Trump’s impeachment will embolden Iran to stand its ground over diplomatic crisis

The American and Iranian presidents see a bilateral meeting from completely opposite perspectives

Negar Mortazavi
Diplomatic correspondent, Washington DC
Thursday 26 September 2019 01:16
Comments
Iran president Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations general assembly
Iran president Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations general assembly

There is no chance of a meeting between Donald Trump and Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations this week in New York.

Trump is not willing to give up his maximum pressure on Iran before he gets a meeting, and Mr Rouhani is not willing to meet before the pressure is lifted.

And the new talk of Trump’s impeachment in congress will now further reduce the possibility of direct talks between Tehran and Washington. The American and Iranian presidents see a bilateral meeting from completely opposite perspectives.

Trump, a longtime businessman, sees a face-to-face meeting as the starting point. It’s a way for him to build a relationship and then move forward to make deals. Rouhani, a longtime statesman, sees a one-on-one meeting as the ending point. He wants to get something concrete, before he shakes hands in front of cameras.

Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council in Washington, says there was never a chance for a Rouhani-Trump meeting at the UN and that it was hyped by both sides to increase a sense of drama.

She told The Independent Iran believes it is the aggrieved not the aggressor, because Trump is the one who left the nuclear deal.

“Iran has been very clear that absent some sort of sanctions relief it will not reward a scandal-ridden president with a meeting,” she said. Ms Slavin believes the French president Emmanuel Macron has made “heroic efforts” but neither he, the Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan or anyone else can overcome Iran’s basic demand.

“My own view is that Iran will hobble along and wait to see if Trump is impeached or defeated next November,” she added.

While the two presidents are not going to talk to each other at the United Nations, they have communicated through their speeches at the general assembly.

Trump first bashed Iran at the podium for “sponsoring terrorism”, threatened to tighten sanctions if Iran continues its behaviour in the region, and asked other governments to not “subsidise Iran’s bloodlust”. Then he extended an olive branch, saying the United States does not believe in forever enemies, signalling that he wants to build a relationship with Iranian leaders and things could change if they meet with him.

Rouhani did the same at the podium the next day. He first accused the United States of stoking conflict in the Middle East and hurting Iranian women and children with “economic terrorism”. He then suggested that Iranians want peace, explaining that negotiations with the US can restart once the White House lifts sanctions and eases the pressure on Tehran.

Rouhani even acknowledged Trump’s disdain for the nuclear deal as Barack Obama’s legacy, saying, “if you are sensitive to the name of the JCPOA, you can return to its framework” and lift sanctions.

Pouya Alimagham, a historian of the Middle East at MIT, thinks Rouhani and his foreign minister Javad Zarif have risked their entire political careers on this nuclear agreement. He says the Iranian electorate voted for Rouhani in 2013 on the promise with engagement with the world, and again in 2017 on the promise that they will enjoy the economic relief promised under the 2015 nuclear agreement.

Mr Alimagham told The Independent: “All the while, Iranian conservatives had been saying that the nuclear agreement is a fool’s errand – that the US government’s signature is not worth the paper on which its written. With President Trump subverting the agreement, the conservatives feel vindicated, and Rouhani and Zarif have been undermined.”

He added that for Rouhani to now reward Trump by giving him what he wants, a photo op, without the promise of anything tangible in return is for them to further undermine themselves.

Trump wants a strong foreign policy victory ahead of the 2020 election. But the Iranians have every reason to distrust him and do not want to give him a victory without anything in return.

Mr Alimagham says “confidence-building measures, especially with the power that holds almost all the leverage, is necessary. The US can reinstate the waivers so that Iran can sell some of its oil and not obstruct the French offer of $15bn credit line.” Since Trump was the one who scrapped the nuclear deal and imposed unilateral, crippling sanctions on Iran, the goodwill should also begin with him.

In the middle of the US-Iran standoff are European powers – Britain, France and Germany – who are trying to de-escalate tensions and bring the two sides together. President Macron tried to convince the Iranian president that it will be a “lost opportunity” if he leaves New York without meeting Trump because he will not come back to New York in a few months and Trump will not go to Tehran. Boris Johnson also tried to convince Rouhani to meet Trump while they are both at the UN, telling him: “You need to be on the side of the swimming pool and jump at the same time.”

William Luers, a former US ambassador and president of the United Nations Association of the USA, thinks the standoff is on a perilous course, and sanctions relief remains the obstacle to de-escalation. He told The Independent that the US will not reduce sanctions and Iran will not move forward without some easing.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

Mr Luers said: “Zarif continues to have authority to do this and President Trump takes pride in his ability to have freed American prisoners.” Such negotiations could open a “new much-needed channel” he added.

There is not much hope for a breakthrough between Tehran and Washington while the two presidents are in New York. But continued European mediation could help break the ice and eventually open the door for more sustainable diplomacy. Iran and the US seem to be far away in their positions. But neither side wants to end up in a war with the other, and that can be a good starting point.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in