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Michael Jansen: A destructive move
May 07, 2018
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

The fate of the Iran nuclear deal remains unclear as the 2015 six-party agreement remains in the hands of an erratic, impulsive Donald Trump and anti-Iran hardliners in his administration. Recently appointed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton have a long history of calling for the US to confront Iran and may convince Trump to use the agreement, the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA),” to concede US demands on other policies outside the ambit of the JCOPA. These include Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its involvement in Iraq and Syria.

Iran has threatened to resume enrichment of uranium if Trump does not sign a document on May 12th authorising US government agencies and banks to uphold sanctions relief.

While there are six signatories of the JCPOA – the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and

Germany — the US holds the key to sanctions relief because US government agencies and banks control international banking and can slap penalties on non-US banks and even foreign governments which go against US policy. This could force European, Russian, and Asian governments and foreign firms to cease buying Iranian oil and other products and halt investment in Iran’s sanctions-eroded oil sector.

Ending or blocking sanctions relief is a flagrant violation of the JCPOA which is predicated on Iran’s curbing its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. The US has, partially, breached the deal by interfering with efforts by other countries and foreign firms to reach trade and investment agreements with Tehran. Consequently, the Iranian economy and populace have not seen the major improvements expected following the implementation of the JCPOA in January 2016. Iran and Iranians are already disappointed and distressed, particularly because the Obama administration, which signed the deal, did not honour the terms and spirit of the JCPOA, due to domestic opposition.

Defence Secretary James Mattis is just about the only voice of sanity in the Trump administration. Dozens of former US policy makers and Democratic party lawmakers, a number of former high-ranking Israeli military and security figures, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other world leaders have urged Trump to uphold the JCPOA and to negotiate with Iran on other issues of concern outside the deal.

Unfortunately, Trump thinks nothing of alienating Macron, Merkel, and a host of other leading figures with the aim of getting his way with the JCPOA. He seeks to overturn the deal because it is the most important foreign policy achievement of the Obama administration and Trump is bitterly determined to deprive former President Barack Obama of all his achievements, whether foreign or domestic. In his destructive drive, Trump cares nothing for the interests of the international community or of the “American people.”

He is motivated by his campaign promises to cancel Obama’s health care programme which benefits 20 million impecunious US citizens; impose tariffs on imported steel and other items which, he alleges, put US workers out of their jobs; and pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement which sets limits on polluting emissions which are damaging our planet and threatening human existence.

Trump believes he must deliver bad, disruptive and dangerous campaign promises to the largely ignorant, uncaring and self-interested 30-35 per cent of US voters who remain core supporters. For Trump this is a question of self-image: he repeatedly argues that he, unlike his many predecessors, delivers on campaign promises. He has, of course, found this to be impossible on a number of issues: including the wall along the US-Mexican border which, he said, Mexico would finance. He has, so far, not built the wall and Mexico has flatly refused to pay a cent.

Following last month’s meetings with Trump, Macron said he believes Trump “will get rid of this deal on his own for domestic reasons.” This could be the worst thing Trump does as it would open up this deeply troubled region to fresh upheaval, war, and perhaps, a nuclear arms race.

After chilly meetings with Trump at the White House, German Chancellor Angela Merkel capitulated to the Trump diktat by saying tht the JCPOA is “not sufficient” to curb and contain “Iran’s ambitions. Europe and the United State ought to be in lock step on this.”

Britain had already spoken of meeting “US concerns” while only Russia and China honour the deal as is.

Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA could cause the five other signatories of the deal to lose faith in the US as a trustworthy partner. His actions on this issue could colour these powers’ dealings with the US as long Trump is in office. They have already been angered and upset by his practice of creating deeply disconcerting uncertainties and suspense on what he will do on major issues. His primary interest is not US policy but promoting Trump in media headlines and in the eye of every policymaker on earth.

If Trump ditches the JCPOA, he will seriously undermine US credibility at a time he seeks to reassure allies. Pompeo clearly saw this danger while he was in Brussels on his first day in office when he told Nato members that the US remains firmly committed to the alliance and to countering Russian influence around the world. Since taking office, Trump has been sharply critical of Nato members for not paying their share of the organisation’s budget and for failing to block Russia’s expanding reach in Europe and this region.

Wrecking the JCPOA will also undermine Trump’s standing with both North and South Korea. He sees a deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong-on as a potential high profile personal victory. He is already claiming he is responsible for the rapprochement between the Koreas and suggestions by Pyongyang that it is prepared to accept “denuclearisation” of the Korean peninsula if the US ends its policy of threatening the north and lifts punitive sanctions. Kim may well see the JCOPA as a model for the kind of deal he could accept.

Consequently, Trump could torpedo his foreign policy “triumph” due to his excessive focus on himself and his lack of understanding of world affairs.


The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East
affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict

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