Trump, IAEA, Iran, JCPOA, POTUS, UNGA, US

U.S. President Donald J. Trump unveiled his new strategy for Iran on Friday. Expectedly, Trump hurled a barrage of criticism on the Islamic Republic and decertified the multinational and multilateral Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), leaving the future of the 2015 monumental agreement – also signed by France, Germany, Russia, Britain and the European Union – in the hands of the Congress.

During his 18-minute long address, Trump said that the nuclear deal was the most lopsided indenture with the relief of sanctions giving the regime much-needed funds to finance terrorism. ‘Worst of all, the deal allows Iran to continue developing certain elements of its nuclear program. And importantly, in just a few years, as key restrictions disappear, Iran can sprint towards a rapid nuclear weapons breakout. In other words, we got weak inspections in exchange for no more than a purely short-term and temporary delay in Iran’s path to nuclear weapons,’ he said.

While rolling out the planks of his Iran strategy, Trump called upon the Congress to remove various flaws in the deal which still allow Iran to sprint ahead with a nuclear program. ‘I am directing my administration to work closely with Congress and our allies to address the deal’s many serious flaws so that the Iranian regime can never threaten the world with nuclear weapons. These include the deal’s sunset clauses that, in just a few years, will eliminate key restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program,’ said Trump while adding that if the flaws are not done away with, the deal will be terminated.

The new strategy is hardly surprising as analysts and experts felt that it was on the cards. The JCPOA halted Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. However, the deal has been under the scanner and singular focus of the 71-year old Trump ever since he called it the ‘worst deal ever’. After gingerly certifying Iran’s compliance with the deal in July this year, he asserted that Iran is violating the spirit of the deal. When Trump signed sanctions against the regime in August 2017, it was a foregone conclusion that the deal will be decertified in October.

Ever since his inauguration, Trump has shown a great degree of spite for Iran. His open references to Iran during his speech at the Riyadh Summit earlier this year where he enjoined upon all countries to confront and combat the regime, severed ties between the two arch rivals. The speech was followed by Trump’s taunting condolences to the victims of the ISIS-led attacks on Tehran in June this year. Hardliners in Iran got a legit reason to whip up anti-American feelings with the Supreme Leader even going on to say that ISIS is a creation of the US.

While addressing the 72nd session of the UNGA last month Trump said: ‘This wealth, which rightly belongs to Iran’s people, also goes to shore up Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship, fuel Yemen’s civil war, and undermine peace throughout the entire Middle East’. The US, it must be stressed is at loggerheads with Iranian policies in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, besides Iran’s open challenge to its allies in Israel. This has resulted in both countries unable to see eye to eye despite fighting the same enemy in ISIS.

It is amply evident that Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA. The IAEA released yet another statement of ratification which was followed by statements of support for the deal by all the other signatories_ Russia, Germany, France, Britain and the European Union. However, Trump wants to punish Iran’s policies in Syria, Yemen and Iraq by targeting the nuclear deal.

Here, it is important to understand a few things. Iran-USA ties are typified with acrimony, rancor and mistrust since the monumental events of 1979. Iran’s grit, determination and resilience defines its national character. The erudite Henry Kissinger aptly described Iran in the following words: ‘Of all the countries in the region, Iran has perhaps the most coherent sense of nationhood and the most elaborated tradition of national-interest –based statecraft’.

Kissinger’s assessment was reflected in the response given by Iranian President, Hasan Rouhani. The 68-year old, who despite opposition from the hardliners signed the JCPOA, has vowed that his country would not wilt under pressure. While saying that Iran will honor the deal as long as it panders to its national interests, he categorically asserted: ‘Iran’s ballistic missile programme will expand despite pressure from the US. The Iranian nation has not and will never bow to any foreign pressure’.

It must be stressed that given the animosity between the two countries, the JCPOA was the best that has been achieved so far; no better deal can be reached between two countries who are not even interested in mending fences. Iran’s post-revolution strategic orientation is based upon its fear of foreign domination. Trump’s penchant to do away with the deal is a recipe for disaster where radical elements inside the country will challenge the US and its allies in the region.

The greatest fear for the US should be that Iran can even go-nuclear if Trump continues to browbeat it. States go-nuclear, among other factors because of national identity, nuclear humiliation and isolation.  Iran had not only suggested to go for the bomb in the past but had started to crack deals to get equipment; it had centrifuges, sites, yellow cakes and most importantly, delivery system: missiles. The US has to reconfigure its Iran strategy.

Syed Ali Zia Jaffery

Syed Ali Zia Jaffery

is Research Associate at the Center for Security, Strategy and Policy Research, University of Lahore.

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