Exactly a year ago, on May 8, 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump took a pivotal decision on pulling his country unilaterally out of the international nuclear agreement on the Iran nuclear deal brokered by international mediators — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany. Trump claimed that the Administration of his predecessor in the Oval Office, Barack Obama, had made a gross error by giving consent to peace with Tehran. He dismissed as the worst imaginable deal the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that the P5+1 had signed with Iran and that Obama believed to be one of his main foreign policy accomplishments. Trump’s zeal remained unabated by the arguments put forward by European leaders, including British Prime Minister Theresa May, Germany’s Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, who called on him to refrain from throwing many years of best diplomatic efforts into the dustbin. Trump persisted in the firm conviction that the Iranian nuclear program was not peaceful and was jeopardizing the U.S. national interests.
A range of unilateral sanctions and harsh restrictive steps followed on the part of the U.S. soon. It aimed to reduce the Iranian economy to naught and to instigate a regime change in the Islamic Republic of Iran. But anyone claiming the sanctions have shown exceptional efficacy will be mistaken.
White House’s five mishits after withdrawal from JCPOA
First, if one takes a look at the demand for diplomatic solidarity or even subduing to the will of the Big Brother – a status the U.S. attributes to itself in relations with Europe – the miscalculations of Trump’s team become self-apparent. All other signatories – China, France, Germany, Russia, and the UK – spoke in support of the agreement with Iran after the U.S. had abandoned it. The EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, said on numerous occasions that there was no annulling unilaterally the agreement endorsed by all members of the UN Security Council.
Thus, the most powerful European nations withheld solidarity with the U.S. decision to leave the Iran nuclear deal. It was not only the obligations under the signed international document that compelled the European troika to stay committed to the deal rather than follow Trump in the footsteps. Another compelling factor was the ultimatum that the Iranians themselves came up with after the U.S. President’s decision to pull out of JCPOA.
Otherwise the Europeans would have fallen into a financial debt trap that the Americans had set for them. In addition to the political guarantees and Europe’s condemnation of the US encroachments of the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, the Iranians demanded efficacious counteraction to the U.S. sanctions against them. In case of inaction, Europe was to guarantee a full compensation for the damage inflicted by the U.S. sanctions. And the Europeans chose to side with Iran.
As for Russia and China, the two main ideological and political opponents of Washington, they have always maintained independent positions. That is why they expressed solidarity with Iran on the JCPOA.
Add to it the findings of numerous inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that had shown Iran’s commitment to its obligations under the nuclear deal, the absence of any violations on its part, and the exceptionally peaceful character of its nuclear program. The fact added more weight to Tehran in the eyes of its European partners and the international community. As a result, the U.S. lost much more on the diplomatic plane that Iran did. The main blow was dealt to America’s status and trustworthiness as a country capable of staying loyal to its own commitments.
Secondly, Iran managed to get confirmation of its rights at the level of international courts, for the first time ever during the decades of the standoff with the U.S. Tehran won several court actions against Washington, beginning with the case on the return of ancient historic artifacts looted by the Americans and up to the denial by the Luxembourg court of the U.S. right to hold back the Iranian assets, as well as a partial entertaining of Tehran’s lawsuit against the U.S. over the reintroduction of sanctions.
Thirdly, the Americans did not manage to stifle and paralyze the Iranian economy through sanctions in full. Trump put stakes on economic pressure and hence he meted out the unilateral sanctions that banned any bank transactions with the Iranians or operations involving currency. He threatened with heavy-handed punishments to the companies that would dare trade with Iran in bypass of the American sanctions. A number of important international economic operators, including European ones, left the Iranian market.
But along with it Trump’s restrictive measures damaged American companies, too.Boeing that had signed an agreement on supplying a fleet of jets to Iran was forced to give up the multimillion plan. A number of American high-tech and pharmaceutical companies that had been supplying medicines and medical equipment to Iran stopped their exports to the country.
This step that was tantamount to an act of aggression and inhumaneness towards the sick people intensified the public quarters’ discontent with the U.S.
On the backdrop of this situation, some Europeans were not scared by the threats of punishment from Washington. They came up with a proposal to devise and enact a special mechanism for transactions under commercial agreements with Iran in bypass of U.S. sanctions (INSTEX – Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges).
Turkey, too, may follow the Europeans, as it wishes to build up its trade turnover with the Islamic Republic. Turkish Foreign Minister
Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu stated Ankara’s readiness to consider possible mechanisms for commercial transactions with Iran similar to INSTEX.
A number of countries – Iraq, China, India, and Russia – made public their readiness to do payments in the national currencies and to renounce the U.S. dollar forever or to sign swap contracts (barter deals) in some situations in bypass of the sanctions. The latter method would allow them to exchange commodities or services without the use of foreign currencies.
Fourthly, the embargo on Iranian oil did not stop its sales. Incidentally, this embargo casts the threat of an energy disaster on the whole world. Initially, when Trump imposed sanctions on the purchases of Iranian oil on November 5, 2018, he also issued provisional ‘waivers’ to a group of nine Iranian oil friends – India, China, Taiwan, Turkey, South Korea, Japan, Greece, Italy, and Iraq, who had an opportunity to purchase unlimited volumes of Iranian crude at lucrative prices.
In the situation as it was, Iran resorted to special gambits. Apart from swap contracts with separate importers of its oil, it brought into play the so-called ghost tankers – the oil-carrying ships without identification signals, the routes of which the U.S. tracking systems are unable to make out. The tactic gave one more opportunity to the Iranians to bypass the sanctions.
In fact, Iran proved its capability to summon all the resources for selling its oil in the ‘grey market’. Along with it, Iranian deputy oil minister Amir Hossein Zamaninia said, “This isn’t smuggling. This is countering the sanctions which we don’t see as just or legitimate.”
After a period of six months, Trump decided to drop the oil ‘waivers’ for five countries. They are no longer in effect for China, India, South Korea, and Turkey, the White House said in a statement. A number of countries condemned the U.S. action.
Iran responded to the full embargo by threatening to block the Strait of Hormuz, the only body of water linking the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean and providing a transport route for deliveries of Gulf oil to the markets. This step might bring about a global energy collapse.
Last but not least, some of the U.S. constrictive steps might have had a definite impact of the Iranian economy at the first stages, but Iranian officials say the situation also gave an impulse for development of own manufacturing in the long term and thus for reaching full cost-effectiveness in a number of sectors.
Atlantic winds of war winnowing the Gulf
Trump eventually ran out of all the tools for psychological, informational and economic pressure on Iran and made up his mind to go over to the last instrument on his menu, which is military confrontation. On April 8, the U.S. placed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the elitist branch of the Iranian Armed Forces, on the list of overseas terrorist organizations. The authorities explained for the move by claiming the corps was actively engaged in terrorist operations and was financing and promulgating terrorism as an instrument of state policies.
The Iranian supreme national security council reacted to it by adding U.S. CENTCOM to the list of terrorist organizations. The national parliament ratified all the fourteen provisions of the bill by a majority vote on April 23 and President Hasan Rouhani signed it into law on April 30.
As the final chord in this confrontation, Washington passed a decision to dispatch a naval strike force and bombers to CENTCOM’s theater of operations, as it had allegedly received information from Israel on the ostensible Iranian plans to launch attacks on U.S. forces. All the signs are there that the U.S. is warming up for a battle in the Gulf. Tehran has refrained from comments on the U.S. actions so far. It has taken the position of a dragon that is lying in wait and is not succumbing to provocations.
It is expected that Iran will make the first dramatic move by taking steps on the nuclear deal, which President Rouhani is about to make public very shortly. Iran has been preparing for this moment for the past four decades and it has fully analyzed the past mishaps. It is highly unlikely therefore that Tehran will allow the Americans to prowl its territorial waters or to commit any acts of aggression.