Trump’s Concerns and Macron’s New Deal on Iran Nuclear Agreement

Trump’s Concerns and Macron’s New Deal on Iran Nuclear Agreement

Thursday, 26 April, 2018 - 05:15
US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron arrive for a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC, on April 24, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Ludovic MARIN)
London - Amir Taheri
With the clock ticking down to May 12, the date at which US President Donald Trump is expected to announce his “final decision” on the nuclear deal with Iran, it seems that Washington and key European allies have agreed on what diplomats call a “fishtail” formula.

Under that formula, the deal shaped by former President Barack Obama will be retained as a matrix for an expanded accord that would address the Trump administration’s concerns.

Much of the credit for the “fishtail” compromise goes to French President Emmanuel Macron who has just concluded an historic state visit to Washington. The first foreign head of state to be invited by Trump for a full state visit, Macron is also the first French President since General Charles De Gaulle to address a joint session of the US Congress, a rare honor for America’s friends and allies.

Under the compromise, Trump will not formally denounce the “deal” but would, instead, agree to a proposal by France, Britain and Germany to seek a number of amendments and improvements of the text through fresh negotiations. It is not clear whether Russia and China will once again be asked to join the effort, something that poses a problem in view of strained relations between the Western powers and President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. One way to present the new talks as a fresh start would be to also include Turkey and, perhaps, Japan in the talks as suggested by Macron.

Iran, of course, still insists that there could be no new negotiations. In a speech in Tabriz President Hassan Rouhani said the text of the “deal”, known as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (CJPOA) cannot be changed by even one word. “This will either stay as it is or it will die,” he said.

However, Iran has already sent other signals indicating readiness to address Trump’s concerns. The first of these is what the new US administration sees as the Islamic Republic’s efforts to become the hegemon in the Middle East. That ambition was clearly spelled out in the 1404 Horizon, a document worked out by the Tehran leadership to set the goals of Iranian strategy for 20 years. “Our aim is to make the Islamic Republic the dominant power in Western Asia (i.e the Middle East).

However, in a speech on Tuesday at the Council on Foreign relations in New York, Foreign Minister Muhammad-Javad Zarif stated that Iran no longer wanted to be “the dominant power in the region.”

He described that major change in Tehran’s strategy as “a change that could give birth to many evolutions”, a signal that, provided a face-saving formula is found, Tehran would be prepared to negotiate a reduction in its footprint in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain.

To be sure, Western analysts remain cautious, recalling Tehran’s past behavior in which the mullahs promised much from a position of weakness but delivered little or nothing when a crisis as over.

The face-saving formula that Rouhani and his group, known in Tehran as “The New York Boys” want would mean a tacit agreement by Trump not to openly denounce the CJPOA even if he violates it in practice.

In his New York speech Zarif showed that Tehran is ready to live with such a situation by recalling the fact that during the first 16 months of Trump’s presidency the US has not approved a single state guarantee for trade with Iran.

“The US has already violated the CJPOA,” Zarif said.

This is interesting because “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei has repeatedly said that any violation of the “deal” by the US wold mean its “immediate rejection” by Iran.

The situation right now is this: The US has violated the “deal” for 16 months and Iran has accepted it!

Trump’s second concern is about Iran’s ballistic missiles project. On that issue, too, Iran has already backed down in a series of public statements by top military and political officials including Khamenei himself. Major-General Muhammad-Hussein Baqeri-Afshardi, Chief of Staff of Iranian Forces, has said that Iran has no plan to develop missiles with a range beyond the current 2,400 kilometers already tested.

Iranian Nuclear Deal: Trump’s Concerns and Macron’s New Deal

Trump’s third concern is about the so-called “sunset” clauses in the CJPOA that would allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons after periods spanning 10 to 25 years. According to Pars sources, Macron has told Trump that the Europeans would try to persuade Iran to accept an “indefinite abandonment” of any nuclear project with a military dimension. This could be done through an addendum to the existing text achieved through separate negotiations.

The consensus in Western diplomatic circles is that Iran will accept such concessions because it sees little practical difference between “indefinite” and “25 years” as limits. In any case, for almost 40 years Tehran lived from one crisis to another. What matters now is to wait-out the Trump episode in the hope that the next US elections would weaken Trump and strengthen those in the US Democratic Party who seek a long-term settlement with Iran.

Trump’s fourth concern is about Iran’s alleged support for terrorist groups across the world. There, too, the Islamic Republic, its propaganda notwithstanding, seems ready to abide as it did on a number of occasions in the past. A tactical adjustment would enable Tehran to sit-out the Trump presidency without risking the loss of goodwill on the part of the Europeans. Despite boastful comments by Rouhani, no one in Tehran believes that in a direct clash between Iran and the US the Europeans will take Iran’s side.

According to French sources, Macron has advanced two major arguments to persuade Trump to adopt a more “nuanced and sophisticated” stance on the Iran issue.

The first is that Iran may be heading for a difficult transition with the “Supreme Guide” Khamenei being scripted out by natural or political events, providing an opening for elements in Tehran who seek normalization with the outside world.

The second argument is that the West, under US leadership, needs to focus on the growing threat from Russia something that cannot be done if the current “coolness” between Washington and European allies continues. The US cannot perform its task as guarantor of international order solely by relying on a couple of regional allies plus, perhaps, Japan as is the case at the moment.

In the bigger picture, Iran is an annoying diversion that can be frozen for the time being. In its Article 28, the CJPOA insists on its implementation in “form and spirit” something that neither Iran nor the other participants have done so far. Therefore, there is no need to bury the corpse when an “addendum” could be worked out with Tehran.

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