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Iran: Flogging a Dead Donkey Is Futile

Iran: Flogging a Dead Donkey Is Futile

Friday, 2 August, 2019 - 06:30
Amir Taheri
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987

Of all the futile things one could imagine beating a dead donkey in the hope of forcing it to move on is the proverbial example. Right now, we are witnessing an example of that in the diplomatic gesticulations designed to maintain the so-called "Iran nuclear deal" on life support machine.

The Europeans pretend to be working on a magic potion that shall have the dead donkey up and running in no time. For their part, Tehran’s Khomeinist leaders insist that the donkey is alive and well but continue to pull off its legs one by one. The Russians and the Chinese serenade the dead donkey every now and then but are clearly not interested in whether it is dead or alive.

In theory, the “deal”, also known as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was the fruit of collective efforts by the five permanent members of the United Nations’ Security Council plus Germany on one side and Iran’s Khomeinist establishment on the other. However, in reality, it was a diabolical elixir that President Barack Obama concocted by using every dubious ingredient he could get hold of.

Interestingly, all the seven participants in this charade have violated its terms while blaming others for doing so. The Americans started violating the JCPOA even under Obama when they claimed that the term “lifting sanctions” didn’t really mean that and that what was really promised was “suspending” sanctions that could snap back any time Washington wanted.

Obama gave the mullahs some money, from Iran’s frozen assets, to sweeten them and “recognized” Iran’s right to enrich low-grade uranium, a right guaranteed for all nations under international law. But, he reneged on is a promise to have an American company buy the stock of plutonium that the mullahs had amassed at the Arak Plant for no discernible reason.

Obama’s successor, President Donald Trump, had the merit of honesty by simply denouncing the JCPOA as a bad deal for everybody.

The Russians violated their pledge under the “deal” by suspending their purchase of Tehran’s higher-grade enriched uranium after only half of the stock had been transferred out of Iran.

The Chinese also cheated with dilatory tactics to avoid fulfilling their commitment to redesign and rebuild the Arak Plutonium Plant for peaceful purposes. They also used every trick in the book to avoid releasing funds they owe to Iran for oil imports, amounting a tidy sum of $22 billion.

The European trio, Great Britain, France and Germany also ignored their promises under JCPOA by continuing to deny Iran normal banking facilities available to almost every other nation. And, when Trump activated Obama’s snap-back mechanism for sanctions, they shut Iran out with the excuse that the new US policy prevented any move in favor of the Islamic Republic. Despite countless pirouettes by Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy point woman, the EU trio have, in effect, followed the new American policy on Iran.

The biggest cheat in all this has been the Islamic Republic itself, which, I believe, did not intend to honor its promises.

It dragged its feet on adhering to the so-called Additional Protocols, refused to open all its nuclear sites to inspection and, as already noted, did not dispose of its plutonium and enriched uranium stocks.

Theoretically, the Obama “deal” is supposed to have delayed Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons by at least two years. Also, theoretically, it has put large chunks of Iran’s trade, scientific and industrial policies under supervision by 5+1 thus violating Iran’s national sovereignty. However, because the JCPOA is not a treaty, and thus, isn’t legally binding, none of those theoretical possibilities need be taken seriously.

Trump may have done everyone a service by exposing the fraudulent nature of JCPOA and seeking a fresh round of negotiations to address the totality of issues that have kept relations between Iran and the outside world in a state of crisis for the past four decades. The wisest course in the interest of all concerned is to bury the dead donkey and clear the deck for new initiatives on a solid legal basis.

The forthcoming G7 summit could issue the death certificate for the donkey and call on the UN Security Council to reassert control of the Iran dossier, a control wrested away by Obama. Fresh negotiations could then take place to address the demands of all sides concerned.

The 12-point desiderata published by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo could be incorporated in a broader agenda not as a diktat but as a contribution to transparent efforts to find a compromise.

Some may object that the Khomeinist leader of Tehran cannot be trusted under any circumstances and that they could end up hoodwinking Trump as did all his predecessors by surrendering at the 11th hour.

Although no one could rule out such a possibility, I believe that this time the mullahs are in a much tighter corner and that saving themselves with a fudge would not be that easy for two reasons. First, it is unlikely that Trump would simply back down and re-endorse what he has called “the worst deal in history”, especially because the current US policy on Iran is practically cost-free for Washington.

The Islamic Republic’s "Supreme Guide" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei boasts that his regime shall never go “begging” top talk to the “Great Satan.” However, President Hassan Rouhani and his Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif keep harping on the possibility of new negotiations as Trump wants. Last week, several members of the Islamic Majlis (the ersatz parliament) called for “tension-reduction” efforts with help from Iraq and Oman.

The second reason why cheat-and-retreat may not be that easy for the mullahs this time is that the Khomeinist system is going through its deepest crisis with widespread corruption, administrative ineptitude and internecine feuds weakening its claim of legitimacy against a background of growing popular dissent.

It is time to declare the JCPOA dead and buried.

The failure of the G7 summit to come up with a united and constructive stance on the “Iran problem” would encourage the mullahs to pursue policies that have done so much harm to Iran, indeed to the whole Middle East, in the past four decades.

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