Sputnik discussed the ongoing US-Iran tensions with Abdulaziz Alghashian, a Middle East Expert and PhD researcher of international relations and the politics of the Middle East at Essex University.
Sputnik: To what extent would you agree with Mr Zarif's statement suggesting a US ‘addiction' to sanctions?
Abdulaziz Alghashian: From the Iranian perspective that's the norm, it seems to be that this is turning into a norm, and it seems to be that from their perspective that it's very difficult to maneuver away from this path. Many administrations have gone through the same avenue and have not really reproduced anything different. I think that the same could be said for Iran themselves as well. Perhaps, this is a reflection of the power structure within Iran, the fact that maybe Zarif, who is a pragmatist, even Rouhani, who is a pragmatist, the perception of the United States and the allies in the region of the United States also see Iran also not changing its trajectory. That's starting to be a very clear cycle and that's what's appearing in the discourse.
Sputnik: Some experts have voiced the opinion that the United States should sanction themselves for withdrawal from the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iran deal), why can't Europe stand up to the United States, that's the key question, but I think we all know the answer, don't we?
Abdulaziz Alghashian: Yes, we do, and I would like to see them try. I've seen the interview that Zarif gave and it's very astonishing that Iran is still not pressuring, but relying on Europe to form some kind of pressure on the United States, I think with any other administration, perhaps, that could've worked, with this administration I think it's very difficult, with Europe themselves it's very difficult to change anything if the United States is adamant. Many of the European countries' economies rely on the US economy. The United States is still the main actor in dictating where the negotiations will go, and not really the negotiations, there's a lack of it now, where the situation will go, the United States is pretty much still calling the shots.
Sputnik: Mr. Zarif believes there's no meeting that could be held between the two presidents Trump and Rouhani under the current circumstances, but what are the chances that the two parties could negotiate? We've already had a historic meeting between the North Korean President and Donald Trump, many would've thought that was never going to happen, what's your take on this particular meeting taking place? I suppose we should never say never…
Abdulaziz Alghashian: You're right, we should never say never. Here I think what's motivating the negotiations and any kind of discussions between the US and Iran is really the domestic politics within the United States. With this situation, with Iran, it's viewed as an Obama success. Even in the tweet,if you go back a couple of weeks ago, that threatened Iran, and said this to President Rouhani, don't ever mess with the United States and so on along those lines. Something that wasn't really mention much, was the fact that in his tweet, we are no longer a country that are going to do this, that and the other, and this is a response to the Obama legacy. So l don't see having a really genuine effort trying to negotiate with Iran, because it's viewed as an Obama success. What's also very interesting is that Iran knows that, and they themselves, even Zarif in his interview hinted that maybe we're going to have to wait for the next stage after Trump.
If Trump is not elected in 2020, (Washington) will use the same logic and try to erase the Trump legacy, because this is what it's turning into now, these Iranian sanctions and the standoffish approach, and turning it into something different. So I think historically one always has to look at the Iranian-US relations, the covert relations, the covert communications, and that's what's sometimes led to the discourse in the public sphere. I am even very reluctant to say that there's any chance of that happening, they've hit such a low that I don't even see any kind of third-party negotiations, or any kind of unofficial communication happening between them. I think it's a waiting game for Iran now.
Sputnik: How robust is the Iranian economy without the American support, is it really damaging the economy at the moment?
Abdulaziz Alghashian: Iran has adapted and they always will adapt. No matter how difficult people might find it, the political regime itself is going to be robust, because they're the ones that control the flow of goods and so on. It's really the IRGC — the Iranian (Islamic) Revolutionary Guard Corps — that really controls the black market and the official market. However, what is very fascinating, and I think what's the main effort, the very essence of these sanctions, is that there is an attempt to influence the political sphere within, because if we look at a couple of weeks ago when Pompeo mentioned that they're going to use a channel in Farsi and they're going to basically give them a different perspective.
In addition, they understand that the Iranian economy itself has witnessed recently instability and strikes, so what they're aiming for is this exaggeration, exasperating these calls for changing of the regime from within. Some in the Iranian political sphere call it meddling, say that they are meddling in our affairs through some external elements. That's the perception here, that they're going to displayed, that this is a form of meddling and interference in our own affairs.
Sputnik: The French company Total has now fully withdrawn its services for Tehran, who's going to replace that particular facilitation now that the French company has left, will it be one of the Chinese companies?
Abdulaziz Alghashian: It will have to revert back to either Chinese or Russian, it's starting to really affect the economy that way. You can start to see the results of the American pulling out, you start to really see the effects of it, that a lot of companies are pulling out themselves. This is going to reinforce the old notion and the old international relations in the Middle East. Iran will ally with China or with Russia again and revert or re-entrench their relations with them. I do foresee more companies doing the same, more Western companies doing the same.
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