In his speech last week developing the US’s new approach towards Iran, President Donald Trump announced that the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal is no longer in US interest, and took the first step toward decertifying it. “We will not continue down the path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror, and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout,” affirmed Trump in his address.
He also went as far as to accuse Iran of being the cause of all the ills in the Middle East and for supporting terrorism around the region.
By declaring that the US would refuse to certify that Iran had complied with its responsibilities under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Trump opened the door to more sanctions against Iran followed by a direct US attack on Iran. Moreover, in a communique drafted by the White House, Iran has been criticised for its support of terrorism, its hostility toward Israel and human rights abuses. However, whether the Trump administration can find enough votes to pass the bill designed by Republican senators Tom Cotton and Bob Corker, which would alter the so-called sunset timelines that allow Iran to resume some activities over set times, is doubtful.
Accordingly, the major European powers – Britain, France and Germany – reacted immediately to Trump’s attack against the Iran nuclear deal by reaffirming their total commitment to the Iran deal. Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, who hosted the two-year deal, underlined the fact that the agreement “does not belong to any single country and it is not up to any single country to terminate it.”
As for the Iranian reaction to Trump’s appeal, it came stronger than expected. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on local TV that Iran would continue to stick to its 2015 nuclear accord with world powers as long as the other signatories respected it, but would “shred” the deal if Washington pulled out. The ayatollah’s strong reaction also came as a reaction to Trump’s more confrontational approach to Iran over its ballistic missile program and the presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in Syria and Yemen. Tehran has repeatedly put forward the argument that the missile system is about its defensive capability in opposition to its enemies.
According to the ayatollah: “Americans are angry because the Islamic Republic of Iran has managed to thwart their plots in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and other countries in the region…… They must avoid interfering in our defense program … We do not accept that Europe sings along with America’s bullying and its unreasonable demands.” His speech demonstrates clearly and strongly how Iran sees its role as a regional powerhouse, However, though Iranian decision-makers seem keen on maintaining positive relations with their neighbours, the IRGC and the Basij paramilitary forces seem to have arrived at a general consensus on the need to strengthen the country’s military capabilities.
Actually, by IRGC rhetoric, Iran’s independence and the safeguard of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 is directly tied to the national imperative to strengthen Iran’s military might and power. This said, Iran’s military capabilities and its revolutionary presence in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria is considered as a direct threat to the interests and security of Saudi Arabia and Israel in the Middle East.
The new US approach towards Iran is also partly in relation to the Trump administration’s open support of the Saudi and the Israeli positions in regard to Iran. US secretary of state Rex Tillerson recently underlined the broad elements of the US strategy on Iran: “Our policy towards Iran,” he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in response to a question, “is to push back on [its regional] hegemony, contain their ability to develop, obviously, nuclear weapons and to work towards support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government.”
The question now is whether the Trump administration is preparing itself for a regime change in Iran or for the time being it is just looking for closer military cooperation with its regional allies to counter Iran’s hegemonic ambitions in the region. One way or another, Trump’s new Iran policy, which includes sweeping new sanctions on the IRGC and its élite Quds Force, puts the US and its European allies in the most challenging diplomatic position. Trump’s bellicose long-term strategy in regard to Iran would certainly create a rift between the US and the European powers, even bigger than the one that followed George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
This is where Iran’s leaders have good reason to be self-confident and to call what it sees as Trump’s charade. As Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Iranian national television: “America is now more than ever isolated…We will not expect anything else from you from now on. With your incorrect words, you made us more united than ever.”
If this is the case, Trump’s “new” strategy on Iran looks very anti-strategic.
Ramin Jahanbegloo is the director of the Mahatma Gandhi Centre for Peace at Jindal Global University.