Was Ayatollah Khamenei right about Washington? Trump Reneges

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Trump appears likely to attempt to derail the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA]), next week. The deal curbs Iran’s nuclear enrichment program and prevents it from using the program to do more than create fuel for power plants. Trump will argue that the sanctions relief Iran obtained from the United States and the United Nations for signing the agreement in summer of 2015 is undeserved. The deal is monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency of the UN, which reports Iran to be in compliance. Since the Republican Congress did not want the deal, preferring war with Iran, it set up its own certification process every 90 days. The US congressional “certification” is not part of the deal, which was concluded between Iran and the UN Security Council plus Germany (representing the European Union).

Trump will decertify Iran on grounds of its missile program and “terrorism,” which are not part of the deal in the first place. The US accuses Iran of terrorism for supporting Hizbullah in Lebanon (which the Lebanese cabinet has designated its national guard for the south) but never accused the Israelis of terrorism for illegally invading and occupying Arab territory and then kicking families out of their homes and terrorizing them. If Israel hadn’t behaved that way in Lebanon there likely would be no Hizbullah.

The JCPOA closed off all the avenues for Iran to produce a nuclear weapon, something Khamenei forbade anyway. It reduces the number of centrifuges to 6,000, it caused the planned Arak heavy water reactor to be abandoned and bricked in, it required the casting of uranium enriched to 19.5% for the medical reactor in a form that does not allow further enrichment. The US got everything in this deal, Iran got bupkes. Iran was not trying to make a bomb anyway. Khamenei repeatedly gave fatwas (binding legal opinions) against nuclear weapons as incompatible with Islamic law and values, since they kill masses of innocent civilians.

The rest of the world will just ignore Trump and the hawks on Capitol Hill. Europe, Russia and China are eager to do business with Iran, a country with the population of Germany and the gross domestic product of Poland that is virgin territory for foreign investment. European governments are already putting in place plans to protect European firms that invest in Iran from any attempted US Department of Treasury sanctions.

The erratic mood swings of Washington will come as no surprise to Iran’s leader (he isn’t called the “supreme” leader in Persian–that is Western journalistic propaganda). Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been a consistent critic of negotiations with the United States on the grounds that it is a warmongering inconsistent imperialist power, which will always go back on its word and find some pretext to inflict harm on Iran.

Khamenei said as nuclear talks kicked off in 2014, “I have said before … I am not optimistic about the negotiations. It will not lead anywhere, but I am not opposed either . . . What our foreign ministry and officials have started will continue and Iran will not violate its (pledge) … but I say again that this is of no use and will not lead anywhere.” “>.

He added, “The nuclear issue is an excuse for America to continue its animosity. Now, the American spokesmen are bringing up the issues of human rights and missiles.”

Remember, this speech in Tabriz was at the start of serious negotiations in early 2014. It now seems prophetic.

At the time, the Brookings Institution made fun of Khamenei. Suzanne Maloney wrote that on the eve of the talks, “Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivered one of his trademark jeremiads against Washington. His remarks were laced with suspicion and indifference to the ostensible purpose of the dialogue, the resolution of the nuclear impasse, and they underscore the challenge of devising a detailed, rigorous agreement that can withstand the brunt of the entrenched rancor from Iran’s highest authority.”

I don’t mean to pick on Brookings, which tilts liberal and where I have friends, or on Ms. Maloney, who was writing in a different era. But Khamenei had some reason for his suspicions, and he did not actually display “entrenched rancor” toward the negotiations. He just was under no illusions that even if they succeeded they would mean the end of US attempts to overthrow the Iranian government again, as it did in 1953.

His “trademark jeremiad” turns out to have been perfectly sensible. Maloney is right that Khamenei has a lot of crazy conspiracy theories about the US (it did not create or back ISIL) and has a weak grasp on historical accuracy. But on this particular issue, he was right. The US does promote “war” and “poverty” when they suit the American political elite and business classes. The US is the major reason for which 4 million occupied Palestinians can be crushed under the jackboot of the Israeli far right and driven into poverty. The US adventuristic invasion and occupation of Iraq destabilized the region. US covert operations, from coups to drone strikes, have spread turmoil. (On the other hand the USAID has done good work in malaria elimination and US inventions have made millions of lives easier).

Iran entered into the negotiations on the grounds that sanctions would be lifted. Those sanctions were harming the country’s economy and putting lives at risk (Iran Air’s fleet of planes was aging e.g.). While international sanctions have been lifted, the GOP Congress has ratcheted up sanctions, as Khamenei foresaw. Many European firms are afraid of US sanctions and so have not invested in Iran. Iran gave up a major deterrent tool (a nuclear program serves to discourage invasion plans even if no bomb is actually assembled) and got almost nothing for it.

Now, Trump and far right hawks like Sen. Cotton intend to see if the US can renege on the deal entirely, essentially unsigning it and reversing its commitments.

The only reason for reneging on the JCPOA is to prepare the way for a war of aggression against Iran.

Iran is three times bigger geographically, much more rugged, and 2.5 times as populous as Iraq. For anyone who is too young to remember that one, let us just say it did not go well, cost a lot of money and lives, and produced no tangible benefit for the US public.

As for Khamenei, he also observed after the JCPOA was signed, , “Today, even the diplomatic officials and those who were present in the [nuclear] negotiations reiterate the fact that the US is breaching its promises, and while speaking softly and sweetly [to Iran], is busy obstructing and damaging Iran’s economic relations with other countries . . . The JCPOA, as an experience, once again proved the futility of negotiations with the Americans, their lack of commitment to their promises and the necessity of distrust of US pledges.”

It isn’t surprising that Khamenei feels this way. What is dangerous is that with Trump at our helm, the whole world may come to view the United States in this light, and nothing could be more damaging to US national security.


Related video:

The Young Turks: “How Trump Is Sabotaging Iran Nuclear Deal”

31 Responses

  1. Every time the West threatens a foreign country like Iran they confirm that the North Korean path is the way to go for unsavoury regimes everywhere.

    • The way things are rapidly going, “unsavoury regimes” would include the United States of America. Including the North Korean path.

  2. Our only hope is that this action is still an “if.”

    If he goes through with it (and in my opinion it’s all about aligning himself with Likud viewpoint in Israel and America) it will be his single most destructive actual action (as opposed to his petulant and destructive comments, tweets, hints, etc.) in American foreign policy.

  3. You are absolutely right to point out that Trump carries a great share of responsibility for reneging on the nuclear deal with Iran. Unfortunately, he is not the only or even the main culprit. He is acting merely as a conscious or unconscious agent of the Neoconservatives. The subversion of the nuclear deal is the final triumph of Netanyahu and his agents in the United States. One of the aims of the Israelis, even before the domination of rightwing governments in that country, has been to weaken all the states in the Middle East to remove any competition or threat to the continuous expansion of Israeli occupation. However, that goal has intensified under Netanyahu. He addressed the Congress during the lead up to the Iraq war and said that there was no question whatsoever that Saddam was developing nuclear weapons, and that the only solution was to remove him link to youtube.com
    After Saddam was removed and Iraq was destroyed the Israeli rightwing leaders concentrated on Iran. Immediately after the invasion of Iraq, Ariel Sharon said that Iran was the next country to be attacked, something that President Bush contemplated with his Axis of Evil speech written for him by David Frum. The Iraqi war did not prove a “cakewalk” as Kenneth Adelman, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Dick Cheney and others had said it would be. So that plot had to be postponed for a while, but when President Obama decided to allow Iran limited enrichment on her soil to which she is entitled under the IAEA, daggers were drawn again. Netanyahu even addressed the joint session of Congress to argue against the key policy of a sitting US president and was given numerous standing ovations.
    So let’s give credit where it is due. The subversion of the nuclear deal is not a Trump achievement, but a Netanyahu victory. The hostility towards Iran has nothing to do with the Iranian government’s human rights record or its foreign destabilizing activities, otherwise Saudi Arabia with its war crimes in Yemen and its support for terrorist organizations should be at the top of the list. It has nothing to do with non-proliferation, otherwise Israel with its nuclear arsenal amassed through deceit and deception should be the country that should be targeted. It has to do with Iran’s support for Hezbollah and other Lebanese and Palestinians who try to block Israel’s continuous occupation and expansionism to the neighboring countries.
    As for the Iranian distrust of US politicians, in addition to the apt comments by Ayatollah Khamenei that you have quoted, here is a comment by Brig. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of IRGC air forces, made in June 2016: “Why don’t you believe the enemy’s untrustworthiness and deceit? In order to eliminate our defensive power … they tell us today not to have missiles, tomorrow they will say, ‘why do you advise in Syria?’ then ‘Why do you support Hezbollah?’…. We should never think that the enemy’s demands have a ceiling.”
    Sadly, the policies of the Trump Administration prove these US adversaries were right not to trust America. Now, it depends on Europe and the rest of the world whether they agree to another catastrophe or whether they will resist another push to a catastrophic war in the interest of Israeli rightwing.

  4. it did not create IS but did nothing to prevent it from rising. I suspect the USA saw the km-long line of Toyotas driving from Raqqa to Mosul in 2014 and did nothing to stop it. Recently, I find convincing the story that the USA has been dealing with IS to leave free movement to the SDF for it to conquer Syria’s oil wells east of the Euphrates. I am sure the USA knew that the weapons it allegedly gave to the “moderate” found their way to IS and to other terrorist organizations and did nothing to prevent it. In conclusion, the relations between the USA and IS are much closer than you make them to be.

  5. Khamenei has simple wisdom but no special insight, reneging on treaties is as old as treaties. One would go dizzy following the changing partners in European treaties over the years. Nations abandon the Geneva convention and anything else they’ve agreed as it suits their interests. The JCPOA suited the parties at the time. It still suits all the signatories bar the US under Trump. One can be objective and determine that it does actually suit the US, but that assumes US objectives overlap those of the other nations. But they don’t. I don’t believe Obama was that concerned about Iranian WMD potential as such, rather he was anxious to avoid military conflict with Iran, something that Israel was chafing the bit to begin. The others were motivated by commerce. Of course one can gild such motives with any amount of idealism but that flies out the window if the motives shift. Khamenei is simply being realistic. Trump’s view of the US in the world is 19th century gun boat stuff but the world has moved on since. The British Empire grew in something of a vacuum, as did the US Empire in it’s early stages, but that vacuum no longer exists, in large part, oddly enough, because of the political, scientific, commercial, and cultural contributions the US itself has introduced to Mankind. Don’t trust anyone, better just keep a sharp eye on their underlying motives.

  6. The tiny-minded BIGOT$ of America want President Obama eradicated from history even if it kills lots of innocent people. They don’t care.

    SUPREME-BIGOT President Trump is only too happy to accomodate.

  7. In this Al-Jazeera interview Iranian FM Javad Zarif makes a remarkably clear and succinct presentation of the situation, not just from the Iranian perspective, but from that of the realities.

    link to aljazeera.com

    The mechanics of how the JCPOA is written will make it difficult for the EU to maintain it if the US withdrawals. However, there are mechanisms already in-place that can be activated to offset sanctions against companies that buck them. Perhaps more importantly, Zarif makes the point of their simply being on the right side of the issue, which ultimately should go far to carry the day for Iran, and the World in many ways.

    There is another article on this blog, about the influence of what some (at their own peril) dare to call the Israel Lobby: link to juancole.com

    The current Girardi controversy goes along with the Chas Freedman denunciation when he dared to speak Truth to (the real) Power driving things here a few years ago. Nobody in power in the US really gives a fig about the Palestinians, and its nothing to leave them twisting in the wind, but screwing up the JCPOA in this way is another thing altogether.

    What people of the US need to deal with is just HOW another country has somehow managed to hijack the foreign policy of the US, manifestly against its own best interests.

  8. Here we go again. Like so many of us, I was a vociferous opponent of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. People sometimes say to me, “Man, we’re you ever right about that!” I say, “Yes. And so was everyone else I know who actually knew anything about the region. But it is not that we were geniuses. It’s that they were idiots–and deeply corrupt.” Plus ca change…

  9. If Trump intends to decertify the deal, that’s not the same as pushing for a reimposition of sanctions. I’m going to take the glass half full approach here. President “Effing Moron” hasn’t thought deeply about this. Given his track record, I think he may be more interested in the optics so he can show his base that he did something to fix a hated arrangement that’s red meat to his supporters. But if Congress doesn’t vote sanctions, then the issue fades from view as he finds something new to tweet about.

    Am I totally off base here?

  10. the Iraqi war did not go well for USA because Bush2 occupied.
    the first Iraq war under Bush1 went as planned because it only attempted to destroy and not to occupy
    so perhaps Trump is planning on simple destruction, which is all that Israel desires anyway
    that is what USA does best: bomb
    just as McCain says

    • Right. The US military is in many ways now depleted. It’d get eaten alive in an ouright invasion, short of a national mobilization and long build-up.

      On the other hand, a couple thousand cruise missiles would make Raytheon etal very happy and at least satisfy Israel (for the moment).

  11. The George W. Bush administration provided a recent precedent for not honoring international agreements made by previous administrations. Bush walked back Clinton’s deals with North Korea, for example, and we’re living with the consequences of that one. Did Obama do anything comparable? It seems to me that the Republicans don’t think that Democratic administrations are legitimate so that commitments made under Clinton didn’t count for Bush and commitments made under Obama don’t count for Trump. You can’t chalk up the bad faith exhibited in the decertification of the Iran deal to Trump alone. The last thing Republicans subscribe to is the principle that a deal’s a deal.

    • You and another poster make the point of the hollowness of these agreements.

      The real point of them would then be to build PR legitimacy amongst those who don’t know better.

      And selling oneself is the first step to creating such an alternative reality.

      The real agenda is to secure obedience.

  12. Anyone with a slight sense of history knows the US reneges on its promises, treaties and agreements.
    Just ask the Russians (Soviet Union) about the promise not to expand NATO to the borders of Russia (by Reagan).

    As dangerous and sad as all of this is, the timing is at least opportune in one regard. Senator McCain has been receiving a lot of praise recently for his vote on Healthcare. yet, he is an arch warmonger and advocate for death and killing and his vote and stance here will be a reminder of his true character again.

    • Leslie, that was not the promise. The promise was that there be no NATO troops in East Germany. That is straight from Gorbachev.

  13. We need to start making glass etchings and stone carvings stating: “It really was the 45th President,” so that future generations don’t have to debate what finally caused the American iteration of empire to fatally collapse.

  14. Ellen Amster

    So far the Iranians seem not to be taking advantage of us, in our free fall away from democracy, not rising to the militarist bait, I hope that continues.

  15. The US is quickly becoming a rogue nation, a one-nation axis of evil. Even Angela Merkel said she wouldn’t automatically support the US against North Korea. Too bad our mainstream media is in this bubble, where the rest of the world is irrelevant.

  16. The U.S. media covers the agreement as if it were bilateral (Iran and U.S.). In fact, it is an 8 country agreement that includes Russia, China, France, U.K., E.U. and Germany. If Trumps backs out of the deal, the others may well say, “Tillerson is right, you are an f….king moron,” and continue to trade with Iran. If so, it would still be in Iran’s best interests to continue abiding by the agreement.

    Perhaps the Republican dominated Congress will get smart and at the end of the 60 days simply refuse to ratify Trump’s “decertification”. (I’m not holding my breath however.)

  17. The first responsibility of every state is to protect its citizens against actual and potential harm. Given Uncle Sam’s posture and Israel’s non-stop threats (& both are nuclear armed states), why should Iran refrain from developing its own military deterrent? In talking to my relatives in Iran who are squarely in the “opposition” camp, the same people that US says are her concerns, they are criticizing the government for being naive and leaving Iran defenseless. That is the real story. When the reformist camp in Iran sides with the hardliners there, all bets are off.

  18. Trump is as ignorant as sin, in fact, he may be the literal embodiment of sin, but I digress. Trump doesn’t know anything about Iran and I’m sure couldn’t find it on a world map, but he gets all of his misinformation from Fox and Friends and they are telling him that Iran is evil, evil I say. Someone above nailed it – this isn’t about the U.S. and Iran, it is all about Israel. Iran doesn’t have one nuke while Israel has hundreds. Who is the greatest threat to peace in the Middle East? We need to invade and occupy Israel, the real source of problems in the Middle East!

  19. Professor, you are at your best in this article!
    I guess, reneging on promises is part of US exceptionalism. Ask any native American tribe you wish. Correction to Farhang’s comment: Israel, singled out Iran as the main enemy long in 1988 under the leadership of Peres not in 2003 after the invasion of Iraq. In fact, the fictitious Iran nuclear weapon hasbara attests to the power of Israeli lobby all over the Western World, that is believe whatever fake news Israel makes up without questioning it.

  20. ==IRAN’S HARD-LINERS PROVED RIGHT…AGAIN: Some forgotten history: “Just after the lightning takeover of Baghdad by US forces [in April 2003] an unusual two-page document spewed out of a fax machine at the Near East bureau of the State Department. It was a proposal from Iran for a broad dialogue with the United States, and the fax suggested everything was on the table — including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups. But top Bush administration officials, convinced the Iranian government was on the verge of collapse, belittled the initiative.” Iran’s hard-liners had their low opinion of US leadership confirmed. Iran’s moderates were weakened. Within three years Khatami was out of office and the Iranian presidency was again in the hands of the right. link to detailedpoliticalquizzes.wordpress.com

    • What is more important to remember is that Iran’s offer of a grand bargain did not come out of US invasion of Iraq, but was prepared after the United States overthrew the Taliban with which Iran nearly went to war when they killed eight Iranian diplomats and a journalist after they overrun Mazar-i-Sharif. At that time, the State Department warned Iran in no uncertain terms not to take action against the Taliban who had come to power with US blessing and support through Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Pakistan.

      The document that you refer to made the rounds in Iran from October 2002 and was then given to Swiss ambassador in Tehran who took care of US interests in Iran. The delivery of that message was delayed due to the preparations for the Iraq war and was finally handed to Dick Cheney in April 2003 who allegedly responded: “We do not deal with evil”, because he and other hawks in the administration were already contemplating an attack on Iran. President Khatami was very keen on improving relations with the United States, but that rebuff weakened the Reformers and led to the victory of Ahmadinejad in the next round of presidential election.

      If Trump kills the nuclear deal for no apparent reason except to undermine President Obama’s achievements and implement Netanyahu’s wishes this will again discredit the Iranian Reformers and will pave the way for the victory of the hardliners, if not an actual war between the two countries.

      Yesterday, Senator Bob Corker said that Trump’s volatility could spark World War III. He added: “He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.” In an interview with the New York Times on Sunday he added that the “vast majority” of congressional Republicans were concerned with the president’s volatile behavior and that rhetoric from the White House could set America “on the path to World War III.” He went on to say: “Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here,” Corker continued. “Of course they understand the volatility that we’re dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road.” Well, if this is the case, Congress is neglecting its constitutional responsibility to impeach a president who is not fit for office.

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