By Dr. Haytham Mouzahem* —
A year ago, I was invited to a closed seminar with an Iranian diplomat in Beirut, which brought together some 12 researchers and journalists to discuss the implications of the US sanctions imposed by US President Donald Trump on Iran following its withdrawal from the nuclear agreement in the summer of 2015.
My question to the frank diplomat was that Trump had the complex of his predecessor, President Barack Obama, and so he canceled all the agreements that Obama made, from Obama Care to the nuclear agreement with Iran, the climate agreement in Paris, the agreement with NAFTA, and the agreement with the Pacific countries. So, does Tehran think of negotiating with Trump and reaching a settlement agreement with him that would make him appear victorious and ease his complex toward Obama?
The diplomat’s answer was that the issue of negotiating with Trump was not excluded.
Today, a year after this talk and the return of US sanctions on Iran, Washington is aiming to cut Iran’s oil sales to zero, accompanying with the escalation of US threats to Tehran in the event of any attack on U.S. forces or America’s allies in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. But Trump opened the door to Iran to return to negotiations with his administration, and sent his phone number to Iranian officials, expressing the expectation that the Iranians will contact sooner or later requesting for negotiations.
The refuse of Iran’s leadership to negotiate with Washington, and not showing any fear of American threats by its carriers and bombers show in the Gulf, and its assertion of unwillingness and readiness for war at the same time, all this made Trump retreat in his threatening speech. He said first he is not seeking a war with Iran and then he declares that the U.S. does not want to change the Islamic regime in Iran, and later Trump praised Iran and talked about its ability to be a great nation in the event of agreement with his administration.
It is obvious that Trump felt that there are some in his administration and between his allies, who wanted him to be involved in a war. This was war is led by his national security adviser John Bolton and his Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo, as well as in Israel and some Gulf states, what Iranian foreign minister called Camp “B” because the leaders names of this camp start with “B” (Bolton, Benyamin Netenyaho, Bin Salman, Bin Zayed). Trump accepted the mediation of a number of countries between his country and Tehran, such as Switzerland, Oman, Kuwait, Iraq, and Japan, hoping to ease tension between the two countries and avoid sliding into any military confrontation that might lead to a comprehensive war that would harm the two parties and the whole region.
Hence, Trump wants to get off the tree that has been implicated himself or has been implicated in going up in the “maximum” campaign against Iran. To prevent a country that relies on more than 70 percent of its revenues on the export of oil and gas from the export of these goods, you are waging an economic war will have repercussions on Iran more painful and dangerous than a military war. Therefore, the indirect Iranian message in the Fujairah and Yanbu attacks against oil tankers and refineries on the Red Sea wanted to say that if we were prevented from exporting oil, we would not be the only country to prevent the export of its oil, and we will not only close the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf, but also the export of Arab Gulf oil through the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandeb.
However, the Iranian refusal to accept negotiations with Washington does not help Trump and embarrass him, and may make him under the pressure of the war camp to engage in a confrontation with Iran, a war Obama has refused to fight, considering that the Gulf Arab countries should resolve their problems with Iran by dialogue and mutual understanding and sharing influence in the region and not by the military confrontation through involving the United States in such a war.
The Iran deal of 2015 agreement did not satisfy Israel, Saudi Arabia and UAE for three reasons:
1. The restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program last only for a decade, allowing Tehran to return to enrichment at a higher rate and to store uranium inside the country and possibly to produce nuclear bombs if it wants to.
2. The agreement did not address Iran’s advanced ballistic missiles, which have a range of more than 1,000 kilometers and become accurate, thus posing a threat to Israel.
3. The agreement did not include the Iranian “interference” in a number of countries in the region, such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Palestine and the Gulf Arab states.
Hence, Iran is aware that if negotiations are reopened with Washington, they will be resolved on these three issues, and they are unwilling to compromise on them. But Tehran must realize that making some concessions in one or all of these issues, whether formal or substantive, might be better than a military confrontation with America that might bring her decades back, as well as better economic sanctions that could starve the Iranian people and weaken its regime. In the siege of Iraq since 1991 and its weakening to its invasion in 2003, Iranians have an example to think about and a lesson to study.
The American discourse about not wanting to change the Iranian regime is a lie. During my meetings with a number of State Department officials between 2004 and 2005, they chanted “We do not want to change the Syrian regime, we want only to change its behavior.” Well, five years later the “Arab Spring” came and the change of the Syrian regime became a declared American goal through the mobilization, funding and arming of some states and global jihadists to carry out this task.
Of course, the comparison between Iran and Syria is disproportionate in terms of population, country size, economic and military capabilities, sectarian and demographic structures and ideological nature of each. There is no doubt that the war with Iran is not a picnic and its invasion would be costly and painful more than the invasion of Iraq.
However, U.S. plans, especially the soft economic and propaganda war that pushed Iran to negotiate a nuclear agreement between 2014 and 2015, should not be underestimated. Today, Washington aims to weaken Iran economically and politically from the inside so that it can be attacked from abroad or dropped from within.
The Iranian leadership should abandon some of its conservative slogans at the present time, think pragmatically, and avoid the slow reaction. Negotiating with the Trump administration to buy time, prevent the war camp from initiating a war, might be Iran’s best choice today. Our Iranian friends must remember that ee are in the “Digital” and “5 G” era and we are no longer in the era of weaving Persian handmade carpets!.
Dr. Haytham Mouzahem, President of the Beirut Center for Middle East Studies.