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Davidson writes: "Donald Trump's decision this week to violate the United States' obligations under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal came as no surprise in Europe."

Emmanuel Macron. (photo: Frederick Floran)
Emmanuel Macron. (photo: Frederick Floran)

Trump's Manufactured Crisis

By Derek Davidson, Jacobin

13 May 18

By pulling out of the Iran deal and reimposing sanctions, Trump has invented a crisis that could push the United States toward war.

onald Trump’s decision this week to violate the United States’s obligations under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal came as no surprise in Europe. French president Emmanuel Macron spent three days in Washington in late April lobbying Trump to leave the accord alone and instead direct his energies toward negotiating a new “grand bargain,” one that would limit Iran’s missile program; penalize its support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Yemen’s Houthi rebels, and the Syrian government; and extend some of the deal’s time-limited provisions (its so-called “sunset clauses”). On his way out of Washington, Macron effectively declared that he’d failed to sway Trump. Additional cajoling from British prime minister Theresa May and German chancellor Angela Merkel had no effect either. In the end, all three European leaders reportedly agreed to meet Trump’s demands. It still wasn’t enough.

Yet the way Trump chose to pull out of the agreement — by immediately re-imposing all US sanctions that had been levied prior to the deal’s implementation and leaving the door open for additional sanctions beyond that — may have been a bit surprising. Trump had a range of options. He chose the most extreme. If the New York Times is accurate, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo contacted his European counterparts late last week to inform them of Trump’s decision, he also told them he was working to convince Trump to delay an announcement for two weeks to give US and European diplomats a chance to keep negotiating on Macron’s grand bargain. They believed that Pompeo preferred a softer withdrawal from the agreement, whereby Trump would take some time before re-implementing sanctions. Whatever their impressions might have been, that’s not what came to pass.

Macron and company’s reaction to Trump’s move matters, because the survival of the nuclear accord now rests with Europe. Both Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have suggested that Iran could choose to remain bound by the agreement — which, in return for sanctions relief, restricts the size and scope of Iran’s nuclear program and subjects it to thorough international inspections — despite US violations. Iran has fully complied with the deal to date, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. But both Rouhani and Khamenei say Iran will remain party to the accord only if it continues to see some benefit from doing so. Russia and, more importantly, China are likely to continue doing business with Iran whether or not the deal remains in place, though Saudi Arabia may be able to pry Beijing and Tehran apart to some degree. So that leaves Europe as the wild card.

As their last-minute attempts to sway Trump show, and their comments after his announcement reinforce, European leaders support the Iran deal both as a way to tamp down tensions over Iran’s nuclear program and because it opens up new business opportunities for European firms in Iran. European foreign ministers have arranged a “crisis meeting” with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for Monday to make their case for maintaining the accord. But realistically it will be difficult for Europe not to succumb to US sanctions pressure. Many of the reimposed penalties are “secondary sanctions,” wherein the United States assumes the right to punish foreign entities that attempt to do business with or in Iran. Firms that disregard these sanctions could be subject to harsh penalties that would lock them out of the US market or, worse, out of the US financial system.

While some European companies have made deals with Iran since the deal took effect and sanctions were lifted, access to the Iranian market, relatively small and bedeviled by challenging bureaucratic rules and high levels of corruption, simply isn’t worth the risk of running afoul of US sanctions. European governments could reinstate “blocking statutes” that actually prohibit their firms from abiding by US sanctions, or they could even threaten retaliatory sanctions against US firms. European leaders have begun talking about implementing such measures, but the reality is that they cannot completely insulate companies from US penalties. And the United States may respond forcefully to any European response — the conservative Weekly Standard reported on Thursday that congressional Republicans are already circulating an “external memo” outlining ways that the United States could retaliate against European efforts to undercut Iran sanctions.

The other major player in this new, US-manufactured crisis, Israel, appears to be doing what it can to support Trump’s decision. Shortly after Trump’s announcement, missiles suspected to be Israeli struck multiple targets in Syria related to Iran’s military presence in that country. The next day saw an exchange of artillery fire between the Israelis and someone inside Syria, possibly Iran’s Quds Force though Iranian media says it was the Syrian military. That exchange is now being treated in the West as an unprovoked Iranian attack against Israel (never mind that Israel has been striking Iranian targets in Syria for months).

These Israeli strikes are meant not to trigger a full-on war, which Israel doesn’t want, but to goad Iran into a response that turns Europe against it and helps ensure that the Europeans lose whatever appetite they might currently have to challenge Trump’s sanctions. The goal, for Netanyahu, is to stuff Iran back into the diplomatic box and, ultimately, to force regime change in Tehran by whatever means necessary. If that means war — so long as the war is between Iran and the United States and not Iran and Israel — then so be it. And if it gives Netanyahu’s polling numbers a boost in the process, even better.

If we assume the worst — that European promises to Iran will ultimately prove empty or at least insufficient to motivate Iran to continue abiding by the deal — then we can expect that at some point Tehran will exit the nuclear accord. Under the accord, Iran agreed to be subject to the “Additional Protocol” of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which grants the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expanded rights to inspect Iranian facilities to ensure Tehran is not working on a nuclear weapon. These inspections are important not just for monitoring Iran’s activity, but for undercutting the ability of hawks in the US to concoct stories about Iran’s nuclear program in an effort to foment conflict.

If Iran were to now reject the expanded inspections along with the rest of the deal, if it were to take the next step and kick IAEA inspectors out of the country, it would undoubtedly be taken as proof that the Iranians are racing to build a bomb. We saw this scenario play out two decades ago in Iraq, so we should be pretty familiar with where it ends. The absence of proof that Iran is not building a bomb will be taken in Washington as proof that it must be building a bomb. In Riyadh, it will be taken as a green light to pursue their own nuclear arsenal, a scenario about which the Trump administration apparently has no particular thoughts.

The signs of escalation are already mounting. The day after announcing his plan to violate the deal, Trump told reporters that he “would advise Iran not to start their nuclear program.” Does he mean Iran’s civilian nuclear program, or the nuclear weapons program Trump assumes they have, absent any evidence and contrary to the conclusions of multiple Western intelligence agencies? Or is he deliberately conflating the two in order to confuse the issue and make it easier to justify taking harsher actions against Iran?

You can expect to see more ambiguous statements coming out of this White House, and probably more “errors” like the “typo” the White House press office made in a press release a couple of weeks ago that changed the sentence “Iran had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program” to “Iran has a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program.” That’s a pretty big difference. Maybe the difference between war and peace. your social media marketing partner


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+7 # BetaTheta 2018-05-13 10:28
Trump has one great, overriding imperative: To appear "tough." This New York street-brawler instinct gives no credence to rational considerations.
+1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-05-13 11:24
"The other major player in this new, US-manufactured crisis, Israel, appears to be doing what it can to support Trump’s decision."

I think it is more likely that the decision was made in Israel by Netanyahoo and Trump is just following orders -- against the better judgment of all the rest of the signers of the agreement with Iran. Israel was not a signer to this agreement. Israel has not signed the nuclear non-proliferati on treaty. Israel has developed nuclear bombs and has now about 400 bombs.

Withdrawing from the agreement was really stupid on Trump's part. It is likely that Iran will continue to uphold the terms of the agreement and will continue with good relations with Europe. This will isolate the US. Its only friends now will be the outlaw and criminal states of Israel and Saudi Arabia. Israel will very likely try to push the US into a war against Iran.

Iran is moving closer and closer to Russia and China as trading partners. The world is being divided between the US and its few friends and all the rest of the world. There will be informal trade sanctions against the US/Israel/Saudi . Nations will simply prefer not to trade with these rogue states. The dollar is being replaced by the petro-yuan and by gold. The majority of the world will progress into the 21 century. The US and its few friends will remain in the state of permanent war and self-adulation. The Israelis and Saudis are particularly good at this last.
-12 # 2018-05-13 12:00
"Donald Trump’s decision this week to violate the United States’s obligations under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal" is quite clearly an example of a misleading assumption.

As both our allies in Europe and Asia and the Iranian regime were clearly aware, the agreement was not between the US and the rest of the world but between the Obama Administration and the rest of the world. At the time President Obama signed it, both the majority of Americans and our elected Congress disapproved of it. It is foolish to assert that unilateral action by one President should bind all future Presidents. I may not like Trump very much but he was under no obligation to adhere to Obama's (and Kerry's) personal commitments. In fact, just to make certain that everyone was aware of the lack of reliability of the agreement, Congressional Republicans had publicly informed the ruling regime in Iran in writing -- an action that, at the time, drew strong criticism for those backing the agreement.

The agreement has not resulted in less Iranian sponsored terrorism or an improvement in Iranian civil liberties (as had been promised by Obama and Kerry) and the $1.8b in cash we released to Iran went directly to sponsoring more terrorist activities in the middle east rather than to the hard-pressed citizens of Iran.

Trump is merely following the will of the American people.

Lee Nason
New Bedford, Massachusetts
-1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-05-14 10:20
Lee. I have to disagree with you on this. Iran is not a sponsor of terrorism. The opposite is true -- Israel and John Bolton's people, the MEK, are the terrorists. Israel has assassinated Iranian scientists and has been rather open about it. The Israeli bombings in Syria of Iranians are terrorist acts, or they are acts of war.

The JCPOA was a bad deal only because Iran was not developing a nuclear bomb. It did however prevent the calls for war and regime change against Iran. Now those calls are back, and right now there's probably better than a 50% chance the US will go to war against Iran just because Netanyahoo wants it. Oh, and being bound by one political leader - how about the several million people who will be killed by Netanyahoo's decision to have a war. There won't be any next congress or next president who can un-do their deaths.
+3 # librarian1984 2018-05-14 11:09
Play with words but, like the government shutdowns and the Senate GOP's open letter to Iran, all this does is make us look stupid and unreliable.

At some point actions like this will convince the other countries of the world to adopt another international currency, and when the petrodollar becomes the petroeuro or petroyuan, American sh!t is going to hit the fan.

We're the only industrialized nation whose debt is rising this year, thanks to the GOP tax legislation. Other countries are recovering (from the crisis WE caused), but since Republicans give tax cuts during war and tax cuts during recessions and tax cuts during recovery, in the US, by contrast, our debt is climbing, life expectancy is going down, infant mortality is going up and wages are STILL stagnant as corporations use their cuts to fund bonuses, dividends and stock buybacks.

The Republicans are doing to the country what they've just done to KS. Ask Kansans how they're liking the 4-day school week, etc.

Trump and his cronies are robbing US blind. He's NOT doing what his supporters want, or the other citizens he's supposed to represent. And since when does ANYONE in DC care what voters want? We want universal background checks, decent healthcare and clean elections too. Who's working on that?
+2 # Salus Populi 2018-05-14 11:49
The fact that U.S. presidents feel themselves not to be bound by the agreements their predecessors have signed or orally agreed to, or for that matter even those they themselves have agreed to, is what sets the U.S. apart from other nations, and makes it "exceptional," or in plain English, a rogue nation that is never to be trusted or negotiated with by anyone possessing a rational mind.

Whether it be the reparations Nixon promised to Vietnam, the dozen or more promises to Gorbachev that NATo would not take advantage of the Russian agreement to waive its legal right to object to and prevent German reunification, the abrogation of the anti missile treaty by Bush, the Annex B to the Rambouillet Accords, the scores or hundreds of treaties with indigenous peoples here in the U.S., the relegation by Bush and Cheney of the Geneva Accords to relics of the past that need not be adhered to, the six or seven times it betaryed the Kurds and promises made to them, or any other of the numerous times the U.S. has made a habit of reneging on any and all its obligations under law and contract, the U.S. has plainly shown that nothing whatsoever that it says, promises, signs, ratifies, or commits itself to should or can be trusted.

Hence, Iran should not negotiate any "grand bargain" or anything at all with the U.S., but if the Mullahs have any sense, they will stick by their resolve to abandon the petrodollar and any attempt to appease the DC terrorist regime, and go their own way.
+8 # Krackonis 2018-05-13 14:17
We may have no choice but to work around the USA and work around its economy.

They are losing diplomatic ground so fast now it may not be feasible to be constantly threatened by the USA. Best to just let them isolate themselves.
-2 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-05-14 19:21
The US pretty much controls the entire banking system in the world. Sanctioned nations like N. Korea or Iran simply cannot use any bank in the world because once the US finds that a bank is allowing a sanctioned nation to open an account, it will shut that bank down by preventing it from using dollars. The US dollar is the worst form of tyranny in the world not. Nations like Venezuela are being strangled. Creating a new global currency is the most important thing right now. China's new petro yuan. Someday it may replace or displace the US dollar. Then the world will be a much better place.
+1 # Salus Populi 2018-05-15 18:47
Qaddafi's attempt to do an end run around the dollar immediately preceded the sudden need to overthrow his regime and arrange for him to be tortured to death, so that the ISIL, founded with the aid of the U.S. to overthrow Syria's government, another of the several outside the global U.S./UK controlled banking system, could get plenty of arms for its tasks of butchery. It is not merely that the U.S. will strangle other economies to enforce the banksters' tyranny; it will also bomb, invade, undermine, sabotage, and assassinate the officials of the victim country in order to carry out its will.
-2 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-05-16 07:18
Here's Kim Jong-un saying that N. Korea will not be like Libya or Iraq. He understands how the US works. The problem is that the US won't change, so nothing in US - N. Korean relations can change. The only chance is that N and S Korea and unify on their own and just leave the US out of the equation.

"'Our country is not Libya or Iraq': N. Korea may reconsider Trump-Kim summit if guaranteed safety"

No one trusts the US anymore. I don't see how that can be a good thing for the US.
+4 # Kootenay Coyote 2018-05-13 21:13
USA is manifestly doing all it can to stumble into another bootless war. It is horrifying to stand outside & see the momentum being built, lie by lie, insult by insult, & offence by offence. I suppose, too, all this while Kim Il Jong is looking on & drawing his own conclusions about the USA’s record for observing nuclear deals of this sort. So is the rest of the world. More lights going out.
-1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-05-14 19:17
I don't see how Kim can make any deal with the US. It won't keep its side. Bush broke the deal Clinton made with N. Korea. The US only makes deals in order to disarm the other side so that it can more easily destroy them in a war.
-1 # Salus Populi 2018-05-16 14:05
It may not be good for the U.S. and transnational plutocracy, but that pretty much means it's good for both the rest of humanity -- and even the U.S. population [in the long run]. When the seats at the table are occupied by sociopathic liars and brigands, only a fool would sit down and attempt to treat with such scum.

As I posted upstream, the U.S. ruling elite has never once shown itself to be trustworthy; much as the Israelis pretend they have no one to negotiate with, the U.S.-centered imperial court considers the rest of humanity to be nothing more than cockroaches, beneath even notice, let alone contempt.

The fact that they are still required to hold elections is the sole reason they even make a pretense of caring about anyone besides themselves, and treating with anyone outside of their own stratospheric social circles.

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