How Team Trump Can Counter Obama’s Iran Legacy
If the Iran nuclear deal — crafted and profoundly advocated by former US President Barack Obama — was meant to mature the mullahs, it failed miserably. With a new administration under President Donald Trump taking the helm in Washington, Iran is acting in ways never intended as a result of the nuclear accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
With Obama at the wheel, America was unfortunately ready “to ignore violations of international accords, as we have done with Iran,” explained designated US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
One interesting example is Iran’s practice of producing an excessive amount of heavy water, more than the JCPOA-permitted limit. It was made public that the Obama White House assisted Tehran in dodging this violation by purchasing the excess heavy water produced by Iran. This had literally provided Tehran a fruitful business opportunity: Violate the JCPOA and get paid for it. Go figure.
As expected, Obama administration officials defended their actions, arguing that Iran’s effort to obtain nuclear weapons would face hurdles with the shipping out of excess heavy water and adding such a safety precaution is worth the cost of $8.6 million.
The bigger picture, however, is far more disturbing. Washington also provided yet another compensation to Tehran by blessing the provision of 116 metric tons of Russian natural uranium.
To add insult to injury: “The Obama administration left top lawmakers, including leaders on the congressional committees charged with overseeing American foreign policy, in the dark about a secret deal to send Iran more than one hundred metric tons of natural uranium,” according to The Weekly Standard.
Yes, Iran is permitted to possess raw uranium based on JCPOA articles. Yet it is necessary to reiterate that the Obama-authorized batch provides Iran with enough materials to enrich for peaceful energy purposes — and up to 10 nuclear bombs.
While President Trump tearing up the nuclear deal may counter the advice of a slate of senior officials, one very effective approach would be to make the worst deal in history better.
The Trump administration can adopt an approach wrongfully set aside by Team Obama, namely, presenting a “credible threat of sanctions that could severely damage the Iranian energy and financial sectors, and a credible surgical military option,” as explained in a USA Today piece.
Tillerson aims to call for an extensive Iran deal evaluation. He has promised “no nuclear enrichment in Iran, no storing of nuclear materials in Iran” and that America will “hold [the Iranians] to that agreement.” Rest assured, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his inner circle are already bracing for impact.
The West’s misinterpretation of Iran, its assumption that Tehran would abandon the nuclear deal or risk a military confrontation with America, must be put aside once and for all. It should be understood that the regime in its entirety desperately needs the JCPOA to remain intact, despite all the macho rhetoric heard from various Iranian figures.
Senior regime officials understand very well the Iranian population were fed up with continuing sanctions for a nonsense nuclear program. No nuclear deal meant only a matter of time for the powder keg of Iranian society to explode completely out of control.
And Khamenei more than anyone else understands his unconventional military structure, and the low morale among the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and Iran’s classic army, are no match for any military confrontation with even regional countries, let alone the United States.
This brings us to the question of what approach Team Trump should adopt.
Iran must understand that America is committed to uprooting the crises plaguing the Middle East, especially Iran’s involvement in Syria. Iran has spread its disease across the region through the notorious IRGC and its extraterritorial Quds Force, led by Qassem Suleimani. Sanctioning all such entities, especially the IRGC, as foreign terrorist organizations would be the very launch pad the Trump administration needs to send Iran the best signal.
The mullahs have wreaked havoc inside of Iran, throughout the Middle East and beyond. It is high time for America to stand alongside the Iranian people in their plight to establish democracy by ridding this ancient land of such a ruthless regime.
Unlike all its neighbors in the Middle East that embraced the Arab Spring, Iran enjoys a highly organized opposition movement led by Maryam Rajavi, a progressive-minded Muslim woman and President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The international community, spearheaded by America, should recognize this movement as the legitimate representative of the Iranian people, as advised recently by 23 former senior American government officials in a letter hand-delivered to then President-elect Donald Trump.
Tehran must realize that with Obama gone, Washington will no longer safeguard its interests at all costs. The tides have changed and the mullahs must fasten their seatbelts for the upcoming journey.
Heshmat Alavi is a political and rights activist. His writing focuses on Iran, ranging from human rights violations, social crackdown, the regime’s support for terrorism and meddling in foreign countries, as well as the controversial nuclear program. He tweets at @HeshmatAlavi & blogs at IranCommentary.