nuclear capabilities, Tehran has turned its military efforts to ballistic missiles. Already, she has managed to make noticeable technological progress in this field, up to the point of threatening the balance of power in the wider region. Israel and Saudi Arabia, the two arch-rivals of Iran, have felt the heat. As a result, the European trio is likely to accept that the deal has to cover other areas as well.

In 60 days

As expected, Tehran has a priori denounced any possible changes and said the agreement should be enforced as it was signed. This position, though, is most likely negotiable. However, any major demands from the part of the US and her European allies may be rejected not only by Iran, but also by the co-signatories, Russia and China. So, there is plenty of room for negotiations to be done during the next 60 days. Europe is already strongly lobbying the Senate in order for the changes to be acceptable by the other sides.

In conclusion, Trump despite having enraged his allies and foes with his rhetoric against Iran, has practically left an  wide open door for the deal to continue. In a latest development, yesterday afternoon, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said that the United States, “stays for the time being” in the multilateral deal with Iran. According to Reuters she added “the Trump administration wanted to weigh a ‘proportionate’ response to Tehran’s actions on the world stage”.

Haley is always in very close contact with the White House and authentically voices  the will of the President. This is a direct sign that Washington is ready to negotiate with Tehran a shake up of the P5+1 agreement. In any case, the Senate has to come up with a fair reform of it and there are many lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans willing to do that.



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