On Saturday September 14, 2019, Yemen’s Houthi rebels carried out drone attacks on two large Saudi oil facilities, disrupting about half of Saudi Arabia’s oil capacity. BBC reports that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran for the damaging attacks with Iran responding by condemning U.S. “deceit.” In this article, The Medium examines the factors complicating U.S. and Iran’s relationship.
While there has always been tension between the U.S. and Iran, the situation was further exacerbated in 2018 when President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iranian nuclear deal. According to the BBC, the nuclear deal—which is officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—entailed Iran agreeing to limit its nuclear activities and allow international inspections in exchange for the economic sanctions placed upon Iran being lifted. When Trump declared that the U.S. would no longer abide to the deal’s agreements, there were diplomatic consequences and Iran was once again under crippling U.S. economic sanctions.
This year however signaled a change as Trump told reporters at the G7 meeting that he would be willing to meet with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and discuss easing sanctions if the “conditions were right.” In response, Rouhani stated that the U.S. has to first lift the sanctions on Iran, otherwise any meeting would just be a photo opportunity.
Dr. Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, professor of History and Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto, was recently interviewed by CTV News regarding the discussion around easing sanctions. Tavakoli-Targhi acknowledged that this is the beginning of a very tough negotiation and highlighted how the nuclear agreement in 2015 took nearly twelve years of negotiation.
He furthermore noted that there is a lot of mistrust in Iran because “Iranians view the U.S. withdrawal from the deal as an irrational and unjustified move” and they perceive “the sanctions as a form of economic terrorism against the Iranian population.” Tavakoli-Targhi believes that the Iranians need to overcome their misgivings and “build trust” for the negotiations to work.
To build trust, Rouhani has stated that the Trump administration has to take certain steps and that there needs to be expression of remorse for the negotiations to be successful or even possible. Tavakoli-Targhi agrees with Rouhani in that the Trump administration needs to take a step forward and make an effort.
Tavakoli-Targhi strongly believes that it will take a certain amount of charm for the negotiations to work. He is confident that French president Emmanuel Macron is the right person to facilitate the talks between the U.S. and Iran even though the Japanese prime minister was unsuccessful prior to the G20 summit.
He noted that negotiations are “very important as the sanctions are not only hurting Iran but the secondary sanctions are a form of weaponizing the economic interdependence which is the legacy of the post-World War international system.” Tavakoli-Targhi further emphasized that the European nations have an equal interest in the issue as they are also “hurting economically” due to the U.S. sanctions and “[the European nations’] interdependence that they have with the U.S. economy.” According to the European Council on Foreign Relations, the “secondary sanctions have become a critical challenge for Europe due to the Trump administration’s maximalist policy on Iran and its aggressive economic statecraft.”
To conclude, Tavakoli-Targhi explains that if Trump wishes to leave office with a positive legacy, “he needs to overcome labelling Iran as an enemy.” While Tavakoli-Targhi acknowledges that “the challenge [of negotiations] is big,” he remains optimistic.