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Trump Sanctions: The Latest Disappointment for the Advocates of Iran-US Reconciliation

When President Donald Trump announced on 8th May that the United States would not be a party to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran deal, anymore, it was easily predictable that new tensions between Tehran and Washington will emerge soon. It didn’t take long for the European Union to voice its regret over President Trump’s decision and say in an unequivocal manner that Trump’s unilateralism won’t mark the premature death of the Iran deal, signed and sealed only three years ago.  

Britain, France and Germany issued a statement in which they reiterated their continued commitment to the JCPOA as long as Iran abides by its nuclear commitments. They said Europe will honor the terms of the Iran deal and encourages trade and business with Iran. It was then when the advent of a gap in the US-EU relations was noticeable.  

In phone conversations with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the leaders of the three countries gave assurances that Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal would not be translated into the demise of the agreement, secured in July 2015.  

However, it isn’t difficult to conclude that the fulfillment of one of President Trump’s main campaign promises is a lethal blow to the foundation of a deal, which according to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, was so meticulously negotiated that there were lengthy discussions and debates between the interlocutors over each of its words. The document runs to 109 pages, including five annexes and is an intricate and detailed roadmap for collaboration between Iran, the United States, the European Union, China, Russia and finally the United Nations Security Council on the prospects of Iran’s nuclear program. The Iran nuclear deal is endorsed by the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, specifying the restrictions Iran voluntarily imposes on its nuclear program in return for the removal of all nuclear-related sanctions it was subjected to by the six countries involved in the negotiations and the Security Council itself. 

The departure of one of the main signatories of the agreement, followed by the enforcement of new sanctions against Iran, however, means a lot of things, including disappointment for those who believed Barack Obama’s commitment to diplomacy and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s overpowering of hardliners at home, translated into the signing of the nuclear deal, were the first steps in a long walk to a lasting Iran-US reconciliation which even Donald Trump couldn’t thwart.  

Even if the European countries, China, Russia and the traditional clients of Iran’s oil in Asia such as India, Japan and South Korea continue doing business with Iran under the shadow of harrowing US sanctions and even if the nuclear deal is salvaged through day and night efforts and diplomacy by the remaining parties, it’s undeniable that the psychological effect of the new sanctions imposed 6th August cannot and will not be alleviated and the international community’s relations with Iran will always be marred with fear of US penalties over business with a country which the Trump administration is apparently fully committed to bring to its knees. Unless anything changes in the White House or unless Iran is back to talks with the United States, Iranians shouldn’t await any good news as their country becomes a pariah state shunned by partners and rivals and isolated on the international scene.  

For a number of reasons, Trump’s decision in pulling out from the nuclear deal with Iran and imposing new sanctions will lead to serious complexities in the future of Iran-US relations and make any rapprochement and reconciliation implausible or at least hard to achieve. Iran has said no to new negotiations with the United States even as its economy is collapsing with the first bites of the sanctions.  

The demands put forward to Iran by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as the US government’s preconditions for the improvement of relations with Iran, sound impossible to be granted by the standards of the Iranian government. The granting of these requests mean forgoing the quintessential and prototypical footing of the 1979 revolution: exporting the revolution. Maybe, situation in the future will be such that Iran forgets about its ideological ambition of exporting its revolution in the Middle East and to its neighbors, but for the moment, Trump’s antagonistic attitude hasn’t convinced the authorities in Tehran to come back to the negotiation table and it goes without saying that the geopolitical dynamics of the Iranian society are fundamentally different from North Korea, so it’s not possible to expect Iran to give in to pressure easily even when it’s conspicuously suffering. 

The new round of US sanctions which target the Iranian people and statesmen alike will be complemented by additional measures shortly when the second phase of sanctions will be triggered on November 5. The first round of sanctions renders three major contracts between Iran and aircraft manufacturers Airbus, Boeing and ATR for the delivery of 230 commercial airplanes to Iran null and void and even cancels deals for $852 million worth of pistachio export and $424 million in carpets export. 

Even if the sanctions imposed by President Trump, who warned the world countries boldly to stop doing business with Iran or they will have their US trade ties compromised, aren’t examples of human rights violation – they directly affect the livelihoods of millions of Iranians including patients in need of imported medicine, they have a clear message. The message imparted by the new US sanctions is that forty years after the Iranian revolution and the cutting off of diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States, the two countries aren’t on a promising path to rapprochement and détente. They continue making the proponents of diplomacy and peace even more disappointed, rendering the mending of their flawed relations more difficult for the future Iranian and American administrations.

 

Author

Kourosh Ziabari

Kourosh Ziabari is an award-winning Iranian journalist and reporter. He is a contributor to the San Francisco-based Fair Observer. His writings have appeared on openDemocracy, The Huffington Post, International Policy Digest, Your Middle East and Middle East Eye. Kourosh was named the journalist of the month in February 2018 by the International Journalists Network. In November 2015, he was awarded the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Fellowship in Cultural Journalism by the FNPI foundation and the Colombian Ministry of Culture and spent 9 days in the Bolivar Department north of Colombia, reporting on the cultural and historical magnets of the cities of Cartagena de Indias and Santa Cruz de Mompox and the legacy of the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He is the recipient of the Senior Journalists Seminar Fellowship 2015 from the Hawaii-based East-West Center and a Chevening Scholarship from the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2016. Kourosh Ziabari writes about foreign policy, international relations, Iran-U.S. relations, diplomacy, culture and society.

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