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Why Trump is right on Iran

Sep 25,2018 - Last updated at Sep 25,2018

US President Donald Trump will be the centre of attention this week as he addresses the UN General Assembly on Tuesday and chairs a special session of the Security Council on Wednesday. Just as he did last year, he is expected to be “undiplomatic” in criticising foes and allies on many issues, including trade, defence strategies, counter terrorism, non-proliferation and denuclearisation among others. But while he will not lambast North Korea, as he did last year, he will focus on Iran, especially his decision earlier this year to unilaterally withdraw from the nuclear agreement that was meticulously negotiated by his predecessor, and Tehran’s regional meddling and its sponsorship of terror.

Trump’s view of the world is different from that of previous administrations. He appears at the UN podium as a leader who has rattled his closest allies and partners over defence spending, foreign policy, trade, immigration, Iran and military alliances. His views and positions on many foreign policy issues are in contrast with those of America’s closest allies. Certainly, he has taken the side of the Israeli far-right in dealing with the thorny Arab-Israeli conflict. He has punished the Palestinians while claiming that he will unveil a plan that will end decades of hostilities and hardship. No ally of the United States has endorsed his departure from the two-state solution.

But when it comes to Iran, Trump may turn out to be on the right side of history despite the widening gap that separates him from his European partners. There is no doubt that the nuclear deal that was adopted in 2015 was the result of years of secret and open negotiations, and that it delivered what was then the best possible outcome. As it turned out, Tehran did abide by the agreement, according to international and even Trump’s own experts. But it did nothing to contain Iran’s regional ambitions, its support of terrorist groups and its ballistic activities.

Today, the region is in turmoil and Iran is largely responsible for this. One can point to Iraq and its dysfunctional political system due to brazen Iranian meddling in its affairs. Tehran-backed militias have become a major player in Iraqi politics and have deepened the sectarian divide that has unraveled the fabric of Iraqi society. As Iraqi politicians quibble over positions and benefits, the country continues to sink in a quagmire of corruption and mismanagement. Iran’s interference in Iraqi affairs has become a source of discontent among both Sunnis and Shiites as was evident in the recent protests in Basra.

The Yemeni crisis is a poignant reminder of Iran’s irresponsible meddling and regional disruption. All attempts to end the Houthi insurgency that has destroyed Yemen’s foundations and institutions have been foiled by Tehran. Iran’s role in prolonging Yemen’s ordeal is undisputed.

Tehran’s controversial involvement in the Syrian crisis is another cause of regional instability. The Syrian civil war took a sectarian trajectory following Tehran’s intervention. Iranian backed militias, as well as members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, are complicit in countless war crimes in Syria. A just political settlement in Syria will remain elusive so long as foreign meddling continues.

Regardless of how effective the nuclear deal is, it did nothing to contain Iran’s regional ambitions and its bullying of its neighbours. Trump may have wanted to derail the agreement simply because it was negotiated by former president Barack Obama, but now that the US has withdrawn, the world must address its aftermath.

Europe will not be able to save the agreement in its present form. Trump has taken a hardline position threatening to punish companies and states that do business with Iran. The next batch of sanctions in November will hit Iran hard as it targets its oil exports. So far, US sanctions have dealt a heavy blow to the Iranian economy and ignited a major political crisis between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and parliament. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei may end up ditching Rouhani and enabling extremists. Such a move will only deepen Iran’s crisis.

But despite Trump’s strong words and actions, he has left the door open for a possible settlement. He has expressed willingness to meet with Rouhani unconditionally, while a close aide has said that the US will seek to negotiate a treaty with Iran rather than an agreement.

So far, Khamenei has stuck to his anti-US rhetoric; rejecting calls for a dialogue. This is a big mistake. Iranian leaders cannot afford to wait as their citizens suffer, largely as a result of Iran’s foolish regional meddling. Dialogue with the US will go a long way in addressing regional grievances. Tehran must change course if it wants to normalise its ties with its neighbours and open up to the world. Trump is right to pressure Tehran to renegotiate.

 

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman

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Comments

The aim of the agreement was not to contain Iran from regional ambition but to control the nuclear program (that Iran abid) and to build trust for possible future negotiotions over other issues.
Now Iran is on the right side and all the Arab kingfoms and Israel + America which has no international trust and respect remain on the wrong side.

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