In 2015, when Iran deal was signed new tension or even a confrontation with Iran in the near term seemed almost unthinkable. Emerging crisis between the United States and Iran was commenced when President Trump during his elections campaign reiterates, the U.S. should withdraw from the Iran deal, he called the agreement “a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made” and added, “it didn’t bring calm, peace, and it never will”.
This attitude and the U.S regional alley opposition, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE against any deal between Iran and the U.S and their rivalry with Iran accelerate Trump’s pull out the decision. In May 2018, President Trump withdrew the U.S. unilaterally from 2015 so-called “Iran deal” that the United States and five other world major powers signed with Iran regarding its nuclear program. Throughout 2017 Trump contemplated not re-certifying, and thus effectively pulling out of the deal. The Iran deal ended some of the sanctions on Iran while suspending others, subject to waivers.
After the U.S overthrow Sadam’s regime in Iraq 2003, Iran expended its influence in the Middle East and established a network of proxies. Now Iran has the ability to wage “asymmetric war” against American forces, diplomats, and allies across the Middle East. Seems as observed in the past, Iranians to believe that as long as they or their proxies can carry out deniable attacks, the U.S and others won’t respond, moreover, as the rhetoric escalated, the fact that there is no direct communication between the two also increases the potential for missed signals and misunderstanding. Fears of miscalculation and clash are possible. Mr. Trump said he did not want a war with Iran. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, seemed to echo that sentiment when he rather uncharacteristically also said that “neither we nor they want a war…” However, tensions have not subsided.
As tension heats up, finding solution and de-escalation is crucial but seems there is no “exit strategy” articulated by sides, Iran’s strategy is “maximum resistance.” So what might be done? The parties do not reject the talks but have conditions for negotiations, as Mr. Trump reiterates, he is ready for negotiations so why tension is so high if sides have no problem with negotiation, why putting burden of this severe sanction on shoulders of Iranian, especially, ordinary people that hardly they afford their routine basic needs, gets minimum attention, why this hardship is not the subject of interest.
As we see in North Korea’s denuclearization talks, if Iranians contact president Trump, in optimistic view after they perform a show off like what we saw in North Korean case, this is tough for Islamic revolutionary state of Iran to fulfill completely the U.S conditions and demands. Tehran knows if the demands are fulfilled, the nature of Iranian Islamic revelation is changed, and it would commence of the assimilation process for their revolutionary and ideological nature, for this reason, the U.S demands are unacceptable for Tehran, and it would not entirely and completely be fulfilled with this regime in Tehran.
On the other hand, regional allies of the U.S in the region, particularly Israelis and Saudis are to put Trump’s Administration under pressure to keep up the “maximum pressure” strategy on Iran and maintain the conditions on the table, until their concerns are removed.
Iranians, want to outreach their leverage prior to any possible negotiations and that may come not only from ongoing threats and escalated rhetoric but also by breaching the limits of Iran’s nuclear deal. This would put pressure on Trump as well as the Europeans. The Iranians understand the Europeans want them to stay in the deal, and that is at least one reason why the Iranian president, Rouhani, is playing on European fears, giving them time until July 7th to show they will produce economic benefits to Iran to circumvent the American sanctions or Iran may no longer respect the nuclear deal. Iran started to produce heavy water and can pressure on Europe by uranium enrichment at higher levels or by accumulating more than the 300 kilograms they are permitted under the terms of the JCPOA.
A win, win a game as Iranians seeking is nearly impossible as everyone, including Russia and China, wants Iran to comply with its obligations. With continuing this, a tactical, limited war as we saw in Israel, Hezbollah or Israel, Hamas, would be possible if the U.S insists on its demands and no response from Tehran even by Iran’s withdrawal from JCPOA and the NPT. If Tehran does this, the possibility of confrontation would dramatically increase.
This unsolved dilemma could continue for years but how long Iran could tolerate the shadow of war and simultaneously withstand an existential economic blockade if these sanctions are going on for years. Iran gradually moves toward another failed state in the Middle East; the Iranian people would be the grave losers of this standoff. If there are any talks and the new deal, removing imposed existing sanctions would take years, there would be a complicated regime of inspections and verifications as we saw already in the JCPOA, Iran’s economy was the least advantageous of the deal. Such a process would be too much complicated, and always there is a possibility for new tension.
Europeans want to play the good cop in this game but seem in this regard they are helpless as they show in the past months. After one year of the U.S withdrawal, they designed a mechanism to ease sanctions on Iran but Trump threatening penalties against the financial body (Instex) European created. In his recent visit to France, the U.S president reiterated that he wants a new deal with Iran and France’s President Macron said France and the United States also want to reduce Iran’s ballistic missile program, contain Tehran’s regional ambitions, and restore peace in the region. He said the debates between the two nations are only on “technicalities.” It seems the U.S is campaigning to attract Europeans to its side.
Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe paying a visit to Tehran and holding talks with Iran’s President Rouhani and Supreme Leader Khamenei want to deescalate emerging crisis, mediation between Tehran and Washington and renewing talks with Tehran. I think this would be as the last chance for a peaceful solution and way out without any confrontation.
Omid Hosseini is an international relations and Middle East researcher with an emphasis on Kurdish affairs.
He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a Masters in International Relations, both from the University of Tehran.