Brute isolation: Trump and the art of unraveling the Iran deal
The Trump administration wants a completely different deal, or it will unilaterally pull out. What follows could be incendiary
Contrary to a barrage of spin, the P5+1 meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to assess implementation of the Iran nuclear deal did not go especially well, as diplomats confirmed to Asia Times.
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson was forced to concede Tehran is abiding by the deal. But once again he hammered the new US meme – now it’s about Iran not fulfilling “expectations.”
At a tense table, Tillerson – for the first time – met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. At least the spin was not explosive. “There was no yelling,” he said later. “We didn’t throw shoes at one another. It was not an angry tone at all.”
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini – not exactly the brightest bulb in the room – was compelled to stress there was no doubt the deal was being respected. She even warned, “all member states are considered to be bound by its implementation. The international community cannot afford to dismantle an agreement that is working and delivering.”
Russia and China won’t renegotiate the deal – and that’s final. And the EU members of the P5+1 – France, the UK and Germany – will also stick to it, as Mogherini herself confirmed.
By now, even bears stranded on melting Arctic glaciers know President Trump has added a cliffhanger, having announced that he has “decided.” Nobody knows what he has decided, even Tillerson. And yet, even the commander of US Strategic Command, Gen. John Hyten, has admitted, “the facts are that Iran is operating under the agreements that we signed up for under the JCPOA.”
What has happened is that the Trump administration has changed the narrative from being about a technical, nuclear-centered agreement, to one that encompasses Iran’s geopolitical reach in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, as well as its missile program and cyber operations – all non-nuclear issues that Mogherini herself stressed were “outside the scope” of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
I followed the nuclear negotiations in Vienna in 2015 for Asia Times. Even then the US delegation was doing everything to include ballistic missiles, something that was thoroughly rejected by other parties, especially by Russia and China.
So for all practical purposes, the Trump administration wants a completely different deal, or it will unilaterally pull out. Technically, that means going against a UNSC resolution supported by international law.
So what about the “path of moderation”?
At the UN pulpit, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivered a measured, elegant, cultured and at the same time scathing speech thoroughly debunking Trump’s assertions with actual facts. The overall theme was “the path of moderation.” A particular pearl: “Moderation is the synergy of ideas and not the dance of swords.” The contrast with the bellicose, Manichean Trump Doctrine was stark.
Rouhani never ceases to point out that the JCPOA could become “a new model for international relations” – a framework to be considered, for example, in the case of the intractable DPRK. German chancellor Angela Merkel, on the record, agrees. But now Rouhani has also been forced to stress that Tehran’s response to a possible US abrogation will be conditioned by how the Europeans respond.
The new Roi Soleil, French President Emmanuel Macron, has eagerly stepped into the fray, posing as a mediator between Washington and the other P5+1 members. But in fact Macron’s touting of new “pillars” – restrictions on ballistic missiles; a follow-on deal that would apply after 2025; and an “open discussion with Iran about the current situation in the region” – amount to endorsing the Trump administration’s changing of the rules.
The DPRK will never bother to even consider negotiating with a “compassionate nation” that refuses to live up to multilateral commitments
If Trump decides the US is going to pull out of the JCPOA, Tehran has stated, on the record, that it will remain committed, as long as the other P5+1 members stay – and they will. The problem will be when the Trump administration, supported by Capitol Hill, subsequently takes the inevitable path of an extra barrage of sanctions against Iran – with possible incendiary consequences.
What’s clear is that neither “RC” – the Russia-China strategic partnership – nor the Europeans will isolate Tehran. For “RC” in particular, it’s all about Iran’s destiny as a key hub in the interpenetrating Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and North-South Transportation Corridor, its future full membership of the SCO and even, possibly, BRICS Plus, and its capacity to be a future supplier of natural gas to Europe. Moreover, Rouhani has repeatedly stressed that, whatever happens, Tehran will never aim to build a nuclear weapon.
Trump’s fateful decision in fact conditions and frames how he will deal with North Korea. Pulling out of the JCPOA will send an unmistakeable message to Pyongyang and also complicate the efforts of “RC” to defuse the situation. The DPRK will never bother to even consider negotiating with a “compassionate nation” that refuses to live up to multilateral commitments.
And all this sound and fury from the US will, ultimately, signify only one thing: another multi-trillion-dollar, unwinnable war in Southwest Asia, simply to indulge the wet dreams of assorted Beltway armchair generals.