Nisar Ahmed Khan
WITH the US President Donald Trump’s decertification of Iran nuclear deal, the prospects of peace and stability in the Middle East appear to be a distant dream. Largely seen as dangerously irresponsible act, Trumps policy decision has not only cast a dark shadow over peace and stability in the Middle East but has also escalated the ongoing tensions and conflicts among various competing forces whose interests diverge more than they converge on the complex geopolitical landscape of the Middle East. The 2015 Iran nuclear deal or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is a multilateral, international agreement negotiated between Iran and five permanent members of UN Security Council plus EU. The deal which lifted US-led international sanctions in return for crippling limitations imposed on Iran’s capabilities to acquire nuclear weapons is now under serious strain since US President Donald Trump refused to recertify the deal on October 13, despite reluctantly doing so twice before.
Trump has taken this decision in complete defiance of international community and the remaining signatories of the deal. Also, the endorsement of Iranian unwavering compliance with the deal by International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA) that intrusively inspects Iran’s nuclear program has no effect on Trump. Even some key policy makers in his own Administration such as Rex Tillerson and Secretary Defence James Mattis voiced for staying in the deal as long as it is working but Trump seems adamant in his approach and seeks options to tighten the noose around Iran which he blames for promoting terrorism and destabilizing the region.
So let’s try to understand what led Donald Trump to take such an (in-)famous decision? What policy objectives does he want to achieve? What will be Iran’s response? And finally how it affects regional security environment in the Middle East? By now it should be clear that Trump decision has less to do with Iran’s compliance with the deal per se and more so with Iran’s regional activities. It seems that the decision is primarily aimed at restoring the waning credibility and supremacy of US in shaping the outcomes and pleasing Washington’s allies like Israel and Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia. These countries perceive Iran’s growing presence in areas like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen a blow to their strategic interests.
Moreover, now that the Middle East is heading towards a post Islamic State ( IS ) era after the near complete military defeat of IS, the US is now looking determined to secure its interests vis-a vis Iran and its regional ally Russia. When it comes to Iraq, Iran has an upper hand which is not acceptable to US and allies. Iraq’s predominantly Shia government rebuffed a statement by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in which he called on Iranian backed forces to go home. Most importantly, Iran’s Missile program and missile tests is a thorn on the side of US that he wants to contain. This combined with Iran’s growing resurgence regionally has caused the mounting hostilities.
Since assuming power and even during the election campaign Trump expressed his displeasure with Iran nuclear deal describing it the “worst deal ever” and “an embarrassment to the US” that he will end. However, at least for now Donald Trump has stopped short of entirely walking away from the deal and has opened the window for Congress to come up with an improved version that should allay Donald Trump’s primary concerns related to the “sun set clauses” of the deal and Iran’s missile program. But the trouble is that Iran has already ruled out any possibility of renegotiating the deal and has rebuked Donald Trump for tinkering with international agreements protected by UN Security Council resolution.
Trump’s predicament is further compounded by the fact that Washington’s key European allies have also vowed to protect the deal and have instead suggested that issues outside of the scope of the deal should be dealt separately. EU considers the deal as an important foreign policy achievement that serves the purpose of non-proliferation while demonstrating diplomacy and negations as the most viable and cost effective methods of conflict resolution. Bolstered by this international support in favour of the deal, Iran is very unlikely to step back from its ballistic missile program that it argues and rightly so is out of the deal’s scope. This will inevitably lead the two States into war with each other if a situation so arises.
The US has already imposed economic sanctions on various entities of Iran including its powerful paramilitary force IRGC thus making the situation precarious. In the worst case scenario, if Trump Administration fails to come up with an agreeable revised version of the deal and Iran resists US pressures, the deal can find itself in a trash and economic sanctions lifted under the deal could be re-imposed thereby potentially leading Iran to pursue nuclear capability if it so desires. This seems plausible given the fact that Russia and China and most probably EU will continue their economic relations with Iran. Thus, it can only be hoped that sense prevails and all stakeholders once again reconsider their respective stances and try to overcome their differences through negations and diplomacy since Middle East cannot afford further deterioration. It’s time to rehabilitate and reconstruct the region for wandering refugees to return home and live a peaceful life.
— The writer is Research Affiliate at Strategic Vision Institute, a think-tank based in Islamabad.
Nisar Ahmed Khan