The title of this post is from the song Like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan. I was reminded of it when reading news reports that Iran announced that it has exceeded the amount of low-enrichment uranium that they had agreed to under the deal arrived during the Obama administration between them and the US, Russia, China, UK, France, and Germany. Iran later announced that they were also going to enrich the uranium to higher levels than specified under the agreement.
Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, told reporters on Sunday that Iran would start enriching uranium for its Bushehr power plant to 5 percent, higher than the 3.67 percent agreed to in the deal. Before the 2015 deal was reached, Iran produced uranium enriched to 20 percent before the deal, a fraction of the 90 percent needed for nuclear weapons.
Iran will continue to reduce its commitments to the deal every 60 days unless the other countries that signed on to the landmark 2015 agreement — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — provide sanctions relief, according to the BBC.
Iran says that while they were complying with their end of the deal, the other side had not only not done what they promised, such as easing sanctions, the US had even withdrawn from the deal and increased the sanctions, and kept making threats of yet more sanctions and even military attacks. It looks like Iran has simply had enough. They are saying that they have gained nothing by sticking with their end of the deal and are being threatened with even greater losses.
The Trump administration on Sunday vowed to continue “maximum pressure” on Iran after the nation announced it would start enriching uranium beyond limits set under the nuclear 2015 deal, but the U.S. has few options when it comes to curbing Iran from producing a nuclear weapon.
After withdrawing the U.S. from the international nuclear agreement in 2018, President Donald Trump repeatedly said he wanted to negotiate a new deal with Iran, but he has continued to impose harsh sanctions and move troops to the region for possible military options.
Iran’s brazen move on Sunday threatens to put the U.S. and its allies back where they were before the deal — with no comprehensive restrictions on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Hossein Mousavian, a former member of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, says that the blame for this situation can be placed squarely on Donald Trump.
In May 2018, the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was designed to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and had been agreed on after 12 years of exhaustive negotiations.
The US began to impose new economic and political sanctions, targeting not just various sectors of the Iranian economy, but the state’s most influential entities and actors. The imposition of these sanctions has virtually killed off the possibility of diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis and will have political consequences for not just Iran and the US, but the whole region. The current situation is extremely fraught, with Iran responding to aggressive actions by increasing its level of uranium enrichment.
Next, in an unprecedentedly aggressive action, the Trump administration has imposed sanctions on Iran’s ultimate source of authority according to its constitution, namely the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Just as in the US the president has the authority to determine the general trajectory of foreign policy, the supreme leader in Iran is the one who sets the foreign policy of that country. Let’s not forget it was the supreme leader who allowed direct negotiation with the US over the nuclear issue in the first place. By sanctioning Ali Khamenei, Trump has effectively killed off any chance of diplomatic rapprochement so long as he is in office. And it is not only the political leadership of Ali Khamenei that is relevant here; he is also a religious scholar with millions of Shia Muslim followers – not just in Iran, but Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Bahrain and elsewhere.
In addition, last week, the treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Trump administration was looking to levy penalties against Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, who trained in the US and is one of the most distinguished career diplomats in Iran’s recent history. Zarif has been compared to the popular prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh, who nationalised Iran’s oil industry and was deposed in 1953 in a coup organised by Britain and the US. Sanctioning Zarif is a mistake if the US ever wants to reengage with Iran, because he is in charge of the diplomatic channels that would be necessary to resolve this crisis. As Wendy Sherman, who led the US negotiating team in the talks that led to the 2015 accord, put it: “I can’t think of anything that makes less sense than sanctioning a key person who might actually be helpful if there is ever a dialogue with the US.”
I actually think that Trump would like to avoid a war with Iran, not because he likes peace, but because he vowed to get America out of its current wars. He has utterly failed to do that but may be hoping that his supporters do not notice that broken promise. Starting a new war would be something else altogether. But he has surrounded himself with people who are itching to start a war with Iran and he has taken actions that are setting the stage for war. When you deliberately try to strangle a nation’s entire economy, as Trump has done with the economic sanctions and trying to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero, you have essentially given that nation no choice but to defy you. This is what happens when you not only negotiate in bad faith but push the other party into a corner where they feel that they have nothing more to lose. Of course, a war will cause immense suffering to the Iranian people. But you should never force a person or a nation to choose between a slow death or a quick death because you cannot predict the outcome. Furthermore, a US attack on Iran would create blowback in many different ways.
What has puzzled me is the somewhat passive role of the other five countries to the deal. The UK I can understand. It is, and always will be, the lapdog of the US, doing what the US wants even if it means humiliating themselves. France and Germany occasionally show signs of some independence but invariably end up toeing the US line.
But what about Russia and China? Perhaps Vladimir Putin cynically thinks that Russia might benefit from a war in the Persian Gulf that sends oil prices skyrocketing. But China would be hurt by that. Why isn’t it taking a more active role?
Maybe there are frantic negotiations going on behind the scenes. One can only hope.