US-Iran showdown

Iran’s brinkmanship will escalate tensions and make the risk of war even more likely.
Sunday 12/05/2019
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a cabinet meeting, Tehran, May 8.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a cabinet meeting, Tehran, May 8.

A year ago, US President Donald Trump walked out of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear agreement with Iran.

The US move was motivated by the Trump administration’s dissatisfaction with the nuclear agreement negotiated under former US President Barack Obama for its failure to permanently block Iran’s nuclear ambitions, restrict Tehran’s missile development programme or stop its interference in the affairs of other countries in the region.

Since then, Washington has increased pressure on Iran through a series of economic sanctions, including oil exports ban, and designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organisation.

Despite Tehran’s claims to the contrary, Iran’s economy has suffered as a result of the sanctions. Its oil exports, which account for nearly 60% of the country’s foreign revenues, dropped to about 1 million barrels per day (bpd) from 2.5 million bpd a year before. Experts say Iran is likely to see its oil exports fall to about 500,000 bpd.

Tehran had hoped other countries, especially in Europe, would help it evade the sanctions but the Europeans, wary of possible US financial sanctions, did not.

Amid signs the pain was becoming increasingly unbearable for its economy, Iran announced “retaliatory” measures. The Iranian Supreme National Security Council said May 8 that the country would not consider itself committed anymore “to observing restrictions regarding storing enriched uranium stocks and heavy water stocks.”

“In the next stage Iran will also stop observing restrictions on the level of uranium enrichment and measures regarding modernising Arak heavy water reactor,” it said.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani said Tehran could resume high-level uranium enrichment if Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — the other signatories to the 2015 nuclear agreement — did not protect Iran’s oil and banking sectors from US sanctions within 60 days.

Tehran’s move raised questions about Iran’s wider commitment to curtailing its nuclear designs. Experts said Iran does not need more than a year to achieve a nuclear enrichment “breakout” if it cancels inspections.

Furthermore, Rohani threatened Europe with withholding Tehran’s cooperation in areas that are key to the European Union’s interests.

“You have responsibilities, too… for keeping your youth away from drugs, the flood of immigrants and other cooperation Iran has had with you so far. If this trend continues, the cooperation will cease,” he said.

Iran’s announcements elicited a new set of US sanctions May 8. The new sanctions were aimed at stopping the export of Iranian iron, steel, aluminium and copper. The White House pointed out that the steel and mining sector, which constitutes 10% of Iran’s exports, is the country’s second largest source of foreign revenue.

Applying pressure or blackmail on nations, especially those that have tried the most to accommodate Iran’s demands, will not address the issues at the root of the showdown with the United States. Those issues have to do with Tehran’s pursuit of policies that are dangerous to the peace and security of the region and the world.

Iran’s brinkmanship will escalate tensions and make the risk of war even more likely.