By insisting on fixing or abrogating the Iran nuclear deal, the United States may be ostracized. And being pushed hard, Iran will retaliate.
President Donald Trump is reportedly planning to deliver an Iran policy speech on October 12 to decertify the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as he believes that the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran no longer meets the US national security interests. If the president determines that the Iranians are not abiding by the JCPOA, Congress will have two months to decide whether to re-impose sanctions waived under the agreement. The White House said on October 6 that President Donald Trump would also announce new US responses to Iran's missile tests, support for "terrorism" and cyber operations as part of his new Iran strategy.
The president’s plans reportedly include placing additional sanctions on Tehran and designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist group. The president faces an Oct. 15 deadline to notify Congress whether Iran is still complying with the nuclear accord and that the deal serves American interests. In accordance with the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, Donald Trump is required to tell Congress every three months if Iran is meeting promises to scale back its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
On October 8, Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), made a statement warning that if the IRGC is designated a terrorist group, the force “will treat the US Army the way we treat ISIS” anywhere in the world, in particular in the Middle East. According to him, in case the US introduces additional sanctions, Iran will consider the move a violation of the nuclear agreement and the safety of American servicemen will no longer be guaranteed. Additional sanctions would end the chances for future dialogue with the United States.
If the agreement is no longer in force and the Countering America’s Adversaries Sanctions Act (CAATSA) is carried out, the United States military will have to move its bases in the region far away from Iran’s borders, namely out of a 2,000-km (1,240-mile) radius. Currently, US military bases are located in countries neighboring Iran, including Bahrain, Iraq, Oman and Afghanistan, less than 500 kilometers (310 miles) from Iran's borders.
The CAATSA expands US sanctions targeting Iran's ballistic missile program, and enhances the legal basis for existing sanctions targeting the IRGC on the allegations of support for terrorism.
Jafari’s statement was made against the background of Iranian naval exercises held in the Persian Gulf. More than 110 vessels were involved, including some with rocket and missile capabilities. Tehran would also boost its missile program as well as its regional and conventional defense plans. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also warned that any breaches of the deal by the US would result in Iran's partial or complete withdrawal from the agreement.
Snapping American sanctions back is a possibility, especially in view that Google and Apple have withdrawn some services temporarily or indefinitely for Iranian users in recent months for reasons including the US reintroduction of punitive measures. These companies are well informed about the administration’s plans. No rush into Iran’s economy, in particular, its huge energy reserves, has yet materialized. President Trump can inflict great damage and dash Iran’s emerging hopes.
What’s behind Trump’s stance on the issue? The US president believes that the problems of Iran and North Korea are intertwined. The views that it’ll take North Korea years to be able to hit the continental United States have become irrelevant now. Today, it is widely believed that the capability to deliver an intercontinental strike will be achieved next year.
President Donald Trump is convinced that Iran is supporting North Korea, he said in an October 7 interview with TBN’s Mike Huckabee. Before that he accused Iran of collaborating with North Korea after an Iranian ballistic missile test on September 23. American experts have emphasized design similarities between North Korea’s home-built Rodong and its Iranian clone, the Shahab 3 or the Rodong B and Shahab 4.
The president thinks that the State Secretary Rex Tillerson’s effort to open lines of communication with North Korea is a waste of time. He seems to rule out a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear-edged confrontation with Pyongyang. For Donald Trump, Iran and North Korea are not two separate problems, he takes a holistic approach. For him, the two countries are links in the same chain, constituting one problem. The September test firing of Khoramshahr missile by Iran is the same challenge as the long-range ballistic missile test expected to be conducted by North Korea in mid-October.
The president thinks he drew the short straw as his predecessors had failed to address the issue and now he has no choice but act resolutely. The administration believes that any action against Iran will also be an action against North Korea. And if the Donald Trump pulls back on the Iran deal, US credibility will be shot in view of North Korean leadership. It will make impossible for diplomacy to succeed. In case the Iranian leadership succumbs to the pressure and agrees to have the nuclear deal fixed, the North Korean leaders may become more pliant. An action against Iran may be what Daniel Russel, the former assistant secretary of state for Asia, described to the news site Axios as “a sharp, short ‘warning shot’” that could change North Korea’s calculus about the US willingness to use force.
There is another reason for the United States to snap sanctions back on Iran. As a major oil producer, America will benefit greatly. US oil producers will be happy to take Iranian oil out of the market and replace it with America’s own exports. The government will also receive higher taxes from production. Less oil on the world market will lead to inflation and, thus, help the US government reduce the value of its debts.
The trouble with the idea is that Iran will not agree to revisit the agreement. Its position is strengthened due to the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency has recently said it complies with the deal. With no deal to comply with, Iran would be free to produce as much enriched uranium or plutonium as it wishes.
Moreover, the action would not be supported by other parties to the JPCOA. Federica Mogherini, the foreign minister for the European Union, rejects the idea of scrapping or renegotiating the agreement. According to her, “The international community cannot afford dismantling an agreement that is working and delivering.” “This is an agreement that prevented a nuclear program and potentially prevented military intervention. Let’s not forget that,” she added. “There is no need to renegotiate parts of the agreement, because the agreement is working.” By insisting on fixing or abrogating the deal, the United States may be ostracized. And being pushed hard, Iran will retaliate.
The standoff between the US and Iran may lead to a spark igniting a conflict. The United States presence in al-Tanf base on the Syrian-Iraqi-Jordanian border triangle is used for training Maghawir al-Thawra – formerly known as the New Syrian Army – fighters. The base is largely believed to be a safe haven for terrorist groups fighting pro-Syrian government forces, including Iranians, unopposed by Americans. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the 100 km area around the US al-Tanf base near the Syrian-Jordanian border has become a “black hole” which Islamic State terrorists use to carry out attacks against Syrian troops and civilians. Iran has already used Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missiles to strike targets in Syria. An accident between the two navies in the Persian Gulf may also spark a conflict like the Gulf of Tonkin accident sparked the Vietnam War. Today, another large war is in the air.