Just when world public opinion feared the US and North Korea were on the brink of nuclear war, the new axis of evil times (North Korea, Iran, Venezuela) yield a dramatic plot twist; President Trump is adamant the real threat is the Iran nuclear deal.
Enter a brand new, major international crisis deployed out of the blue with inbuilt war potential.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a.k.a. the Iran nuclear deal, works, and Tehran is complying. So says the IAEA (eight separate certifications of compliance since the deal was struck in Vienna in 2015). So says the EU, Russia and China. So says even Trump’s military troika – Tillerson/McMaster/Mattis.
Not Trump. Because, in his speechwriter’s mind-boggling words, no deal is possible with a “sinister”, “fanatical regime”, the “leading state sponsor of terrorism”, in cahoots with al-Qaeda (check out this pearl; “Iranian proxies provided training to operatives who were later involved in al-Qaeda’s bombing of the American embassies in Kenya, Tanzania.”) Not to mention “some people” even believe Iran is going illegally nuclear with the help of North Korea. That’s straight out of season 6 of Homeland.
As much as it may be drenched in newspeak, the plot twist does not have much to do with “decertifying” – in fact reneging – the JCPOA. The White House admitted as much in a statement; “The United States’ new Iran strategy focuses on neutralizing the government of Iran’s destabilizing influence and constraining its aggression, particularly its support for terrorism and militants”, as well as denying “the IRGC funding for its malign activities”.
Enter, predictably, a new sanctions avalanche. The House Foreign Affairs Committee is preparing a new round of sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program. The Senate unanimously passed a Hezbollah sanctions bill less than two weeks ago. Earlier this year the House voted 419-3 and the Senate 98-2 to pass the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, post-JCPOA, also including North Korea and Russia (much to the ire of EU companies doing business with Russia). The Treasury Dept. has already added the IRGC to its anti-terrorism sanctions list “for providing support to a number of terrorist groups, including Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as to the Taliban.”
On the JCPOA, Trump passed the ball to Congress. De facto reneging the deal leads to a 60-day period for Congress to decide whether to restart JCPOA-related sanctions. Trump essentially wants Congress to make sure anything Tehran does, even outside the JCPOA, triggers automatic re-slapping of sanctions. It’s unclear whether he has sufficient Congress support for such a gambit.
US allies will also be “encouraged” to reach what for all practical purposes is a non-denial denial renegotiation. This can be easily interpreted as unilateral extorsion. It’s not gonna happen – as the EU, Russia and China have made abundantly clear. Washington then will be de facto pulling out of the JCPOA. Or, in Trump’s words, following the advice of the spectacular incompetent rabid neocon US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, the deal “will be terminated”.
Crucially, “fix it or nix it” as applied to the JCPOA – a major narrative in the Beltway – happens to be the exact fervent wish of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. The House of Saud’s King Salman may have wasted no time to congratulate Trump in a phone call for his “visionary” Iran strategy. Emirati ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, is obviously gloating. But this is most of all about Israeli warmongering on Iran, as the same Return of the Living (Neocon) Dead are furiously spinning.
So much “malign behavior”
Now for what the adults are saying.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini set the record straight; “It is not a bilateral agreement. It does not belong to any single country and it is not up to any single country to terminate it.”
Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov diplomatically mused how the termination could be legally implemented; “The deal was also approved by a UN resolution.”
Last month, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said certification itself is not part of the JCPOA but a “US internal procedure”; “The only authority that has been recognized in the nuclear deal to verify [compliance] is the IAEA.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivered a scathing rebuke to Trump’s strategy – with no teleprompter, essentially qualifying him as an ignoramus; “I invite the President to better read history and geography”, as well as understand “international ethics”.
Once again; the Trump strategy sidesteps the JCPOA, relentlessly plugging instead a pile-up of allegations of Iran’s “malign behavior”; the ballistic missile program (outside the scope of the JCPOA); the support for Damascus; the support for Hezbollah; and the wider role of the IRGC.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin may have not crossed the red line – explicitly declaring the IRGC as a terrorist group; he claimed the IRGC has “played a central role to Iran becoming the world’s foremost state sponsor of terror.” Follow the money; the Treasury sanctions speak louder than any rhetorical artifice.
Although the Pentagon has been firmly against it, fearing blowback all across the Middle East, this has been a neocon wet dream for nearly two decades; to have the IRGC placed as equivalent to al-Qaeda and ISIS/Daesh. In realpolitik terms, this gambit ranks with “proving” that al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were partners pre-2003. And still runs the risk of being interpreted by the IRGC as a declaration of war. All it takes is a lethal encounter between a US vessel and IRGC navy speedboats patrolling the Persian Gulf (which for Trump is the “Arabian Gulf”) for all hell to break loose.
The IRGC has been an integral part of the “4+1” alliance (Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq plus Hezbollah) that for all practical purposes prevented Syria from becoming a Takfiristan. The IRGC has also been fighting ISIS/Daesh on the ground in Iraq with key advisers and military commanders.
IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari – usually a cordial, soft-spoken man but tough as nails, with combat experience in the Iran-Iraq war – has made it very clear; “If the news is correct about the stupidity of the American government in considering the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group, then the Revolutionary Guards will consider the American army to be like Islamic State [ISIS] all around the world.”
Watch the caravan
Trump’s Terminator strategy will firebomb moderates in Iran, starting with Rouhani and Zarif, and play right into Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s instincts; from the very beginning of the JCPOA negotiations, he said that the Americans cannot be trusted.
Rouhani’s scathing rebuke to Trump should be seen in the context of his coalition winning three major elections in Iran since the JCPOA went into effect; parliamentary, presidential and for the Council of Experts (where most hardcore clerics lost their seats).
It’s now impossible for moderates to expect any possible entente cordiale with Washington anytime soon. What they must deal with is Western companies and banks under further certified pressure to do business with Iran – to the detriment of Rouhani’s economic agenda.
Trump was personally advised by unindicted war criminal Henry Kissinger earlier last week – even before a meeting in the White House Situation Room with Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Joseph Dunford centered on North Korean “aggression”.
Divide and Rule precedents point to Kissinger’s advice. He’s fully aware a frontal Washington attack against Russia or China – the strategic partnership at the heart of Eurasia integration – is a non-starter. The next best option is to raise trouble in their borderlands – North Korea is especially well positioned for it – and go after the weakest Eurasia link; Iran.
And yet both Moscow and Beijing will continue to do business with Iran as a key hub for Eurasia integration; linked to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI); a future member of the SCO; and also linked to the North-South Transportation Corridor and India’s own incipient maritime Silk Road centered on Chabahar port. Iran will continue to do solid business with the rest of Asia – especially Japan and South Korea. Iran and Qatar may eventually become natural gas providers to Europe in the next decade. And Iran will continue to be – alongside Russia and China – at the forefront of bypassing the US dollar in energy trade.
The dogs of war bark and the Eurasia integration caravan passes.
And then, there’s the devastating clincher. The absolute majority of the Global South now has definitive proof; Washington simply cannot be trusted to keep its promises related to any major geopolitical deal. The possibility of a nuclear agreement – or any agreement – between Washington and Pyongyang is now less than zero.
Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst.