Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

How Bibi’s Speech Plays in Tehran

LobeLog

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress, he insisted that Iran is much more desperate than the US to get a nuclear deal. Therefore, if more pressure is applied on Iran to get what Netanyahu calls a “better deal”—no uranium enrichment at all— Iranians will inevitably cave. The prime minister dismissed the possibility that Iran might instead walk away from the table with the crude Orientalist cliché of Iran’s bargaining in the Persian bazaar.

Yet a European delegation that visited Tehran on March 2-3 got a very different impression. The delegation—made up of members of the European Parliament, former high-ranking diplomats, and experts in the energy field—was organized by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, an influential foundation associated with the Social Democratic Party, currently part of Germany’s ruling coalition. The delegation met with Iranian officials in the foreign ministry and members of the parliament. It also held brainstorming sessions with the foreign ministry’s Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS) on the future of EU-Iran relations.

Participants in the discussions emphasized the fundamental divergence of perspectives. Europeans choose to put the nuclear issue at the center of their relations with Iran. But from Tehran’s perspective, the nuclear file is no more than a stumbling block impeding cooperation in a number of areas where the EU and Iran have common interests, such as Iran’s potential role in diversifying the EU’s energy supplies and the fight against the terrorist Islamic State (ISIS or IS). That said, all Iranian interlocutors supported the efforts of the negotiating team led by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in resolving the nuclear issue.

Significantly, the “principlists,” the conservatives who dominate the Iranian parliament, also conveyed this message. Despite the hype about Iranian hardliners potentially scuppering any deal negotiated by Zarif, they have exercised greater restraint so far than their peers in the US Congress. The powers of the Iranian parliament are not to be underestimated. MPs can sack individual ministers, as they did when they brought down the reformist Minister of Education Reza Faraji-Dana and threatened to impeach another reformist, Minister of Culture Ali Jannati.

Although Zarif has had to face some pretty tough questioning in parliament, the MPs have so far toed the line set by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in support of the negotiations. There is a consensus around what is deemed an acceptable deal. It should not infringe on Iran’s rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), including enrichment. It should contain provisions for the lifting of “unlawful and illegal” sanctions. And any restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program going beyond the NPT should be temporary.

As to the suspected military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, both MPs and foreign ministry officials, including Zarif himself, keep insisting that the acquisition of nuclear weapons would not improve Iran´s strategic position. In the words of an influential conservative Iranian lawmaker, “the fact that Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons does not prevent the US from sending drones to that country.” On the nuclear issue, Iranians generally present a united front, framed in the language of Iran’s national dignity.

Contrary to Netanyahu’s suggestions, the chances are much higher that, if faced with renewed pressure and sanctions, Iran would not succumb. Rather, it would opt out of the negotiations, unilaterally unfreeze the key elements of its nuclear program frozen under the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) of November 2013, and begin to build new centrifuges. Iranians stress that sanctions can’t take away their technical expertise. Nor does Iran feel as isolated as the West sometimes portrays it. The Non-Aligned Movement, a 120 nation-strong bloc, has backed Iran’s nuclear stance. Government officials also point out that China has replaced Germany as Iran’s main trading partner. If the nuclear negotiations collapse due to new American sanctions, Iranians expect that the existing sanctions architecture would crumble, with not only Russia and China, but also EU countries pursuing their economic and energy interests in Iran independently of US sanctions.

That said, the outcome preferred by the mainstream of Iran’s political opinion and the public at large is still clearly to have a deal with the West. Although the wounds in the relations with the US will take time to heal, no such impediments exist in the case of Europe. Iranians from different walks of life still feel a strong cultural affinity with Europe. They also point to a number of shared concerns where cooperation, in Tehran’s view, would be beneficial for both sides.

For instance, at all meetings, the Iranians raised the issues of European fighters joining IS in Syria and Iraq and the spread of the Wahhabi ideology among Muslims in Europe, suggesting the importance of joint efforts to counter these trends. Also mentioned was the diversification of Europe’s oil and gas supplies as well as Iranian interest in European expertise and investment in renewable energy, environment protection, and water management—all areas that, importantly, are not covered by the sanctions regime. Profound disagreements persist in the area of human rights, but most Iranian interlocutors agreed that a way should and could be found to discuss these issues.

Following Netanyahu’s advice would not produce a “better deal.” Renewed sanctions will not cause Iran to make more concessions. It would only kill the opportunity of a historic rapprochement between the West and Iran, potentially paving the way for another disastrous war in the Middle East. And that would be a very bad deal indeed.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Zalmay Khalilzad is Donald Trump’s special representative to the Afghan peace process, having previously served as ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq under George W. Bush.


Robert Joseph played a key role in manipulating U.S. intelligence to support the invasion of Iraq and today is a lobbyist for the MEK.


Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is one of the Senate’s more vocal hawks, and one of the prime vacillators among Republicans between objecting to and supporting Donald Trump.


Elliott Abrams, the Trump administration’s special envoy to Venezuela, is a neoconservative with a long record of hawkish positions and actions, including lying to Congress about the Iran-Contra affair.


Mike Pompeo, Donald Trump second secretary of state, has driven a hawkish foreign policy in Iran and Latin America.


Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is known for his hawkish views on foreign policy and close ties to prominent neoconservatives.


Nikki Haley, Donald Trump’s first U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is known for her lock-step support for Israel and is widely considered to be a future presidential candidate.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

François Nicoullaud, the former French ambassador to Iran, discusses the ups and downs of Iran-France relations and the new US sanctions.


Effective alliances require that powerful states shoulder a far larger share of the alliance maintenance costs than other states, a premise that Donald Trump rejects.


The new imbroglio over the INF treaty does not mean a revival of the old Cold War practice of nuclear deterrence. However, it does reveal the inability of the West and Russia to find a way to deal with the latter’s inevitable return to the ranks of major powers, a need that was obvious even at the time the USSR collapsed.


As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump appeared to recognize the obvious problem of the revolving door. But as the appointment of Patrick Shanahan, who spent 30 years at Boeing, as the Trump administration’s acting secretary of defense reveals, little has changed. America is indeed great again, if you happen to be one of those lucky enough to be moving back and forth between plum jobs in the Pentagon and the weapons industry.


Domestic troubles, declining popularity, and a decidedly hawkish anti-Iran foreign policy team may combine to make the perfect storm that pushes Donald Trump to pull the United States into a new war in the Middle East.


The same calculus that brought Iran and world powers to make a deal and has led remaining JCPOA signatories to preserve it without the U.S. still holds: the alternatives to this agreement – a race between sanctions and centrifuges that could culminate in Iran obtaining the bomb or being bombed – would be much worse.


With Bolton and Pompeo by his side and Mattis departed, Trump may well go with his gut and attack Iran militarily. He’ll be encouraged in this delusion by Israel and Saudi Arabia. He’ll of course be looking for some way to distract the media and the American public. And he won’t care about the consequences.


RightWeb
share