Will Trump’s ‘new Iran strategy’ persuade Tehran to change course?

October 15, 2017

In his long-awaited speech on Iran, US President Donald Trump chose not to certify that Iran was in compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement. He left the ultimate decision in the hands of the US Congress but warned that “in the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated.”
To address concerns not tackled by the 2015 Iran deal, Trump unveiled a “new strategy” aimed at “neutralising” Tehran’s “destabilising influence and constraining its aggression, particularly its support for terrorism and militants.” He called for the countering of Iran’s ballistic missile activity and for the denial of funding to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
The IRGC is suspected of spearheading destabilising activity through proxies in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.
The pitfalls of the agreement were predict­able. “[Critics say]: ‘Well, even if the nuclear issue is dealt with, they’re still going to be sponsoring terrorism and they’re going to get this sanctions relief and so they’re going to have more money to engage in these bad activities.’ That is a possibility,” former US President Barack Obama told the New York Times.
The Trump strategy, which lends particular importance to the role of regional partners as “bulwarks against Iranian subversion,” is bound to reassure Iran’s neighbours, which have, for too long, been at the receiving end of Tehran’s threats and intimidation tactics.
There is hope in the region that Trump’s new approach could dissuade Iran from continuing its military adventurism and expansionist agenda. Iran’s pattern of behaviour has, for years, represented a gross betrayal of the basic rules of good neighbour­liness.
The nuclear deal is intact — for now — despite Trump’s tough words about Iran’s “fanatical regime” and threat to terminate the agreement.
Even so, Trump is forcing Congress and US allies to take a closer look at the deal and Iran’s activities. It will be up to Congress to evaluate how much, if at all, Iran is prepared to accommodate the concerns of the interna­tional community.
The European Union’s transactional imperatives explain at least partly its terse response to Trump’s October 13 speech but for countries in the Middle East there is a different perspective on Iran’s immediate threats.
There is also talk of opening the door to new negotiations for what happens after some of the core terms of the deal expire in 2025 but such a date is too far beyond the foreseeable future for a region engulfed in conflict and threatened by terror activity. Without a change in Iran’s behaviour, the situation in the region will be too cata­strophic to contemplate.
Most Iranians want better lives. Iranians want to be enfolded into the world economic community; the young want opportunity and, crucially, jobs and everyone wants the things you can’t get in sanctions-suppressed Iran. Foreign investment is badly needed. After the nuclear deal was signed, it seemed as if Iran might be turning a corner. European companies were beating a path to its door and the smart money was on Iran.
Tehran, however, has unfortunately used the dividends of the deal to further build up its military power and continue its meddling abroad.
Tehran’s focus has not been on the better­ment of prospects for its people. The results are stark. In its latest World Economic Outlook, the International Monetary Fund said Iran could expect a sharp slowdown in GDP growth this year. Much of this has to do with the uncertainty over the nuclear deal and the threat of reimposed sanctions.
Iran must know that all actions have consequences and that regional peace and coexistence are the better path to follow.