USA: Trump’s Version of the Iran Accord: Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

Trump’s Iran policy is more reminiscent of a coin flip than a political decision

  Prabir Purkayastha | Globetrotter

This article was produced in partnership by Newsclick and Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Trump’s Iran policy is akin to that of a schoolyard bully. More worrying is the passivity of the rest of the world and the dangerous drift to another devastating war in the region.

The U.S., after walking out of the Iran accord, is now shouting foul as Iran has breached the 300 kg enriched-uranium stockpile limit of the accord. Does the U.S. expect Iran to be bound by the accord while it happily reneges on it? Or is its concept of international accords the playground bully’s version ……. of a coin toss, “Heads I Win, Tails You Lose”?     

The Iran accord, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), between six countries and Iran was signed in 2015. The six countries are France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, China and the United States. JCPOA brought down Iran’s stockpile of processed uranium (uranium hexafluoride) from 10,000 kg to just 300 kg or only 2 percent of what it had before the agreement was signed — the same JCPOA agreement from which Trump walked out in May last year, calling it the “worst deal ever.”

Those media sections hyping up Iran breaching the 300 kg limit in JCPOA as a step toward acquiring nuclear weapons capability are simply providing an alibi for the Trump administration’s warmongering.

The U.S. has termed Iran’s exceeding the 300 kg limit as an example of how it was never serious about the agreement. In an Orwellian doublespeak, the White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said, “There is little doubt that even before the deal’s existence, Iran was violating its terms”.

IAEA, the governing body on this issue, has certified as late as March 31, 2019, that Iran was fully in compliance with the agreement even after putting the U.S. and other signatories on notice on its future steps.

Trump and Bolton’s game plan is, and has always been, to beat Iran into total submission: NO enrichment, NO rocket or missile capability and NO alliances or supporting groups or countries in the region that the U.S. and its allies don’t like. This is what the U.S. tried in the Bush years with NO success. This is the trajectory that led to Iran continuously building up its nuclear capability — centrifuges, stockpile, reactors, etc. It is the recognition that this was a route to nowhere, or another devastating war in the region, that forced the Obama administration to come to the negotiating table and finally the Iran accord.

The Iran accord, though signed between six countries and Iran, had its major obligations on the U.S. and Iran. Iran agreed to drastically reduce its uranium stockpile, bring down its number of centrifuges to less than a third, and dismantle some of its reactors. The U.S. agreed to remove sanctions and unfreeze over $100 billion of Iran’s assets that the U.S. had seized. The U.S. and its allies — France, UK, Germany — had also agreed that they will not reimpose sanctions on Iran, and if they did, Iran had declared in the agreement itself which of the commitments it would breach. And one of them was the 300 kg stockpile limit. To quote the Section 8 of the JCPOA, “Iran has stated that it will treat such a re-introduction or re-imposition of the sanctions… as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.”

Why did Iran choose the 300 kg stockpile limit as its response to the U.S. sanctions?

This is particularly evil — because, on May 8, 2019, the U.S had additionally sanctioned Iran’s ability to export low-enriched uranium and heavy water out of the country,which it was doing before the last round of U.S. sanctions. By exporting the extra amount of enriched uranium that it produces beyond its needs, it kept its domestic stockpile limited to 300 kg. In other words, its breach of the 300 kg limit is a direct consequence of the U.S. sanctions; or, as the JCPOA defined it, the U.S. “imposing new nuclear-related sanctions.”

The U.S. sanctions not only affect Iran’s ability to pay for imports through the export of oil, but also imports vital to its economy. Under Trump’s policy of maximum pressure, the U.S. sanctions would be imposed on any entity that trades with Iran, a policy to completely strangulate Iran economically.

The sanctions that the U.S. has imposed on Iran are not only in breach of JCPOA but equivalent to a declaration of economic war, and illegal under international law. The International Court of Justice in its judgment on June 27, 1986, concerning Nicaragua vs. the United States, made explicit that any signatory to the United Nations cannot use physical, economic or any other measure to coerce another State. Iran sanctions are economic warfare, war by other means. As Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, an expert on international law and formerly with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in the context of U.S. sanctions on Venezuela:

“Modern-day economic sanctions and blockades are comparable with medieval sieges of towns … Twenty-first century sanctions attempt to bring not just a town, but sovereign countries to their knees.”

The U.S. sanctions are in violation of the UN Security Council resolution that endorsed the JCPOA.

The problem that Iran faces is that all countries that do not agree with the U.S. abandoning the JCPOA have done very little to counteract the U.S. sanctions on Iran — other than lip service. Even worse, they have tacitly become a part of the U.S. sanctions regime while criticizing it, due to the U.S. stranglehold on the world’s financial system.

The U.S. control of the SWIFT foreign exchange transaction system is only one element of the U.S. sanctions regime. Even friendly countries or their companies face sanctions from the U.S., as any entity that is involved in the oil trade with Iran could attest — the tankers, the insurance companies, the refineries, the banks — come under risk of U.S. sanctions; or if they export goods to Iran. No European company wants to touch either buying or selling goods to Iran as they are afraid of U.S. sanctions on their non-Iran related activities. That is why INSTEX, the alternate foreign exchange transaction system that European countries have created, has yet to take off.

A number of Indian companies had also faced such threats last time the U.S. had imposed sanctions on Iran. The State Bank of India and Indian oil companies had then been threatened with U.S. sanctions. This time, not only does India face about 10-12 percent of its oil/gas imports needing to be substituted from other sources; it also means that its exports to Iran would take a big hit.

Iran had made it clear to the other countries that are signatories to the JCPOA that if they wanted Iran to abide by the agreement, they would then have to be willing to buy Iranian oil and continue their trade with Iran. Iran needs a range of goods — from medicines, to chemicals, to machinery — which it pays for with its oil exports. Turkey’s Halkbank faces penalties in the U.S. over its sanctions-busting last time, the reason Turkey appears unwilling to confront the U.S.

After Trump’s pulling out of the JCPOA, The EU-3 — France, Germany and the UK — had committed themselves (July 6, 2018, statement Para 8) as signatories to uphold their side of the deal. Since, The EU-3 had failed to match its words with deeds; Iran put the world, particularly the other signatories to JCPOA, on notice that if they did not take positive steps to trade with Iran, it would breach the 300 kg stockpile limit on enriched uranium. It has now done so.

Where do we go from here? Will Iran quietly lie down and submit to the U.S.? Or will it hunker down, allowing its industry to not modernize and its people to suffer various shortages? Will it hit back by arming the Houthis with better weapons against Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates, the U.S. allies in the region? Will it restrict oil flows through the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s biggest choke point that carries 20 percent of the world’s oil and liquefied natural gas? What happens if a U.S. drone or a spy plane is shot down over Iran? On June 20, 2019, Iran shot down a $220-Million Global Hawk Drone ….

We are now back to a collision trajectory between the U.S. and Iran, which can only lead to another war in West Asia. The problem with the European powers, and to a lesser extent all the major non-NATO powers, is their passivity on this issue. They seem to be content for it to be a U.S.-Iran issue, never mind its devastating consequence for the world and its economy. This non-intervention of the international community is the key issue that is facing us today — not just the U.S. becoming a rogue hegemon.

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  • Clyde Duncan  On July 11, 2019 at 11:22 am

    Nobody Takes The US Seriously Anymore

    Dmitry Orlov | Russia Insider

    There isn’t much to report that I haven’t already reported. What goes on is more of the same but the attitude seems to have changed. A new development is the Global Eye-Roll and at this rate it may turn into an Olympic sport before long.

    The US is on autopilot; cruising toward collapse; swamped by debt; politically dysfunctional; but still trying to bully the world. In response, the world has been practicing the coordinated global eye-roll:

    The Americans and/or their proxies damaged some oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and blame it on Iran — time for an eye-roll.

    Since this doesn’t have the intended effect, the Americans and/or their proxies … decided that it is time to damage some more oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and blame it on Iran — time for another eye-roll.

    Meanwhile, there are lots of US navy ships steaming about the Persian Gulf, and that’s a sure sign that open hostilities with Iran will be avoided because those ships are very expensive, there is no money to replace them, and given Iran’s very advanced rocketry they are sitting ducks.

    Another eye-rolling occasion arises whenever US officials talk up their hydrocarbon exports. The only reason the US has a temporary surplus of hydrocarbons is because of the fracking industry, which is drowning in red ink and will never be made whole because the prices it requires are higher than what the world can afford.

    Yet another eye-rolling occasion is Trump’s war on Huawei, which has led Google to deprive Huawei smartphones of access to its Android operating system. Now, get ready for an eye-roll, because operating systems are at this point free items floating about in the public domain. With the exception of Microsoft Windows, which is absolute, total crap, they are all based on either Linux (as is Android) or BSD Unix (Mac OS, etc.) and these are both free.

  • Clyde Duncan  On July 11, 2019 at 9:50 pm

    The Missing Piece in US-Iran Drone Dispute:

    Navigational Freedoms and the Strait of Hormuz

    Mark Nevitt | Just Security

    So where do we go from here? The Triton shoot down has brought this historical uncertainty regarding the Strait of Hormuz to a head. And the stakes could not be higher.

    The United States came within minutes of launching a major kinetic attack against Iran in response to the attack and reports indicate that a cyber-attack against Iran took place.

    What is clear is that the U.S. military will continue to operate in the Strait of Hormuz and the surrounding area and Iran will aggressively defend its airspace against any real or perceived entry. And there is no evidence to suggest that it will back down from its straight baseline territorial claims over its adjacent sea and airspace.

    We should stop the name-calling and focus on ways to defuse this crisis to avoid miscalculation and miscommunication — we simply can’t afford to walk blindly into a disaster.

  • Clyde Duncan  On July 11, 2019 at 10:23 pm

    Opinion: Netanyahu Is Leading Trump Into Disaster With Iran

    Netanyahu pushed Trump to leave the nuclear deal, helped by his enthralled evangelical base. But as Iran announces yet more nuclear enrichment, it’s clear the results have been catastrophic, not least for Israel

    Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie | Haaretz

    With elections coming in Israel, I have a suggestion for Israel’s voters: When deciding whether or not to vote for Benjamin Netanyahu, decide on the basis of how he’s done on Iran.

    This seems fair to me. After all, for the last ten years, Bibi has made Iran and her threat to build a nuclear weapon the central focus of his premiership. In countless speeches, in Israel and around the world, he has proclaimed that Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb is an existential threat to the Jewish state and a blow to the vital interests of civilized countries everywhere.

    He has asserted that he, personally, will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. And he has made the Iran question the dominant theme of his relations with the United States.

    All this being so, it is surely reasonable to make the Iran question the litmus test for determining whether Bibi deserves the support of Israel’s citizens. And it seems reasonable as well to ask:

    How are things going right now on the Iran front?

    And the answer is: Not well at all.

    On Monday last week, the official Iranian news agency announced that the country had exceeded the limits for enriched uranium set by the 2015 international nuclear deal. This Sunday, Iran announced it was raising its level of enriched uranium, breaking another limit of the nuclear deal.

    These announcements don’t mean that an Iranian bomb is imminent, but they do suggest that Iran is once again actively pursuing the materials needed to produce a nuclear weapon.

    And Bibi must take his share of the responsibility for the way things have developed.

    Let’s consider some paths that were not taken:

    After Bibi’s election in 2009, he could have chosen to establish friendly and cooperative ties with the Obama administration, which had just taken office and was looking closely at the Iran question.

    Bibi could have built a relationship of trust with the new administration, sharing intelligence and security concerns, and developing influence with the Obama security team.

    Obama, after all, had a straightforward strategy: Prevent an Iranian bomb without an Iran war – which in theory is the same strategy now followed by the Trump administration.

    But in private and sometimes in public, Bibi’s team described Obama as weak and naïve, if not flat-out anti-Israel. And John Kerry was characterized by Bibi as an incompetent negotiator, regularly outmaneuvered by Iranian diplomats.

    Taking his cues from his patron Sheldon Adelson and from the Obama-hating right-wing segment of the American Jewish community, Bibi managed to enrage the mainstream elements of the Democratic party, which was incensed at the attacks on their president.

    And the Netanyahu line was nonsense. Kerry cared deeply about Israel and produced a not-so-bad agreement, balancing the competing claims of the European allies against those of Russia and China.

    And sensitive to the profound weariness of the American public to wars in the Middle East, Kerry crafted a nuclear deal that provided reasonable protection for Israel against a nuclear threat from Iran while also protecting American interests.

    Still, while it was a pretty good deal, it was not – Democrats take note – a perfect one. There was no ban on ballistic missiles, which Iran continues to test. There was no inspection permitted for certain sites within Iran. And most important, there was a 2025 expiration date on many of the deal’s terms.

    But let’s imagine that Bibi, instead of infuriating Democrats and attacking Obama and Kerry, had worked with Democrats in good faith, presenting himself as a supportive partner rather than a partisan critic.

    Let us imagine as well that he had refrained from attacking the American president and his staff, and pushed hard with Israel’s many backers in the Democratic establishment to revise the Iran deal before it was finalized.

    Would this have worked? It may have. But it would have required Bibi to distance himself from Adelson and his ilk, listen to the centrist voices in the Jewish community, and play the role of quiet but forceful bipartisan diplomat – a role, to say the least, that he is unaccustomed to playing.

    Netanyahu’s second mistake was his disastrous misreading of Donald Trump.

    During the 2016 campaign, Trump proclaimed that, if elected president, he would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and impose economic sanctions on Iran.

    While the responsibility was Trump’s, Bibi played a role; Trump, who had clearly not read the actual agreement, was responding to his evangelical base, which in turn was responding to Netanyahu.

    And the result has mostly been catastrophic. Trump expected the Iranians to be bullied into renegotiating the nuclear deal, and Bibi assumed that either the Iranians would fold, or President Trump would use military force to compel them to comply.

    And what has actually happened? The exact opposite.

    The Iranians have not folded, and instead have increased their enrichment of uranium, moving slowly but dangerously in the direction of a weapon. Unmoved by Trump’s bluster and threats, they watch with a mixture of amusement and contempt as the supposed “tough guy” canoodles with Kim Jong Un and supplicates before Vladimir Putin.

    And not only do the Iranians dismiss Trump’s brinkmanship, so too do America’s European allies, who believe that Trump’s foreign policy has descended into chaos.

    While he can sound hawkish one minute and dovish the next, most think, with relief, that he will never fire a shot, convinced as he is that another Middle East war will destroy his presidency.

    And neither does Mr. Trump have much support for his position in the United States. At a recent debate of Democratic presidential candidates, nine out of ten participants raised their hands when asked if elected would they immediately rejoin the Iran nuclear deal as it currently exists?

    And both Democrats and Republicans want legislation that would prevent the President from authorizing an attack on Iran without congressional approval.

    I am not suggesting that anyone should want a war with Iran. The goal is to do everything possible to avoid one. But the goal is also to find a way to revise an imperfect deal.

    And in order for that to happen, America needs to occupy the moral high ground. She needs to retain the backing of her allies, possess a thought-out economic strategy, and have strong domestic support.

    And she needs to make clear that she has no desire for war but, if confronted by Iranian aggression or intransigence, will not rule out the use of force.

    But as Bibi knows and as Israeli voters should consider, America falls short in all of these categories. Neither her allies nor her enemies trust a word that she says.

    Her officials are sloppy, unprofessional, and inconsistent. American assertions on Iran are wildly erratic and often unhinged. Her goals are unknown, even to American officials.

    The only consistent theme of her foreign policy is an isolationism that ultimately makes any satisfactory deal with Iran highly unlikely, if not utterly impossible.

    Would it have helped if Bibi, instead of encouraging Trump to exit the deal, had urged him stay in it and develop, with his European allies, a strategy to confront Iran and improve the deal?

    It might not have helped. Trump, after all, is a narcissistic know-nothing, desperate for glory and the validation of his base, who approaches foreign policy mostly as public spectacle.

    But it surely would have been worth a try. Because the course that Trump is now on, with Bibi’s encouragement, will lead to stalemate at best, and disaster at worst.

    And when considering in September whether to vote for Bibi, the supposed Iran expert, Israel’s voters should keep his bungled Iran policy in mind.

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