By Mike Whitney
January 16, 2018
The Trump administration has settled on a plan for sabotaging the Iranian Nuclear deal that does not explicitly violate the terms of the agreement. Trump will continue to suspend sanctions, as is required under the terms of the deal, but at the same time, he will warn that if the agreement isn’t changed to meet his specific demands, he will terminate it unilaterally.
“If at any time I judge that such an agreement is not within reach, I will withdraw from the deal immediately,” Trump said.
We can expect Trump to continue to issue these same threats in the months ahead as it helps to maximize the uncertainty as to whether the agreement will survive or not. As a businessman and investor, Trump knows that uncertainly is nearly as effective as sanctions when it comes to dampening foreign investment in the country’s businesses and resource development.
Corporations and private investors are not going to commit significant capital to long-term projects if they think that the rug could be pulled out from under them at any time. They need certainty just like they need security. By renewing his threat to withdraw from the deal every 120 days, Trump hopes to negate any benefits that Iran might enjoy by complying with the terms of the nuclear deal.
The sanctions will have been lifted, but the impact of Trump’s meddling will stifle foreign investment preventing the strong economic rebound that Iranian leaders had anticipated.
Trump also announced that the United States will impose new sanctions on “14 individuals and entities” over alleged human rights abuses to anti-government protestors during the recent demonstrations which took place in cities across Iran. The Iranian Foreign Ministry has denounced the sanctions as a clear violation of the nuclear agreement which forbids any changes to the terms of the deal. Here’s part of the FM’s statement:
“The Islamic Republic of Iran stresses clearly that it will take no measures beyond its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and will accept no changes to this agreement now or in the future and will not allow that the JCPOA be linked to any other issue.”
Taken together, the Trump strategy is clever two-pronged approach that shrinks capital investment in the country (thereby strangling the economy) while increasing the incitements that are intended to cause the government to overreact and (possibly) scuttle the agreement. Trump’s goal is to trick Iran into terminating the deal because it would be too costly for the US to end its commitment unilaterally.
The only reason Iran agreed to comply with the onerous requirements of the nuke’s deal was to end the sanctions that had crippled the Iranian economy. Iran agreed “to reduce uranium enrichment activity drastically, dispose of its enriched uranium stocks and modify a heavy water facility so it could not produce material suitable for a nuclear bomb.” (BBC) Iran was also forced to accept “the toughest and most technologically advanced inspections regime ever put in place to prevent a country from developing an atomic bomb.” In other words, Iran had to make huge concessions that no other signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) ever had to make to stop the decades-long economic war the US had been waging on it. Trump’s strategy will undoubtedly erase many of the potential economic benefits Iran would have realized had the US honored the spirit and letter of the agreement.
Here are a few excerpts from recent articles that highlight Washington’s off-the-radar efforts to damage Iran’s fragile economy. Here’s a clip from a recent post at Press TV:
“The administration of US President Donald Trump is considering blocking planned sales of hundreds of passenger planes by two aerospace giants, Boeing and Airbus, to Iranian airlines, a report says.
Citing US officials, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Trump’s team is expected to present him with options that include banning sales, imposing stringent conditions that could halt any aircraft deliveries, or slow-walking approvals.” (Press TV)
(NOTE: “The JCPOA explicitly allows US companies to sell civilian airliners to Iranian firms. The sales were a key incentive for Iran to sign onto the deal because Tehran is eager to replenish its civilian airliner fleet, which has been decimated by decades of sanctions.”)
Here’s more from The National Interest:
“The United States is criticized for deterring companies and investors from entering the Iranian market. Iran believes that while the legal and political foundations of sanctions have been removed, the United States has fully kept the primary sanctions in force, preventing the practical removal of the secondary sanctions that were to be lifted.” (“America Still Has Iran Sanctions—And They’re Hurting the Nuclear Deal”, The National Interest)
As we said before, the lifting of sanctions has not produced the economic benefits that Iran’s leaders had expected. Much of this has to do with the slow return of investors due to the unwillingness of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to provide assurances that the nuclear agreement won’t be suddenly rescinded. Here’s more from an article at Quartz:
“Most international financial transactions are done with U.S. dollars, requiring the transactions to be cleared through the U.S. banking system. Since the primary sanctions remain in force, Iran is barred from using U.S. Dollars, making it more difficult to trade with other countries. Additionally, Iran has experienced problems in obtaining its funds in U.S. dollars from other banks….
Foreign companies are also still restricted from trading with more than 200 Iranian entities sanctioned by the United States for non-nuclear reasons. Some firms also fear the possibility of “snapback” sanctions if Iran violates the deal, or policy changes under the next US president…
Citing remaining financial restrictions, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the United States of not fulfilling its pledges under the nuclear deal. “In Western countries and places which are under U.S. influence, our banking transactions and the repatriation of our funds from their banks face problems … because (banks) fear the Americans,” he said in March.” (“A year on, Iran’s nuclear deal is helping its economy, but not as much as some hoped”, Quartz)
Finally, there’s this from an article at Reuters titled “A year after nuclear deal, sanctions still hurt Iran”:
“While the deal lifted EU and UN sanctions on Iran’s banking and energy sector, unilateral U.S. sanctions on the Iranian economy remain. These sanctions forbid U.S. citizens and companies from conducting most forms of business with Iran, but companies outside the United States are affected as well. …
Without foreign direct investment and international banks willing to underwrite projects in Iran, the fruits of the nuclear deal will elude the Iranian public. Banking and finance are the arteries of global commerce and investment. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has tried to offer assurances that the United States will not interfere with legitimate commerce between Iran and the rest of the world, but his pledges ring hollow. European banks remain skittish. Over the past decade, BNP Paribas, HSBC, and Deutsche Bank have paid billions of dollars in fines for Iran-related activity.
From Iran’s perspective, unless the United States takes more concrete steps to make European banks feel confident about engaging in commerce with Iran, the Iranian people will begin to view the nuclear deal as one-sided.” (Reuters)
So, while Iran has faithfully kept up its end of the bargain (Regular inspections have confirmed that they are in compliance), Washington never has. The US has made every effort to undermine the deal by covertly discouraging foreign investment that would improve living standards for ordinary working people in Iran.
Like his predecessors, Trump has tried to justify his hostility towards Iran in terms of his fear that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons. But Trump knows it’s all baloney. Iran has no interest in building nuclear weapons and never has. Take a look at this excerpt from an interview with investigative journalist Gareth Porter* that was published by Harpers.
“In Manufactured Crisis, I show that the claim of an Iranian nuclear-weapons program has been based on false history and falsified records. The description of the Iranian nuclear program presented in official documents, in commentaries by think-tank “experts,” and in the media bears no resemblance to the essential historical facts……
Ayatollah Khomeini forbade the use of such weapons, on the ground that both the possession and use of weapons of mass destruction are illicit under Islamic jurisprudence…. Shia jurisprudence is a fundamental constraint on Iranian policy toward weapons of mass destruction. It also makes credible the claim that Iran is forbidden by a fatwa from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei from possessing nuclear weapons….
The evidence adduced to prove that Iran secretly worked on nuclear weapons represents an even more serious falsification of intelligence than we saw in the run-up to the war in Iraq….
CIA brass apparently went so far as to suppress WMD intelligence obtained by one of its best covert agents in the Middle East because it didn’t fit the conclusion they knew George W. Bush’s administration wanted. I reveal for the first time in the book that a former undercover operative who brought a lawsuit against CIA leadership in 2004 claimed that a highly respected source in Iran had told him in 2001 that Iran had no intention of “weaponizing” its nuclear program. The CIA apparently never informed the White House of that information, and refused to circulate it within the intelligence community….
With Iraq, there was at least dissent over issues like its alleged illegal importation of aluminum tubes, which reflected debates within the intelligence community. Coverage of Iran, on the other hand, has been virtually unanimous in reporting the official line without the slightest indication of curiosity about whether it might be false or misleading.” (“Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare”, Harper’s Magazine)
In a report for the Council on Foreign Relations titled “Putting Iran’s Nuclear Program in Context”, Micah Zenko is even more blunt:
“It is essential to recognize that Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapons program, nor does it possess a nuclear weapon. On February 26, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Ayatollah Khomenei, the supreme leader of Iran, ended his country’s nuclear weapons program in 2003 and “as far as we know, he’s not made the decision to go for a nuclear weapon.”
Unfortunately, there is so much disinformation in the media on this point, that we must repeat this critical fact over and over again. Iran has no nuclear weapons, no nuclear weapons programs, and has never diverted nuclear fuel to anything other than “approved” energy-related activity.
So why has the United States continued to hector, harass, threaten and bully Iran if the country poses no threat to its neighbors or to US national security?
Iran’s vast resources– natural gas and oil– which are situated at the heart of the strategically-critical Middle East, make it an irresistible target for imperial exploitation. Washington needs to keep its hand on the oil spigot to ensure that vital resources continue to be denominated in the world’s reserve currency, the dollar, and recycled into US debt. Washington also needs oil to control the growth of thriving but energy-dependent economies in Asia that are rapidly gaining on the US and challenging its grip on global power. Seen in this light, Iran’s fictitious “nukes program” is just a pretext for Washington to continue its asymmetrical war on Iran’s economy. The goal of course is regime change and a strengthening of Washington’s geopolitical power through the control of crucial resources.
It’s important to note that Israel has joined Trump in his jihad against Iran. On December 12, US and Israeli national security advisers, H. R. McMaster and Meir Ben-Shabbat, concluded secret talks at the White House on dealing with Iran and signed “far-reaching joint memorandum of understanding providing for full cooperation.” Ostensibly, the strategy will focus on “Iran’s nuclear drive, its missile programs”, and the activities of its military abroad. In reality, however, Trump has aligned US policy with Israel’s openly belligerent approach which regards Tehran as a sworn adversary that must be defeated in order for Israel to become the dominant power in the Middle East, the regional hegemon. Check out this blurb from Business Insider:
“Quoting the Israeli officials, Channel 10 said that the meeting confirmed that the US and Israel “see eye to eye on the trends and processes in the region,” and have now reached agreement on the strategy and policy required to deal with them.” (“The US and Israel reportedly signed a secret pact to take on Iran”, Business Insider)
Washington and Tel Aviv’s policy towards Iran is now identical which means that the probability of a confrontation is bound to increase.
It’s beginning to look like Trump’s promise of a “non interventionist foreign policy” was just another empty campaign slogan.
Photo by Nick Taylor | CC BY 2.0
* Gareth Porter is also a TFF Associate.