Can Trump get Iranian leaders to the negotiating table?
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif was in New York late last month and he made an offer to the US government with a proposal to talk about prisoner exchanges or hostage releases.
An answer to his approach came on May 4 — the date US President Donald Trump’s administration had to announce whether it would extend a waiver on exemptions to the Iran nuclear deal sanctions. The White House said it would extend the waivers that allow the countries signed up to the deal (Russia, China, France, the UK and Germany) to participate in civil nuclear projects with Tehran, but it is tightening the terms in an effort to increase pressure on the Iranian regime.
The waiver timetable had been agreed during the presidency of Barack Obama, with the US having to examine the facts of whether or not Iran had stayed committed to its obligations regarding its nuclear program every six months. Now, however, Trump has made changes to the terms of this agreement, reducing the waivers’ validity from 180 days to 90. In addition, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement that “assistance to expand Iran’s Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant beyond the existing reactor unit could be sanctionable.”
Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal last year and has since promised to increase the sanctions pressure on Tehran by all means. He wants to make the rulers accept his invitation for talks with his administration on many issues and subjects, including Iran’s nuclear program.
This year, the Iranian currency has lost value rapidly and inflation has increased. The price of goods is skyrocketing, meaning middle-class families can hardly meet their household expenses, let alone the poor and needy, who have been driven to extreme poverty.
Following the economic sanctions, Trump did not extend the oil importing exemptions for eight countries on May 1, as he bids to makes the regime’s revenue from oil fall to zero. According to exports, it will be very hard or even impossible for oil sales to be reduced to zero, but the sanctions will have a big impact on the Tehran government’s annual budget.
Trump’s sanctions did not end there, as he also designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Iran’s national army has, since the 1979 revolution, been undermined by the Islamist regime because of its loyalty to the previous regime and the people of the nation, rather than the supreme leader. Instead, the IRGC has been trusted as the regime’s armed forces for the last 40 years. It has thus enjoyed the privilege to act as it sees fit and whenever needed by the system. Its roles include disciplining the public and crushing demonstrations, arresting and interrogating opposition members, operating abroad to assist Shiite militias, and, of course, guarding the revolution.
No one in the region, or in Iran or the US, wants this to develop into conflict, as everyone understands the consequences of such a move, but it seems all these sanctions come from a plan Trump has to finally make the ayatollahs sit down and talk. However, millions of Iranians are squeezed between the two sides and they are losing their hope of a positive outcome.
It seems that Trump wants to assure Tehran’s leaders they cannot wait until after the 2020 US presidential election to make up their mind.
It seems that Trump wants to assure Tehran’s leaders they cannot wait until after the 2020 US presidential election to make up their mind. The US president is eager to sort the issue out with the ayatollahs one way or the other.
When Trump began his presidential term, he wanted to show the American public that he can achieve everything he promised them. One such promise was tackling Iran’s disturbing behavior in the region and making a new deal with Tehran.
Now it is up to the Iranian regime, as Trump looks sincere and ready to stand by his actions. But it will be a hard task for him to get the ayatollahs to accept talks after they have shown so much resistance.
- Camelia Entekhabifard is an Iranian-American journalist, political commentator and author of “Camelia: Save Yourself By Telling the Truth” (Seven Stories Press, 2008). Twitter: @CameliaFard