Washington’s position on Tehran divides the European-American camp
Trump puts the nuclear agreement in the balance and turns Rohani into a “hawk”
Key words: EU, Iran, US, Syria, Iraq, Russia.
By Elijah J. Magnier: @ejmalrai
The United States has not been able to swallow the Islamic Republic of Iran’s victory, prevailing on the Syrian and Iraqi arenas where the war is shortly going to end- sooner rather than later. On these military stages, today, there is no longer any horizon for extremist groups, witness the defeat of “Islamic State” (ISIS) its territory shrinking to less than a quarter of what it was in 2014. Moreover, Al-Qaeda in Syria (Nusra or Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham) is preparing itself for limited options in Idlib: either its fate is to dissolve itself, bow to absolute Turkish control- or fight to the death.
No one is talking about the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad or the regime change in Syria anymore; all players (in the region, as well as the EU and the US) have bowed to the almost total Russian domination of the Levant and the victory of the Iraqi government over ISIS. The “project” of splitting Mesopotamia ended in the bin of history: even the Kurds in Kurdistan are seriously thinking of postponing or freezing the “referendum on independence”, expected on September 25. If not, Erbil knows already it is alone in this wrongly-timed project.
Thus, with the victory of the governments of Baghdad and Damascus, Russia and Iran’s allies; with the defeat of the Daeshi-Takfiri project; with the growing capabilities and expertise of Hezbollah in Syria and on more than one front in the Middle East (Iraq and Yemen)- Iran comes out a clear winner: its financial investment in Syria was huge, mainly to support the military campaign and the Syrian Army and institutions. Tehran can therefore no longer be ignored in any negotiation talks – the entire map of the Middle East bears testimony.
However, despite the US occupation of a geographical location in the Syrian northeast (al-Hasaka and Raqqah provinces) and the absence of a strategic horizon for this military presence along with the Syrian Kurdish forces and a few local tribes, this result is a considerable downgrade for America and its allies in the Middle East who invested massively in order to topple the Syrian government.
It therefore became necessary to turn the tables and to discredit Iran by implementing more sanctions, by attacking the nuclear deal – including Washington’s allies on the old European continent – and by accusing Tehran of “breaking the spirit of the nuclear agreement” so as to “justify” the imposition of further economic sanctions under various headings and excuses- these are expected to increase in the coming months.
However, Europe will not accept this, nor stand idly by, especially as its economy, which is under serious pressure, would suffer significantly from new sanctions on Iran. Europe sees thirsty Iranian markets (especially for oil products, aviation, technology, petrochemicals, cars and other industrial projects) which promise great hopes of boosting the EU economy. France, Britain and Germany have signed the nuclear agreement and are satisfactorily monitoring and controlling the Iranian commitment. Europe doesn’t see any reason for further US sanctions, aiming directly or indirectly at blowing up the agreement, by imposing financial and banking sanctions that restrain Iran’s economic and foreign banking cooperation.
This prompted President Hassan Rohani, known to lead the Iranian “doves” (less radical) and facing the Iranian hardliners for years, to defend his deal with the US, to threaten to halt the deal, and to restart military nuclear activity within “hours” if the agreement loses its spirit, and the economic and financial gains that came with it. Trump succeeded where Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s spiritual leader’s camp failed, turning Iranian President Rohani into a hawk in relation to the US. Today, Rohani bows to Sayed Ali Khamenei’s static caution and complete lack of confidence, and gives him credit to what he has always said: “Never trust any American administration”.
Sayed Ali Khameini told his visitors (away from the media and privately) that “the United States is dishonest, wants to take without giving or exchanging: if you give it one finger it will ask for the full hand, and if you accept to deliver the hand, it will request an arm, and if you agree then the US would want the entire body, and if you follow its demands to the end, it will turn on you because it is not trustworthy and will never be”.
However, President Rohani managed to convince Sayed Ali Khamenei to try again, following the US letter sent through Oman during Ahmadinejad’s presidency stating that the American administration was serious in seeking to negotiate a nuclear deal. Khaminei allowed the first contacts then but they were interrupted, only to reappear during the Obama administration on condition that no other dossier will be discussed but the nuclear one. What President Barack Obama called a “historic agreement” was harshly attacked by President Donald Trump during his electoral campaign and immediately after he took office as US president.
Nevertheless, there is a clear division between the US and the European positions towards the nuclear deal with Iran. This conflict stems from two principles:
Firstly, Europe adopts a policy of law without illegal circumvention. The European countries signed the nuclear deal after it was reassured that Iran would reduce its production, follow the deal to the letter and receive the UN inspection team’s reports following the repetitive visits to all sites indicated by the deal. Thus, it does not like the American manipulation aimed at evoking the “spirit of agreement” without any concrete evidence or specific explanation. However the CIA is not far from fabricating evidence for the US Congress by next October, the date of the second batch of sanctions against Iran. Conceiving a file similar to the one of “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq to justify his invasion would be enough for Trump as an excuse to blow up the agreement in order to impose additional sanctions on Iran.
Secondly, Europe is aware that the main reason for Trump’s harsh position on the nuclear agreement is related to finance and security. Financially, the US administration does not want to release the Iranian assets: if they do Tehran will spend its monies on non-American companies (but on European, Russian and Asian). Trump is fighting Europe on future Iranian contracts, and the European continent is aware of the US moves and intentions. The US President also uses Iran to blackmail the Middle Eastern countries (mainly Saudi Arabia and Bahrein) to force them to spend money on him on the basis that it stands in the front row against “their sworn enemy”: Iran.
On the security issue, the US President wants to defend Israel and protect its interests by imposing sanctions on Iran, which has become strong on Israel’s borders in Syria and in Lebanon through its allies (Hezbollah and the newly created Syrian resistance groups). Therefore, this “Iranian victory” cannot be celebrated by Tehran without US sanctions that brings it back to the diplomatic-economic confrontation and denigrates its celebration in Syria. Europe refuses to be part of Trump’s game because it is hurting European interests, especially as Iran did not violate the nuclear agreement, and that the ballistic program has never been part of the nuclear agreement with the five permanent members of the United Nations plus one (Germany).
Official sources told me that “Tehran would not violate the agreement unless the American sanctions reach a dangerous level, at which point the agreement loses its reasons, substance and benefit”. But the Iranian withdrawal has become an option and the threat of President Rohani is not a manoeuvre but a serious warning, especially as the team surrounding Trump are globally hostile to Iran and capable of convincing the amateurish US President of anything.
Rohani’s statement sets out “new rules of engagement” and joins the European position that the United States’ decisions have violated borders and do not take into account the interests of all those who agreed and signed the nuclear deal. Europe itself considers that the US hostility toward Tehran is though predictable and that Trump’s sanctions against 18 individuals and entities are grossly violating the agreement.
It is clear that Iran has disturbed the “Club of Space States” by sending a satellite into the space and tested cross-continental missiles. However, these Iranian measures are defensive because they have not attacked countries in the Middle East since the declaration of the Islamic Republic in 1979 despite Middle Eastern armament budgets that exceeded tens of billions of dollars under the “Iranian threat” triggered by the Americans among their Arab and Gulf allies. Tehran has announced the $ 500 million Revolutionary Guard budget for the missile program as a message to the world that it is not weak and that attacking it directly would cost everyone losses that the Arab world and America can better live without.
It is clear that what the United Nations considered one of its most important historical achievements is close to become clinically dead in the coming months if Trump continues to add sanctions. It is also clear that the nuclear file will be the first nail in the coffin of US-European relations since World War II, because Europe does not want to bear responsibility for the US bill and its unilateral position in violating the agreement that has been respected by everyone except Trump and his administration.
It is natural that America cannot accept its loss in the Levant and Mesopotamia for the benefit of Iran, and inevitable therefore that the US administration will push matters into a gradual deterioration.
Sanctions have not only included Iran but also Moscow, especially its gas line feeding Europe, because the US measures will hit any European company dealing with Russia. The gas line to Europe is one of the reasons why the Kremlin went to war in Syria and intervened in Ukraine because the Russian economy depends on it (70% of the Russian economy). If America implements further sanctions in October, it will strike Russia and Iran, the two allied countries in Syria who Trump’s policy pushed into each other’s arms. Thus, despite the near end of the war in Syria, its consequences are still hitting the world: they will continue to do so for many years to come.