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Time for New Policy on Iran

In spite of Trump’s avowed distaste for the nuclear deal with Iran — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — Obama’s ‘echo chamber’ is still reverberating with no shortage of ‘experts’ taking to the web to claim that the re-negotiation is impossible and tearing it up would have a range of consequences from a more rapidly nuclear-armed Iran to international distrust in the U.S.’ future deal-making. There are a number of assumptions underpinning these positions which need urgent unpicking.”

The JCPOA eased sanctions on Iran, and released $150 billion in frozen assets, in exchange for limitations on its capacity to enrich uranium and other fissile material.

When Iran yet again exceeded the limit placed on heavy water, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) just last week told Iran that it was risking the nuclear deal with the West. This comes after many accusations that Iran has broken the spirit of the nuclear deal.

“Thus, Trump’s critics would do well to remind themselves that Iran has a history of breaking agreements, and, moreover, a history of clandestine nuclear activity.

Most important in countering the defeatism with which Iran has been approached by Washington élites is to unpick the hidden assumptions which surround the JCPOA. The JCPOA was meant to address one aspect of Iran’s problematic behavior in hopes that the mere act of resolution could lead to moderation in other areas,” Miller writes. 

Evidence is clear a year on, the JCPOA cannot. In the UN’s words, Iran is experiencing “a new wave of oppression” at home and increasing its adventurism abroad.

Once it’s understood that fundamental driver of the Iranian élite is regime survival, all assumptions about moderation dissolve. Tehran hijacked a popular revolution through force of arms. This illegitimacy is what propels the regime to repression at home and expansion abroad.

The factional fighting and the personalities within these factions, are, in the words of a 1990 State Department cable, “interchangeable parts of a machine.”  These factions are the means of survival, and the fight is about how best to maintain the regime, not reform it. To truly reform is to lose power.

Miller says, “To understand this dynamic is to understand that there is no prospect of moderation, and, thus, that the wider ambitions of the JCPOA were always a chimera.

As for the risk to the U.S.’ standing as a dealmaker, any glance at the history of the West’s foreign policy towards Iran reveals each Western capitol criticizing the others for concessions to Iran while each making their own unholy deals to avoid the pain of terrorism or to gain a corner of the Iranian marketplace. Leadership in policy towards Iran is long overdue.”  She adds, “The dirty little secret of Western political élites is that Iran has outplayed them for nearly 40 years, dangling the prospect of moderation as the carrot and the threat of terrorism as the stick for a torrent of concessions to the regime’s ambitions.”

Whether it is the retrieval of U.S. citizens from Lebanon or Evin Prison, or a brake on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, long-term goals have always been sacrificed to the short-term.

Western governments must recognize that an alternative presents itself. In the past, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK) were demonized in exchange for concessions from Iran. By allowing this, Western governments have strengthened the security of what is an inherently weak regime.

However, many of the MEK’s supporters are among U.S. decision-makers who were won over by its political sophistication and the diversity of its Iranian supporters. What the MEK wants is a chance for democracy to take hold in Iran, whether the result benefits them or not.

“It should also be noted, when apologists for the Iranian government attempt to say it has no popular standing in Iran, that it was the MEK which exposed the regime’s nuclear program. To penetrate the most secretive part of the state in the most comprehensive of ways demonstrates the depth and breadth of support the MEK has inside Iran,” says Miller. 

What gives the lie to its insignificance is the fact that the regime always puts the MEK on the negotiating table as a “diplomatic commodity,” in Ambassador Lincoln Bloomfield’s words.

Iran had the U.S. “for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” the CIA once concluded. 

And Miller concludes, “If President Trump can unpick the long-held but faulty assumptions of U.S. policy towards Iran and appreciate the regime’s weaknesses and the MEK’s strengths, not least its anti-fundamentalist agenda, he can bring a lasting stability to the region — with all the attendant benefits for U.S. security.”


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