The former US President, Barack Obama’s farewell address on 10 January 2017 had specifically mentioned three foreign policy achievements of his eight-year tenure ~ “If I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, take out the mastermind of 9/11…”
Today, the irate and whimsical policies of President Donald Trump threatens to undo the crucial Iran nuclear deal signed between Iran and P5+1 (Permanent Members of the UN Security Council plus Germany).
What President Obama had called the ‘historic understanding’ had been welcomed across the Western capitals, besides Moscow, Beijing, New Delhi, and in a cautious manner, even in Saudi Arabia. Prime Minister Modi had called it the ‘triumph of diplomacy and sagacity’.
However, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, struck a different chord. He called the deal a “historic mistake that ‘would threaten the survival of Israel”. Netanyahu was ably supported by Donald Trump who had then said, “I’ve never seen something so incompetently negotiated”.
Ever since he stepped into the White House, he has got his facts consistently wrong. “We give them $150 billion, we get nothing”. The reality is that the money legitimately belonged to Iranians from their legal oil sales, of which unfrozen accounts yielded only $100 billion, and of this, less than half was ever paid back, after accounting for the pending debts and the still-frozen status of some Iranian assets.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), tasked with ensuring the compliance of the Iran nuclear deal, has repeatedly confirmed that Iran had complied with its commitments, such as the dismantling of thousands of centrifuges, and has allowed inspectors to conduct rigorous onsite inspections.
President Trump’s task became still more complicated as some his key officials, notably his former National Security Adviser, H.R. McMaster, and the current Secretary of Defence, Jim Mattis, found it difficult to keep pace. They faulted Iran on any serious issue of non-compliance.
Ironically, it was virtually tantamount to personal humiliation for President Trump when he realised that the Iran nuclear deal was so effective. No wonder that his previous and current rhetoric on Iran appear to be misleading, untruthful and unwarranted.
So the approach adopted by President Trump is to ratchet-up fears that the current deal only limits Iran’s nuclear activities for a fixed period, it fails to end its ballistic missile programme, and that its recent windfall acts “as a slush fund for weapons, terror, and oppression”.
However, the reality of the stringent checks by IAEA of the Iranian nuclear programme and its uranium-enriching facilities, the Iranian efforts to neutralise terror outfits like ISIS, and Tehran’s redeployment strategy of its recently released funds belies any such fears, as mentioned by President Trump.
Therefore, by still insisting that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) needs to be further ‘fixed’ with additional restrictions and punitive implications on Iran, is understandably seen as a sovereign insult by Tehran.
The Iranians rightfully claim that the JCPOA terms are ‘non-negotiable’ and that reimposing the sanctions would have ‘severe consequences’ . They are receiving support from the European Union and most other countries which agree that the Iranian nuclear deal is working and ‘needs to be preserved’.
12th May was the original deadline for Donald Trump to either scrap or continue the existing framework of the Iran nuclear deal. There are sycophantic hawks like the new National Security Adviser, John Bolton, who had incredulously suggested, “Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program. Nor for that matter will sanctions block its putting in place a broad and deep weapons infrastructure. The inconvenient truth is that only military action like Israel’s 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor, designed and built by North Korea, can accomplish what is required”. The Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has made direct calls to important world leaders, including PM Modi, on the ostensibly ‘irrefutable evidence’ of Iran’s clandestine nuclear programme.
The no-holds campaign against Iran has ben strengthened by Mossad’s sudden discovery of over 55,000 documents, 183 CD’s and other ‘incriminating’ evidence. Reports of President Trump hiring private intelligence firms to expose key US individuals who were involved in the negotiations leading up to the Iran nuclear deal signifies the desperation and personal stakes that the two leaders have attached on changing the narrative.
The theatrical din is also suppressing the fact that most of these ‘revelations’ were part of the IAEA report that came out in 2011. On the contrary, the spirit of the Iran nuclear deal was tempered with the US retaining its ban on direct trade with Iran and further barring the country from accessing its financial systems.
The unnecessary escalation of the spat could push back the moderates in Iran, currently under the reformist and pragmatic agenda of President Hassan Rouhani. Unlike President Trump, President Rouhani is well versed with the intricacies, nuances and sensitivities of the nuclear deal as he was Iran’s top negotiator for nearly two years.
Technically the Iranian nuclear deal is not a bilateral agreement and it is not the singular prerogative of the US to terminate the same. The Iranians have warned that any unilateral move by the US would, ‘amount to basically killing the deal’.
The fact that the Iranians are further gaining ground in the Middle East along with their proxy forces in the Iraqi-Syrian swathes, Lebanon and Yemen, despite US military interventions, appears to have unnerved Trump.
This standoff will test the prudence of the US lawmakers and Congress in calling the US President’s bluff and most particularly his agenda that threatens to undo one of the most momentous developments in modern history.
The writer IS Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd), Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry