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January 30, 2017 8:10 am

Iran’s Trepidation Over Entering Uncharted Trump Territory

avatar by Heshmat Alavi

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Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

US President Donald Trump posted a statement only minutes after his inauguration indicating the administration’s intention to launch a “state-of-the-art” missile-defense system to help protect allies against possible attacks from Iran and North Korea. This only adds to the trepidation felt in Tehran, already anxious about a new team in Washington and the end of the Obama “golden era.”

Iran has revealed its major concerns about the fate of the nuclear pact, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), under Trump. This is also clear in recent remarks made by senior American figures.

The new US president “is going to be much more forceful on the terms of the nuclear deal itself, and that itself may cause the ayatollahs to walk away, but I also know that he intends to confront…Iranian regional aggression, and their imperial project around the Middle East,” said Senator Tom Cotton, a fierce critic of the JCPOA, which he recently described as “dead.”

Former CIA director and renowned US Army general David Petraeus made very specific suggestions to the new administration never to rule out the possibility of military action.

“The US must prepare for action against Iran, if necessary,” he said at a recent security conference. “I told Trump we need to repeat what we want, for Iran not to have nuclear weapons and for the Islamic Republic to stop striving for a Shiite hegemony in the region. If you ask the Gulf States, their first problem is Iran, and only afterwards comes ISIS, Yemen…”

And despite the fact that senior Iranian regime officials have threatened to “burn” the JCPOA if the Trump administration decides to tear it up, one simple principle should be kept in mind: Iran needs the deal to remain intact more than any other party. Thus, the mullahs’ macho rhetoric is meant for domestic use only, in order to maintain a straight face.

In the meantime, President Trump’s West Asia affairs adviser, Walid Fares, raised the stakes further for Iran, proving yet again that the road ahead will be very difficult for Tehran.

“Iran must accept a JCPOA revision. Otherwise, the US will be forced to adopt other methods to protect regional countries,” he said in a recent Asharq Al-Awsat interview.

In response to such remarks, and the White House announcement of launching new missiles systems in the Middle East, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir used the opportunity of a joint press conference with his French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault, to express his support.

Trump has “spoken about containing Iran and its ability to cause mischief, and making sure Iran abides by the agreement,” Jubeir said, adding, “This is exactly our position.”

Signs are showing President Trump will ratchet up JCPOA provisions and firmly enforce these measures, to say the least. As a result, cheating on the margins — something Tehran enjoyed during the Obama years — will become much more difficult.

Furthermore, on issues the Obama White House neglected in the flawed JCPOA, the Trump administration will most likely focus much-needed attention on Tehran’s support for terrorism abroad – as seen so vividly in Iran’s involvement in Syria – and human rights violations back home.

If the US administration penalized the mullahs in this realm in the coming months — by, for example, encouraging activities aimed at isolating Tehran — it will send a very strong message to the regime not used to such stark measures, and leave a lasting and meaningful impact on the establishment’s overall economic fortunes.

To this end, Washington shouldn’t be the least concerned about any recent saber-rattling from Tehran regime officials, as it is merely a sign of Iran’s fear about trekking into uncharted Trump territory.

To add insult to injury, nearly two dozen former senior American officials, some with very close relations to the new president, signed a hand-delivered letter encouraging the White House to work with the main Iranian opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), under the leadership of Maryam Rajavi, a charismatic Muslim woman advocating a peaceful, progressive and tolerant interpretation of Islam. The NCRI is a conglomerate of Iranian dissident groups, including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

All this and the new administration is just getting warmed up.

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