(Persia Digest) - A university professor in the US believes: «The Trump administration is trying to reduce its isolation on the Iran issue by doing whatever it can to generate widespread hostility toward Iran. The conference in Poland is part of this effort.» After months of speculation, France, Germany, and the UK finally announced a financial mechanism called INSTEX three days ago to work with Iran despite US sanctions. Nevertheless, Europe has set conditions to launch the mechanism based on Iran joining the FATF. The Iranian Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had announced earlier that pre-conditions were unacceptable for the European financial channel. US actions in the shape of regional trips by Pompeo to the Middle East and staging a summit in Poland, plus the announcement that it will not renew sanctions relief for buyers of Iranian oil all show continued pressure on Iran.
Persia Digest has conducted an interview with Paul Pillar, 28-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), serving from 1977 to 2005, including as Executive Assistant to the Director.
You can read the interview below.
1. If INSTEX is launched for trade with Iran, how effective a mechanism will it be (in the face of US sanctions) considering its set conditions and the fact that it is intended mostly for essential goods?
The main limitation on the new mechanism’s effectiveness is not that it sets conditions for Iran but rather that it does not remove the fears of businesses that do not want to be shut out of the U.S. market. INSTEX will make it possible to trade with Iran without relying on a U.S.-centered financial system, but that still does not prevent the U.S. Treasury from imposing other impediments or penalties on businesses that use INSTEX and still want to sell their products in the United States. The main users of INSTEX are likely to be smaller firms that do little or no business in the United States.
2. The US Council on Foreign Relations Magazine, the Foreign Affairs, has recently predicted that Iran will continue to stay in the JCPOA in 2019, even despite increasing economic pressures. Is there another path open to Iran besides staying in a deal which does not provide for its economic interests and leaving it will only increase its security and economic issues, or talking to Trump who questions Iran’s identity and prestige?
A path that Iranian leaders perhaps have not considered—and admittedly would be difficult to sell politically in Tehran—would involve talking to Trump, but would not necessarily require Iran to pay much of a price in the form of new concessions. Trump has shown on other issues that he is more interested in the appearance of accomplishment rather than real accomplishment. He excoriated the North American Free Trade Agreement, for example, but then after making only minor changes to the agreement and giving it a new name, he claimed that he had negotiated a much better deal. It might be possible similarly to make a few minor changes to the JCPOA—such as, say, slightly extending the time involved in some of the sunset clauses—and to rename it, after which Trump could claim he had gotten a “better deal” even though Iran had made only trivial new concessions.
3. In its eleventh Preventive Priority Survey, the US Council on Foreign Relations named an Iranian military confrontation with the United States or its regional allies as one of the nine global threats to peace in 2019. Richard Haass also believes that an Arab-Israeli war with Iran is a possibility and is prepared to bet on it. Do you also see the smokes of war in the Middle East against Iran?
There is probably greater danger of war now than has been the case for most of the last several years. Some within the Trump administration—most notably the national security advisor, John Bolton—clearly would welcome war with Iran. He and other hawks such as Mike Pompeo would eagerly seize on any incident, such as an encounter at sea or a Shia militia firing at a U.S. installation somewhere, as a rationale for war. Bolton reportedly asked the Pentagon for military attack options after a Shia militia in Iraq fired some rounds that landed near, but without damage to, a U.S. consulate. Donald Trump probably does not seek a war in the same way, but his mounting domestic political and legal problems may lead him to see military conflict with Iran as a useful distraction and rallying cry. The same could be said for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing both a coming election and an indictment for corruption. He already has shown how he thinks he can bolster his support by giving greater publicity to the Israeli airstrikes against targets in Syria.
4. What does the US hope to achieve by staging an anti-Iran summit in Poland? To what extent can this have a negative impact on EU’s relations with Iran? Will the startup of the SPV mechanism be affected by this summit?
The Trump administration is trying to reduce its isolation on the Iran issue by doing whatever it can to generate widespread hostility toward Iran. The conference in Poland is part of this effort, and specifically is intended to make it look like the U.S.-European divide on Iranian issues is not as wide as it really is. European governments have made it clear they do not want this event to be exclusively an anti-Iran show. Their participation will be aimed at making it a more general discussion of security issues in the Middle East. The conference is not likely to have much effect, if any, on the start-up of the SPV mechanism.
5. Without a doubt, every country is concerned with its own interests. But can Iran resolve its issues by strengthening its ties with countries like India, China, and Russia, or neighbors like Iraq and Turkey while under sanctions?
Clearly it behooves Iran to try to strengthen all these ties, and it already is trying to do so. China and India in particular can significantly blunt the effect of U.S. sanctions to the extent those major Asian countries engage in normal commerce and investment with Iran. But none of this will be sufficient to resolve the biggest issues Iran faces as long as Washington is so intent on ostracizing and punishing Iran. Besides trying to strengthen other ties, Iranian leaders also are hoping for regime change in Washington in January 2021.
Paul R Pillar is an academic and 28-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), serving from 1977 to 2005, including as Executive Assistant to the Director. He is now a non-resident senior fellow at Georgetown University's Center for Security Studies, as well as a nonresident senior fellow in the Brookings Institution's Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence. He was a visiting professor at Georgetown University from 2005 to 2012. He is a contributor to The National Interest.
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