Donald Trump has surrounded himself with hardliners in his administration who have openly called for bombing Iran and carrying out regime change, says a new report, which also warns of the possibility of a military confrontation being engineered through provocative action.
Senior members of the US administration, which has pulled out of the nuclear deal with Tehran unilaterally, have vocalised its desire to destroy the agreement and cripple the Iranian economy in the process, the document prepared by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) points out.
The report holds, however, that there is a chance of averting a violent scenario following the American midterm elections, which have given the Democrats control of the House of Representatives. There are Republicans as well as Democrats who are wary of the hawkish approach of some of Mr Trump’s advisers, and a bipartisan approach may pave the way for the deal to be saved and even for Washington to rejoin it in the future.
NIAC, an independent organisation which studies issues involving the US and Iran, reminds readers that the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China, the other signatories to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) have all said repeatedly that Tehran is living by its obligations, as have the United Nations. The Trump administration’s stance, it has pointed out, has caused a serious rift with western allies who are now taking legal and commercial measures to protect international companies from US sanctions.
Re-engaging with Tehran would give the US, with the help of its western allies, the means to address issues of concern such as human rights in Iran and its activities in the region, the report stresses. The imposition of sanctions, it continues, will not only hurt the Iranian people by interrupting the provision of humanitarian supplies like medicine, but bolster anti-western reactionaries.
The British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is in Tehran to press for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian woman who has spent two and half years in jail charged with spying, but he is also raising the issue the issue of Iranian support for Houthis in the Yemen civil war while reiterating the UK’s commitment to the nuclear agreement. Such engagement, it is held, is the right way to address the situation.
Israel and Saudi Arabia, the two states which successfully lobbied Mr Trump to sabotage the JCPOA signed between Tehran and international powers, have long urged Washington to take military action against Iran.
The report reminds how previous administrations had to resist repeated calls for strikes against Iran by Israel and a Sunni bloc. “Every leader I met with in the region,” John Kerry, secretary of state under Barack Obama, recalled, “said, ‘You have to bomb Iran, that is the only thing they understand and that is the only way you will stop them having a nuclear weapon.’” Robert Gates, defence secretary in both the Bush and Obama administrations, said these leaders were hoping to “fight the Iranians to the last American”.
Senior Trump officials who had urged against withdrawing from the nuclear agreement, such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser Lieutenant General HR McMaster, have left the administration. Another moderate voice, General James Mattis, is expected to depart in the near future.
The NIAC report states: “While Trump himself routinely pillories the 2003 decision to invade Iraq, he has surrounded himself with hawks who seek the same fate for Iran. National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have in the past openly called for regime change and bombing Iran.”
Mr Bolton, like Mr Trump, is a Vietnam draft-dodger but has always been a strong advocate of US military action and remains a firm defender of the Iraq invasion. He has stated in the past: “To stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran... The inconvenient truth is that only military action like Israel’s 1981 attacks on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor, designed and built by North Korea, can accomplish what is required.”
The report cautions that the Trump administration could be attempting to provoke Tehran to leave the nuclear agreement. It says: “If they succeed in goading Iran to leave the constraints of the JCPOA, Bolton and Pompeo would have all the ammunition they need to replicate the Iraq war playbook and tee up a preventive war to stop Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions. Even if they fail, the spark for a massive military conflagration with Iran could come from multiple directions in the absence of deconfliction channels.
“A clash in the tight waterways of the Persian Gulf, US manoeuvres to push Iran out of Syria, or Iranian retaliation for perceived foreign support for terror within Iranian borders could be all war hawks in Washington and Riyadh would need to push headlong into a disastrous war.”
NIAC urges Congress to act as speedily as possible: “Given the risks of President Trump and his administration fully collapsing the JCPOA and instigating war with Iran, the work needs to begin now in order to rein in the White House and prevent a disastrous war. In this context, a top priority must be to signal that there is political will in Washington to re-enter the JCPOA.”
Warning of the impact of American punitive action on Iranian politics, the report points out: “The current supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, is also 79 years old and Iran’s various factions are already jockeying over his potential successor.
“The political dynamics inside Iran may well determine how forward-leaning the next administration can be in seeking to resolve remaining sources of conflict with Iran and it is critical that the US acts before it is too late to salvage the JCPOA and with it the political space to pursue diplomatic solutions.”
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