By Massoumeh Torfeh
US President Donald Trump has taken several aggressive actions that Iran has all but absorbed. Now, he’s left with few options aside from a military strike, which he says he doesn’t want. So what now?
With three US warships operating in the Persian Gulf and a “maximum pressure” campaign in full force against the Iranian ruling elite, including 1000 sanctions, US President Donald Trump has given Iran reasonable justification for returning to its uncooperative pre-2015 position.
It was President Trump, who in May 2018, violated the landmark nuclear deal – by withdrawing from it — known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani warned the international community on Wednesday that Tehran would boost its uranium enrichment to “any amount that we want” after July 7.
Rouhani said Tehran would return to full compliance if all parties, including the United States, also complied. More steps are likely to follow.
President Trump has clearly overplayed his hand, leaving himself little room for exerting further pressure on Iran other than a military strike, which he has said he does not favour.
Rouhani, ridiculing Trump on Wednesday asked if there were any more sanctions or threats he’d like to impose or any more statements he wants to issue.
“Go ahead issue them now, why wait for later,” he said.
Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif claimed in a Tweet that Iran had acted entirely within the terms of JCPOA which specifies a party could “cease performing its commitments” in the event of “significant non-performance” by any of the other parties.
Trump, who has never offered a clear policy line on Iran — aside from his cabinet’s hawkish rhetoric of regime change — made a mistake ignoring Iran’s relative leniency in April when Zarif, spoke to Fox News tacitly asking the US president to drop his pressure campaign.
For months President Trump has been going on about talks but acting ever more aggressively and humiliating Iran with pressure and accusations, the latest being on the recent tanker attacks in the Persian Gulf. His American adversaries saw these as an excuse to attack Iran.
Take the nonsensical White House statement on July 2 blaming Iran for violating the terms of JCPOA “even before” it was agreed: “There is little doubt that even before the deal’s existence, Iran was violating its terms.”
It’s clear that Trump is trying to use the same strategy that brought him success as a real estate developer in the 90s.
“I will demand anything I can get,” said the younger Donald Trump in an interview with the Playboy Magazine describing how he used to win multi-billion dollar deals.
“When you’re doing business, you take people to the brink of breaking them without having them break, to the maximum point their heads can handle–without breaking them. That’s the sign of a good businessman,” he said.
He admits in that interview that the aim is to get a good deal and if he pushed too far that would’ve been a mistake. That seems to be the case with his handling of relations with Iran.
While sanctions are devastating the economy, Iran seems to have gradually adjusted to the pressure and found some accommodation with other JCPOA signatories over trade.
INSTEX is now available to all European Union member-states and will soon be open to economic operators in third countries. European signatories of the JCPOA have so far refrained from calling for the re-imposition of sanctions, which is now possible because of Iran’s non-compliance.
Meanwhile, the regime-change idea uttered by the US National Security Advisor John Bolton, and the lavish communications plans funded by the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have all flopped.
Demonstrations inside Iran have died down, and a few small anti-Iran groups operating mainly from the US (or Albania) have fizzled out.
The former Shah’s son, Prince Reza Pahlavi who called for Iranians in the diaspora to unite around him and support regime change inside does not seem to have gained many supporters.
Bolton’s alleged favourite team, the former US-terrorist-listed organisation, MEK, has disappeared off the radar after its controversial gathering last June in Paris attended by Trump’s inner circle.
The event was broadcast live from an allegedly Saudi-funded Persian language television called Iran International and reported in full by the American funded Radio Farda.
Another group called “Fereshgard” mainly famous for its abusive language on social media has been vastly discredited.
While those groups never had a significant following inside Iran, the internal calls for reform have continued to pose the biggest concern for the Iranian regime.
Those calls were there before Trump came to power and will continue after his presidency too.
The damaging impact of President Trump’s miscalculation is that Iran now poses an even greater threat both at home and internationally. It may also opt out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Iran will probably never hold talks with the US, and we can expect a protracted stalemate.
Perhaps the EU and the UN as the guarantors of the JCPOA must shoulder some of the responsibility for failing to either deter President Trump from his aggressive approach or acting sooner to find mediators for talks between Iran and the US.