As tensions with Iran rise, it’s apparent that there’s pronounced discord throughout the Trump administration on whether to enter into another deal with Tehran’s mullahs.
While Donald Trump has continued pressuring Iran’s regime with targeted sanctions and clear expectations, last week, after Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s surprise appearance on the sidelines of the G7, the rhetoric out of the White House seemed to loosen a bit, with the president suggesting he would be open to meeting with Tehran in the near future.
Iran President Hassan Rouhani, who has expressed disenchantment over the U.S. pulling out of the nuclear deal, appeared lukewarm about future talks, presenting his own list of preconditions on Tuesday.
“Lift the sanctions. All the sanctions against the Iranian nation, which are illegal, cruel and wrong, should be lifted,” stated Rouhani. “If you [U.S.] lift all these sanctions and if you bow your head [in respect] to the nation of Iran, well, then the situation would be different.”
There is no chance the President will bow his head or play along with Iran’s political hardball games, but the lines aren’t as clearly defined in the Trump White House.
Since Trump initiated the pullout from the nuclear deal (JCPOA) in May 2018, it’s widely been the case that members of the Republican Party echoed the rationale of the President, believing that future talks are contingent upon behavior and holding Iran’s government accountable for nefarious activities in weapons proliferation and terror support. Meanwhile Democrats believe in rapprochement, either resurrecting the Iran nuclear deal of 2015 or striking a new one — often holding that even a bad deal with Iran is better than no deal at all.
“Everyone has a different motive, but they're all united in working against the President's goal of curbing Iran,” a U.S. official with knowledge of the interagency battle on Iran told me.
“It’s a weird coalition that’s formed, made up of actual career deep state Obama loyalists, [Sec. of State Rex] Tillerson holdovers committed to preserving the deal, and the team of doves led by [Secretary Steven] Mnuchin at the Treasury Department,” the official said.
For his part, Trump has kept to his road map on Iran. No war. Lots of pressure. Undeniably, the pressure campaign has been successful in diminishing crucial economic sectors as indicated by reports of oil exports cut by approximately two-thirds and the various indicators of a plummeting Iran economy coupled with inflation.
It would be short-sighted to favor an empty deal that would scrap the chance for Iranians to stand up to their government for significant and long-lasting changes.
Even the regime’s terror proxies are feeling the economic pinch, with charity boxes popping up in Lebanon to raise additional funds for Hezbollah. In the first such public plea for donations in almost 40 years, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the group’s future depends on civilian contributions.
In addition, the U.S. has beefed up its military presence in the Persian Gulf and placed direct sanctions on almost 1,000 entities, including the Revolutionary Guard, individuals tied to the regime, banks, institutions and specific sectors such as iron, steel, aluminum and copper.
But perhaps nothing drove the point home like the latest sanctions placed directly on Foreign Minister Zarif.
Despite the pressure, Tehran has continued its threatening rhetoric and taunting provocations. It seized several oil tankers and downed a U.S. spy drone since May in and around the Strait of Hormuz, a sensitive passageway in the region.
Further signaling a refusal to achieve a diplomatic resolution with the U.S., Iran’s regime announced last month that it will increase uranium enrichment to 5 percent, taking their production above limits set by the 2015 nuclear deal.
If the pressure campaign is working, why would the U.S. opt to enter another bad deal with Iran’s government for the sake of meaningless entente?
Didn’t we try that and conclude that Iran’s government cannot be trusted? Shouldn’t a deal take into account Iran’s other activities in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and in supporting terror groups in Gaza and Lebanon?
Furthermore, another hollow Iran deal will repeat what was done under President Barak Obama — it will take internal pressure off the regime.
What many analysts don’t understand is that, for over four decades, the Achilles’ heel of Iran’s regime has not been any foreign aggressor or treaty. On the contrary, Iran’s mullahs are more petrified of another well-organized, grass-roots internal uprising than anything else. After all, that is how they came to power after such a coup dethroned the Shah in 1979 and paved the way for the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to return to Iran with his ilk.
Some argue that Iran policy should stand apart from our emotional ties to the freedom-loving people of Iran. But that would be forfeiting an 80-million strong ally in the broader battle against the mullahs.
The Iranian people are truly suffering. While no one wants to stand in support of sanctions that ultimately burden innocent people, it would be short-sighted to favor an empty deal that would scrap the chance for the Iranian people to stand up to their government for significant and long-lasting economic, social and political changes.
Some may argue that it’s an assumption, yet to be proved, that most people in Iran want regime change. But it certainly isn’t conjecture to say the vast majority of Iranians want better lives — which they will lose the leverage to fight for if another bad deal is struck between the West and their leaders.