The United States and Iran continue to be locked in a standoff that could escalate into a confrontation. On Monday, the Trump Administration imposed a new round of sanctions against Iran targeting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani responded to Trump’s sanctions against the Islamic Republic as ‘outrageous and idiotic’, but this move may very well close the door to any type of diplomatic resolution between the two countries. The latest hike in tensions between Washington and Tehran came about after Iran downed an unmanned American drone on Thursday. The Iranians claim they shot down the drone that violated Iranian airspace while the U.S claimed that the drone flew over international waters.
The U.S military prepared a limited retaliatory strike on Iran, but President Trump called off such an action at the last minute. U.S Cyber Command also responded by carrying out cyber attacks on Iranian missile systems and intelligence agencies with ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
While National Security Advisor John Bolton was in Jerusalem visiting with Israeli and Russian counterparts, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to form a coalition of the willing against the Islamic Republic. Tensions between the United States and Iran have been growing ever since the Trump Administration withdrew from the JCPOA last May, and since then, Washington has repeatedly imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic even though Iran has abided by the agreement fifteen times.
The maximum pressure campaign being carried out by the Trump Administration on Iran is doomed to fail. In fact, the United States is trying to push Iran into a corner by focusing the attention away from its own actions of economic and psychological warfare against the Islamic Republic with the intention of collapsing the Iranian government which is the underlying cause of the escalating tensions, not to mention maintaining an American hegemony in the Near East that is quite similar to that prior to the Invasion of Iraq in 2003.
If the Trump Administration really wanted diplomacy with Iran, there is very little reason to believe why putting more political and economic pressure on the Islamic Republic makes any sense whatsoever. President Trump has adopted a policy of maximum pressure, which he thought was a good negotiating strategy with North Korea, but this policy has made diplomacy highly unlikely while making a confrontation with Iran in the Near East more imminent as the days go by.
Even though President Trump has shown some indication of preventing a conventional conflict with Iran, the economic and psychological warfare being waged by Washington has ramped up steadily after Trump withdrew from the JCPOA and reimposed sanctions on Iran, and as a result, millions of Iranians are being heavily affected by these measures daily. In fact, the reason why the Administration is pushing towards a confrontation with Iran is precisely because they think that maximum pressure could bring the Iranians to the negotiating table, but so far, Iran has remained resilient and has not caved into American demands, namely the twelve demands that were reiterated by National Security Advisor John Bolton.
The Iranian economy is in very bad shape given that inflation is close to 50 percent, prices for necessities have increased, and the people being hit the hardest by unilateral American sanctions have been middle and working-class Iranians.
However, instead of imposing more sanctions on the Islamic Republic, the administration should be working towards not only lifting the sanctions, but the travel-ban as well. This could allow for more Iranians to travel to the United States, and since a majority of the Iranian economy is impacted by cruel American sanctions, humanitarian and financial assistance could ease the pressure on the economy and enhance sustainable growth.
We must also remember that this is the same Iranian nation that survived eight years of war with Saddam Hussein in the 1980’s when the United States provided military and financial support to Iraq in a war of aggression against Iran’s sovereignty.
In fact, ordinary Iranians have looked back at this treacherous time in history and said never again in the sense that another foreign power will never invade Iran again like Saddam’s Iraq did. A very similar approach may be taken here by the Trump Administration, but such a confrontation with Iran will not succeed in bringing the Iranian nation to its knees of becoming a client state for the United States in maintaining Washington’s hegemony in the region.
A first step in trying to de-escalate the situation between the United States and Iran would be for Washington to rejoin the JCPOA despite trying to broaden the spectrum beyond the agreement by bringing regional issues and ballistic missiles into the discussion.
Another sensible approach would be to lift the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) and open military channels that lay the structural basis for an Incidents-At-Sea Agreement (INCSEA) that calls for a free and open Persian Gulf for all nations, which should include those in the Gulf Cooperation Council.
An Incidents-At-Sea Agreement was an initiative that was ratified during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1972 that prevented a single shot from being fired between the two superpowers at sea without causing a direct confrontation or a collusion.
The same can be provided here in tensions between Washington and Tehran, which is a proposal that should come to the attention of policymakers in both countries.
In addition, a freeze-for-freeze proposal could be a win-win for Washington and Tehran for example the U.S partially lifting sanctions in exchange for Iran shrugging off its supposed support to the Houthi rebels in Yemen that could pave the way towards ending the war there whilst securing Saudi Arabia’s southern border.
These may all sound like reasonable gestures, but unfortunately, there are countries in the region (namely Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates), who would be strongly opposed to any kind of opening towards the Islamic Republic and want the status quo of permanent enmity towards Iran to continue.
The only way to unlock horns between the United States and Iran is for diplomacy to break forty years of permanent enmity between the two foes and broaden the discussion for a regional framework, but the Trump Administration may not take such an approach on this anytime soon.