It was a year ago today that President Trump removed the United States from the JCPOA nuclear agreement with Iran as well as Russia, China, UK, France, Germany, and the EU, under the auspices of the UN Security Council. According to IAEA inspectors, Iran was fulfilling its part of the agreement, and it has continued to do so up until now as well, despite this unwarranted action by the US, although that may be about to change. The other signatories have strongly opposed the US action, although it has been supported by Israel, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt somewhat less enthusiastically. Nevertheless, the nations opposing this US action have been ineffectual in blocking US actions following up on this.
These actions have involved reintroducing economic sanctions on Iran. Oil exports from Iran have fallen by half since then and are likely to fall further as the US ended waivers on May 2 for a set of nations from the oil sanctions, although reportedly at least China and maybe Turkey will ignore these sanctions. The decision to end these waivers has been followed by increased volatility in world oil prices. The sanctions have also been imposed on any businesses operating in Iran, with many large European companies such as Total in France withdrawing from Iran, even as their governments oppose the US actions. Efforts have been made to establish alternative payment systems, but so far the US effort has had a large effect on reducing foreign economic activity in Iran. The upshot has been to increase economic problems in Iran, with GDP down by at least 6 percent in the last year as well as the inflation rate rising.
Furthermore, quite recently the US has imposed sanctions directly on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group. While indeed this group has engaged in some such activities, this is the first time the US has declared a government entity of another nation to be terrorist group. Finally, just within the last few days, National Security Adviser John Bolton has announced that the aircraft carrier, Abraham Lincoln, will arrive in the Persian Gulf supposedly to deter Iran from attacking US troops or those of US allies, although no specific reports of Iranian threats to do anything of the sort have been reported, just general claims. Apparently last year Bolton tried to do this but was blocked by then Sec. Def Mattis, but this year, his successor, Shanahan, has approved this provocative move.
None of this is good, although the Israelis claim that Iranian aid for Hezbollah in Lebanon has been reduced, which I suspect has been Israel’s main goal in supporting this as I do not think they have viewed the supposed nuclear threat from Iran seriously, but they are afraid of Hezbollah, which they were unable to defeat easily the last time they invaded Lebanon. The Israelis regularly claim Hezbollah is a terrorist group, although it is many years since they have engaged in such activities, and these days are too busy being the dominant party in the current Lebanese government.
The final shoe to drop on this anniversary is that it is being reported that apparently Iran is losing its patience with the other signatories of the JCPOA in their inability to counter all these largely illegal actions by the US. They are going to stop fully adhering to the JCPOA, although without fully abrogating it. Apparently as a result of the sanctions they do not have enough enriched uranium to fuel their medical nuclear reactor. So, in technical violation of the accord they will begin enriching a small amount of uranium up to 20 percent (still way below weapons grade level) for use in this civilian reactor. This is unfortunate, although I fear understandable. Of course, this amounts to an escalation that will simply fuel further aggressive actions by the Trump administration.
The Trump people claim that their goal is to induce Iran to return to the negotiating table to get a “better deal,” although the JCPOA was very difficult to negotiate. Sec. State Pompeo has issued 12 demands of Iran for removing the sanctions, which, while a few of these may be not too unreasonable, the entire package is clearly unacceptable to the current government. Indeed, various figures led by Bolton have made it clear that what they really want is regime change, an end to the Islamic Republic and its replacement by somebody else. Of course, in the near term these US actions have strengthened the hands of hardliners, with this latest move to step back partially from the JCPOA a sign of that.
Indeed, these US figures are pretty deluded in what might succeed the current regime from an internal upheaval. The “Green” opposition in 2009 that the US supported (if too quietly according to some) supported retaining a civilian nuclear program, which is widely popular in Iran. Indeed, current president Rouhani was elected on making an agreement with the outside world to restrict possible military nuclear development while maintaining its civilian program, and he was reelected to continue this.
As it is, it seems that Bolton and others are really itching to have a war with Iran to replace its current government. Perhaps if the US militarily imposes a flunky regime, it will stop the civilian reactor program, although we know this would be very unpopular. However, such a war would without doubt be far more devastating than the botch of one George W. Bush started in Iraq, and it would have far less external support than the one Bush started in Iraq. After all, although in the end there were none there, Bush made claims that many believed at the time that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs. But nobody believes that of Iran now, and up until now it has fulfilled its obligations under the JCPOA to have no military nuclear program, and even what appears to be its likely coming violation of that will not amount to such a military program. There simply will be no credible ground for such a war, which would draw only the support of the handful of nations currently supporting the current US policy.
All of this is very unfortunate and dangerous. This is a sad and disturbing anniversary, even though much of the US media praises Trump for having “fulfilled a campaign promise” without providing any serious awareness of both how dangerous this policy is and how isolated the US has become in pursuing it. I think that of the many unwise things Trump has done in his foreign policy, this is by far the worst and least defensible.