The "Zero-sum Game".. How Did Trump Correct Obama's Error With Iran?
Hassan Rouhani assumed power in Iran on August 3rd 2013. Upon assuming it, he tried to open up to the West to lift the economic sanctions imposed on Iran since 1998.
Twelve days after assuming power, he issued an intrinsic decision, which was the appointment of Mohammad Javad Zarif as Minister of Foreign Affairs, who was the Iran's former representative at the United Nations and was closely connected to the American administrations, as he was educated at San Francisco State University and the University of Denver, and so Rouhani entrusted him with the nuclear negotiation file after it was withdrawn from the Supreme Council for National Security.
That decision had the greatest impact on changing the form of Iran's foreign relations, especially with the major powers. News agencies quoted John Limbert, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, as saying: "When Zarif and his team started doing the negotiations in 2013, the whole atmosphere in the room changed."
The nuclear deal was signed on July 14th 2015, in Geneva, Switzerland. It was preceded by two others. The first was the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Geneva Interim Agreement On the Iranian Nuclear Program, on November 24th 2013, in Geneva, Switzerland, where Iran agreed to abandon parts of its nuclear plan in exchange for decreased sanctions imposed on it.
The second was the Iran Nuclear Deal Framework April 2nd, 2015, in Lausanne, Switzerland. It was signed by US Secretary of State John Kerry, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran, Mohammad Zarif, British foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, France's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, Germany's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Frank Walter Stein Mayer, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Ryabkov and Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, who all approved a framework agreement aimed at reaching a comprehensive settlement that would ensure the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program, and lifting all sanctions on Iran.
The nuclear deal entered into force on January 16th 2016, and Western giant corporations rushed to enter Iran, and concluded dozens of commercial deals, the largest of which was the French Total's deal to develop the South Pars field worth USD 4.8 billion.
Certainly, Iran made a myriad of political, strategic and economic gains after the signing of that agreement, which went beyond nuclear issues to political and security settlements, through which the Obama administration allowed Iran to directly interfere in the domestic affairs of the Arab countries under the US umbrella in light of what was then known as fruitful diplomacy. That turned Iran into a US cop, as it was during the reign of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Additionally, Iranian funds frozen returned from abroad and were estimated at USD one hundred billion, which it used to spend on its armed sectarian militias to undermine the Arab region's security and stability.
At that time, Iran expected an influx of foreign investments of USD 60 billion, but they did were only USD 3.4 billion in 2016, according to international reports, which was a very small amount compared to what went in the mullahs ’heads.
However, the end of Obama's era unlamented by the US and the Arab world and the transfer of power to Donald Trump in January 2017 had another impact on the agreement.
President Donald Trump's strategy stemmed from going on with stabilizing the production and movement of oil and gas, securing vital air and sea corridors in the region, Washington's support for Israel's security, non-proliferation, combating terrorism and extremism, protecting friendly countries and leaving the door to diplomacy open whenever it required a re-prioritization of its work.
Many US steps appeared in the National Security Strategy issued on December 18th 2017, as well as President Trump's address at the UN General Assembly on September 25th 2018, when he described the nuclear deal by saying: "The Iran Deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, this deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it—believe me.", and other remarks by President Trump that represented a major source of his vision to the world.
Prior to that date, the US administration imposed sanctions on Tehran, including those related to the nuclear deal, and others related to ballistic missiles, terrorism, and human rights. The US pressure continued until new sanctions were imposed on Iran on July 18th 2017.
Under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) of 2015, which requires the president must issue a certification to Congress every 90 days that Iran is technically complying with the deal, but President Trump refused to certify on October 13th 2017, a matter which gave Congress the option to introduce legislation re-imposing U.S. sanctions waived or suspended.
President Trump announced a unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA on May 8th 2018, and this was followed by the Treasury Department and the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announcing the re-imposition of sanctions on Iran within a period ranging from three to nine months, then banning the Iranian transactions on August 6th 2018, and then the oil sanctions in November 2018.
The US administration focused its sanctions on oil exports particularly, with the aim of stopping them completely to deprive the Iranian economy of them, and weaken its ability to support terrorist militias.
It also targeted aircrafts, ships, energy sector organizations, individuals, and suspension of dollar transactions.
Thus, President Trump's vision took a completely opposite position to Obama on the nuclear deal with Iran. He pulled out of the deal, and adopted a number of punitive measures against Iran due to its ballistic missile program and blatant interference in the Arab domestic affairs.
After pulling out of the controversial nuclear deal, President Trump worked on consolidating political, economic and military relations between the United States and the Arab Gulf states in general and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in particular.
That was evidenced by the signing of the final statement of the Arab-Islamic-American Summit, held in Riyadh on May 20th -21st 2017, which stipulated that Iran is a sponsor and financier of terrorism, which made a miserable end to Iran's relations with the Obama administration.
President Trump supported the allies in the face of Iran which supports armed terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, Al-Houthi, Hamas, and others.
He also employed those allies to endorse common interests, secure and protect the US strategy, emphasize that the US policy is comprehensive and strict towards Iran, and secure the strength of allies by relying on their military strength, providing support to them, and not impeding their priorities.
Reasons for pulling out of the deal
Through our reading of the US administration’s strategy, we can identify the most important reasons for President Trump's pulling out of the nuclear deal, including the deal's focus on the nuclear program and disregard for the Iranian ballistic missile program, which has never diminished after the implementation of the nuclear deal on January 16th 2016, and Iran went on developing its ballistic missile force, and conducted multiple experiments henceforth.
Trump believes that the role of the IAEA in the nuclear deal is very limited, as it does not include inspecting military sites despite suspicion of nuclear activities inside them.
The deal was lacked real sanctions, articles or clauses restraining Iran’s continuous pursuit of regional hegemony and interference in the affairs of the region's countries, directly or through its partners, which was a major reason for its continuation, and a real threat to the US partners and allies in the region.
The nuclear deal, which will expire ten years after the start of its signing, may contribute to igniting the arms race in the region, according to Trump, instead of preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, as restrictions on uranium enrichment will be over by 2024, and restrictions on the processing of plutonium will be over by 2030, while the US vision believes that these restrictions must be in place for a hundred years.
The Trump administration was alerted to the importance of the financial aspect of the deal, and the huge funds that exceeded USD 100 billion for Iran as a result of lifting the sanctions, a matter which made previous international contracts with Iran valid, with no future sanctions on Iran if it violated the deal.
President Trump warned against the danger of continuing the nuclear deal for fear of consolidating the foundations of the regime and undermining democracy in Iran.
Therefore, President Trump sounded a note of severe caution to the US trading partners against dealing with Iran after the re-imposition of sanctions on it, through his tweet on August 7th 2018, saying: "Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States."
To conclude, it seems that the Trump administration has other options that would amount to a US military strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities, and several selected military targets inside Iran. It is a policy that no US official has ruled out. Rather, it is stressed to be one of the options available to the US administration in dealing with Iran.
The Trump administration, if necessary, is able to bring severe military damage to the Iranian regime, and it can destroy its nuclear program, or take it backwards many years.