The Irish Times view on US sanctions on Iran: Reckless and self-defeating

Europe must continue to talk and to trade with Iran in the knowledge that it no longer has a serious, reliable partner in the United States

Donald Trump’s decision to reimpose sanctions against Iran will undermine moderates such as president Hassan Rouhani, who had staked a great deal on the nuclear agreement, and allow hardliners to reassert control. Photograph: Sergei Chirikov/EPA-EFE, Shawn Thew

Donald Trump’s decision to reimpose sanctions against Iran will undermine moderates such as president Hassan Rouhani, who had staked a great deal on the nuclear agreement, and allow hardliners to reassert control. Photograph: Sergei Chirikov/EPA-EFE, Shawn Thew

 

Donald Trump’s move to reimpose economic sanctions on Iran, following his decision earlier this year to renege on the nuclear deal signed by his predecessor, Barack Obama, is typical of the US president’s dangerous, directionless foreign policy. Contrary to the view of international inspectors and western intelligence agencies, which believe Tehran is complying with the deal, Trump argues that Iran is violating the spirit of the compromise through its development of ballistic missiles and its involvement in the Syrian conflict.

He suggests that an agreement that imposes limits on Iran’s nuclear programme until 2030, and under which the regime submits to intrusive inspections of its nuclear sites, gives Iran too much – the relaxation of sanctions – and the US too little in return.

Nobody ever claimed the 2015 deal was perfect. But by putting a brake on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme and allowing for the country’s reintegration into the world economy, it held out the promise of better relations between Tehran and the West. In time, the thinking went, that new climate would allow for a restoration of trust and allow the mutual hostility that poisoned relations since the 1979 revolution to ease.

Trump doesn’t even pretend to have an alternative. His restoration of harsh sanctions – with another batch to come in November – is not part of any long-term strategy. Rather, the decision appears driven by a desire, already evident in a raft of Trump’s policy initiatives, to disown anything regarded as an Obama-era achievement. Indeed, Trump is throwing out exactly the kind of grand bargain he claims to seek with the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un – and in doing so is demonstrating to Kim just how unreliable a partner the US would be in any such accommodation.

Hawks surrounding Trump, notably the Iran-obsessed secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and national security adviser John Bolton, appear to hope that tightening sanctions will increase public anger in Iran, ultimately weakening or even toppling the regime. That’s wishful thinking. While protests have taken place in recent weeks, they are smaller and less organised than the demonstrations that set off the 2009 revolt, which was ruthlessly suppressed by the authorities. More likely, the sanctions will undermine moderates such as president Hassan Rouhani, who had staked a great deal on the nuclear agreement, and allow hardliners to reassert control.

The EU is right to attempt to shield European companies that continue to do business in Iran. The threat of secondary sanctions, which will in effect force firms to choose between Iran and the US, will make this difficult. Nonetheless, Europe must continue to talk and to trade with Iran in the knowledge that it no longer has a serious, reliable partner in the United States.

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