28 September 2017
Prior to his election as President of the United States Donald Trump had been highly critical of the agreement reached between China, France, Germany, Russia, the US, the UK and Iran and the European Union aimed at preventing Iran from enriching uranium to the point where is could manufacture nuclear weapons. He repeatedly referred to the agreement as “a horrible agreement”, the “stupidest deal of all time” and “the worst deal ever.”
At his now notorious address to the United Nations General Assembly in September he extended his attack to Iran itself, calling it a “corrupt dictatorship” and a nation “on a path of poverty, bloodshed and terror.”
The vast majority of the delegates present treated such overblown rhetoric with the contempt it deserved. Only Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu voiced support, as one would expect given Israel’s hostility to the Iranian government and Netanyahu’s cartoonish presentation to the UN some years earlier, as well as more serious actions such as the assassination of Iranian scientists and electronic warfare through the Stuxnet virus.
Trump and Netanyahu are not alone among the neocon establishment in voicing what Iran’s President Rouhani, a Ph.D. from Scotland and democratically re-elected in a landslide earlier this year, called “”ignorant, absurd and hateful rhetoric.”
In June of this year Trump’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley addressed the influential American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in a speech remarkable for its lies, distortions and obfuscations about Iran and its politics.
The nuclear issue that Trump and his ilk find so distasteful is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated by the abovementioned group of nations, including the US, and endorsed unanimously by the Security Council (again including the US) in July 2015. That agreement established a rigorous inspections framework within Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in exchange for which the US and other nations were to remove sanctions that had significantly hindered Iran’s development and modernization. In fact, Security Council Resolution 2231 of July 2015 specifically removed all the earlier sanctions resolutions (1696, 1737, 1747, 1803, 1835 and 1929).
Under the JCPOA the IAEA carries our regular inspections, the last as recently as September 2017. It has found Iran to be in compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA, a view echoed by General Paul Selva, the Vice-Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, in July 2017. Following Trump’s UN speech the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini made a point of stating that “the nuclear agreement was working.”
The JCPOA provides a mechanism for investigating alleged violations by Iran. All a complaining nation has to do is provide evidence to the IAEA of a reasonably based suspicion that Iran is in violation of the agreement and the IAEA has wide and intrusive powers to investigate.
In fact, no evidence has ever been provided. Wild, politically motivated allegations with neither a factual nor even a reasonable suspicion basis do not constitute the faintest foundation for abrogating an agreement that enjoys overwhelming international support, and as Mogherini says, “is working.”
What then, lies behind Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric? There are, I suggest, a number of factors at work. The first of these is the troubled relationship between Iran and the US in the post World War 2 period. In 1953 a joint CIA-MI6 operation overthrew the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mossadegh on behalf of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (now BP), which the Iranian government was planning to nationalize. The Americans installed the regime of Shah Pahlavi, and also, significantly, trained the brutally ruthless Savak Secret Police that enforced the Shah’s dictatorship.
The Islamic Revolution of 1979 in turn overthrew the Shah. Relations between the US and Iran have ranged from poor to abysmal ever since. The US has inspired, financed and trained a series of anti-government groups, including the MEK, a group designated as terrorist by the State Department. Iranians are very mindful of America’s support for Saddam Hussein in the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s when Iran suffered a million casualties. That history needs to be remembered when reading American allegations about Iran’s alleged sponsorship of terrorism.
A second factor arises from the US’s hegemonic ambitions in the greater Middle East region, and control of its vast oil and gas reserves. General Wesley Clark revealed in an interview in September 2011 the existence of a plan he had seen dating back to at least 2001 of a policy intention of overthrowing seven countries in the region in five years (Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Syria). Confirmation of the plan is found not least in the fact that six of the seven have already been attacked by the US or Israel, with only Iran thus far relatively unscathed. The attack on Iran has been of a hybrid warfare nature, including sanctions and sponsorship of terrorism.
Quite apart from Clark’s Pentagon list, there is also a 2009 report by the Brookings Institution entitled “Which Path to Persia.”. That report clearly indicates that the US should engineer a situation that would portray Iran as a party squandering a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue and therefore having to be attacked “more in sorrow than anger”, thereby keeping the international community on side.
Bear in mind that this cynical ploy was set out six years before the JCPOA was signed. Trumps current policy stance of which the rhetoric is a vital part, clearly has its genesis in the Brookings Institution report.
The third factor arises out of the beating that the US and its terrorist proxies are currently receiving in Syria. The attempt to overthrow the sovereign government of Syria began in earnest in 2011. The former Vice President of the US, Joe Biden, acknowledged in October 2014 that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE and Turkey were the first foreign countries to intervene in Syria’s war. He should have also acknowledged the US’s role. While lacking direct military intervention was certainly a major player in training, arming and financing various terrorist groups, whom they ridiculously claimed were the “moderate opposition” to the Assad government.
Iran, which has had a mutual defence treaty with Syria since 2006 did not intervene until 2015, along with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and Russia. All three are in Syria at the invitation of the Syrian government, unlike the presence of the US, Australia, the UK and others whose presence is in violation of international law. The Australian government for example, has made various spurious claims as to the justification for its involvement in the so-called “coalition” but has refused to release the legal advice it falsely claimed it was seeking before making a decision.
The fourth factor is perhaps the most significant. After UN Security Council Resolution 2231 was passed in July 2015 Iran was able to begin re-establishing its central role in Eurasia. Apart from a number of European Union countries rushing to sign deals with Iran, there has been a progressive rapprochement with Turkey, itself orientating away from the European-NATO axis, and more particularly with Russia and China.
Iran is a crucial link in the North South Transportation Corridor (NTSC), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) where it will convert from associate membership to full status, most likely within a year, and also the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).
China and Russia are both making major investments in Iran and closer defence links will be an inevitable corollary. Some defence agreements have already been reached with Russia, and the superior S400 anti-missile system is being installed. With Chinese and Russian military support a direct American attack on Iran is even more unthinkable than in the past.
It is this relative impotence in the face of a rapidly changing geopolitical structure that frustrates Trump, Haley, Pompeo and Mattis, all of whose visceral dislike of Iran is well documented.
This is not to say that Trump will unilaterally withdraw the US from JCPOA. Given the US’s well-documented contempt for international law and Trump’s cavalier disregard for treaty obligations some unilateral move cannot be discounted.
The major difference this time is that the Europeans, the Turks, the Chinese and the Russians will simply ignore this latest illustration of America’s self-destructive behaviour and, as the JCPOA says (Preamble viii) work “in good faith and in a constructive atmosphere based on mutual respect, and to refrain from any action inconsistent with the letter and spirit of the JCPOA that would undermine its successful implementation.”
*Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org