The Step Trump Can Take to Start Talks with Iran

Donald Trump (Shutterstock.com)

by Jalil Bayat

Iran began the second stage of rolling back its nuclear commitments on 7 July, by increasing its uranium enrichment levels from the 3.67 percent limit stipulated by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This was in fact in response to the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA fourteen months ago. Iran waited those fourteen months to give the other signatories to the deal time to neutralize the impact of sanctions that the U.S. reimposed when it quit the deal. As this did not materialize, Iran was forced to begin its stage by stage withdrawal from the JCPOA under its sections 26 and 36.

However, with every step Iran takes to withdraw from the deal it seems new negotiations with world powers become more likely. All parties must prepare for a new round of talks.

On 21 May, I wrote that the two-step strategy adopted by Iran would lead to new talks in due course. Iranian authorities are now indicating that talks could be possible, under one condition. In a telephone conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron on 6 July, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the complete lifting of sanctions could be a new start for Iran and the P5+1. This stance was reiterated by Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, and government spokesperson Ali Rabiei. Araghchi clearly stated the U.S can participate in talks with Iran and the JCPOA’s remaining signatories—provided it lifts the sanctions.

Iran is aware that a continuance of the status quo is not desirable. The pressure of sanctions will only hurt its economy further. Iran’s leaders have concluded that the European Union is unable to counter U.S. pressure and they cannot rely on Europe’s “special purpose vehicle (the “Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges” or INSTEX) or any other options to shield Iranian commerce from sanctions. Also, Iran’s continued resistance could bring Donald Trump to the end of his tether and complicate the tensions between the two countries on a broader scale in the region. So Tehran’s slow withdrawal from the JCPOA is meant not to end the nuclear accord, but to strengthen Iran’s position in any future negotiations.

In turn, the U.S. can lay the groundwork for a new round of talks by lifting or reducing the sanctions. The ball is in Donald Trump’s court. He must be aware that only a lifting of sanctions, and not more sanctions pressure, will bring Iran to the negotiating table. Maximum pressure may hurt Iran’s economy and people, but it will not change the Supreme Leader’s approach. Analysts such as John Mearsheimer even believe that this policy could lead Iran to conclude it must have nuclear weapons.

Trump must also stop insisting on negotiations over Iran’s missile program. That program has been described as Iran’s “red line” by its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which makes it very difficult if not impossible for Iranian leaders to concede parts of it to the United States. Both Iran and North Korea have learned their lesson from the episode of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya not to give up their power tools easily. Gaddafi had halted Libya’s nuclear program under U.S. pressure and sanctions and was ousted a few years later by a U.S.-backed rebellion, after a series of domestic protests and foreign interventions. 

Trump should adopt a realistic approach and start negotiations over less contentious issues. Success in those areas could build confidence for subsequent negotiations over more serious issues. That said, recent hostile incidents in the Persian Gulf have increased tensions between Tehran and Washington and made it more difficult to open new negotiations. And more importantly, the Iranians have made it clear that there can be no new negotiations so long as crippling U.S. sanctions remain in place.

If Trump is seeking a new agreement with Iran, the door is open for diplomacy. The question is, will he decide to walk through it?

Jalil Bayat is a PhD candidate in international relations at Tarbiat Modares University in Tehran.

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8 Comments

  1. Ali Mostofi the B team’s little mouthpiece, You want war?Grab a gun stand in front line or just STF up.

  2. Jalil Bayat

    Americans need to strategically settle with Iran.

    They are not going to do so, they think, quite evidently, that they will be successful in destroying Iran and the Shia’s elements of power and that it would be cheaper too.

    Against the much more substantial Russian Federation, they are pursuing the same goal; except that Russia is not Iran and has many more levers of powers.

    Likewise against China.

    At this time, the Western states are the source of global instability which does not even benefit them – from all appearance – in Ukraine or in Syria or in Moldova or in Kosovo.

  3. The US is not in charge of its foreign policy; billionaire donors like Adelson are. Netanyahu boasts quite openly that he alone convinced Trump to breach and violate the JCPOA in the face of combined world pressure to stay in the deal. US interests are irrelevant they have been pushing for another war for decades.

  4. Mr. Bayat,

    I agree with your reasoned advice. People like ARHAZIAN, however, want to push Iran to war, in line with what Trumpo-Zionism desires. This is why both Israel and the likes of ARHAZIAN (“del-vapasan”) opposed the JCPOA. The solution is for Khamenei to become less despotic, so the 75% of Iran’s people that are frustrated his imposed rule can join the “resistance” against the savagery of “colonialism.” Mr. Khamenei’s (un-Islamic) despotism SERVES Trumpo-Zionism.

    Ya Hu / Ya Haq,

    Mojtaba Aghamohammadi (Moji Agha) in Colorado, U.S. — I am a Bernie Sanders supporter.

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