The Israeli-Palestinian issues – settlements, ‘two-state solution’ and the American embassy’s re-location to Jerusalem – hogged the attention during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with President Donald Trump in the White House last Wednesday. The Iran question became a sub-text.
That was rather odd, since for both ‘Bibi’ and Trump, Iran nuclear deal was a historic mistake and they’d sworn to “rip it up”. Clearly, Trump and Netanyahu took a deliberate decision to miss the historic opportunity last week to jointly tear up the Iran deal. The US-Israeli readout on their talks in the White House says:
- The President and Prime Minister agreed on the need to counter the threats posed by Iran and its proxies… so as to create a more secure Middle East to the benefit of all countries. The two leaders agreed that the Iran nuclear deal is a terrible deal for the United States, Israel, and the world. The President assured the Prime Minister that Iran must not, and will not, obtain nuclear weapons capability.
Again, at their joint press conference, Trump simply dodged the questions on the Iran deal – not once but twice – when asked what he intended to do about it.
The message is loud and clear: Iran nuclear deal is here to stay. A Jerusalem Post analysis noted wryly, “They may not like the deal, they may not have made it, and they may enforce it more aggressively than the Obama administration, but attempts to “rip it up” are officially over.”
The US’ European allies are pleased with Iran’s full compliance of the terms of the deal so far and, of course, they see potential trade and economic relations with Iran. Funnily enough, the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini visited Washington recently to stress the importance of the Iran nuclear deal and afterwards claimed that she was assured by top Trump administration officials of their “intention to stick to the full implementation of the agreement.”
The British PM Theresa May rebuffed ‘Bibi’ when he pressed during a recent visit to London that UK should follow Trump’s lead on new sanctions against Iran over its recent missile tests. The snub is significant because the UK has been Israel’s staunchest ally in Europe. Moscow went a step further to assert the Russian-Iranian partnership, with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying last Thursday,
- Our position is that Iran is a reliable, stable partner, a near neighbor. Friendly relations between Russia and Iran do not depend on external circumstances. We cooperate with Iran on many issues on various international platforms, including conducting a productive dialogue on the subject of counter-terrorism, which we will continue.
Simply put, if Trump imposes sanctions against Iran, there will be no takers in the international community. Trump also knows that this is an inopportune moment to ratchet up tensions in the Middle East by provoking Iran. (By the way, Tehran showed flexibility at the recent Astana talks where Russia, Turkey and Iran adopted a document last week to form a joint group to monitor the ceasefire in Syria and facilitate the elaboration of confidence-building measures among the warring sides.)
Of course, Tehran senses that these are early days. The Iran Daily newspaper noted in a commentary on Wednesday:
- Iran’s foreign policy apparatus has thus far taken a prudent and wise approach vis-à-vis the White House’s smear campaign. It remains to be seen whether Trump will press ahead with his anti-Iran stance, or he will come to his senses and adopt a more logical tone.
Importantly, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, who was a negotiator at the P5+1 and Iran talks, told the Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee on Wednesday,
- Trump may adopt any scenario, and the worst scenario is, while keeping the JCPOA (Iran deal), put pressure on the Islamic Republic, introduce new non-nuclear sanctions in order to deprive Iran of the benefits of the JCPOA.
Clearly, Iran does not want to be the one to break the deal, but it will be hard-pressed not to react to additional pressure by the Trump administration to deny it the economic benefits. Meanwhile, Iran will not mothball its missile development programme. Trust Iranian diplomacy to wear down the Trump administration. Trump holds a weak hand — and as for ‘Bibi’, Iran always thought of him as just a hot air balloon. Read a spirited interview, here, by Zarif with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.