Radio Sputnik discussed the Trump administration's current line on Iran with Meir Litvak, director of the Alliance Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University in Israel.
Sputnik: How justified is the Trump Administration's current line on Iran?
Meir Litvak: On the nuclear issue, there're many views about the nuclear agreement. So far, Iran keeps the agreement; it has not violated the agreement as far as we know. There's another point, which is about Iran's regional conduct. Here, you can say that Iran is, indeed, involved in various conflicts and struggles. Iran plays a very active role in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon; on a daily basis Iran calls for the destruction of Israel. So here we can say that Iran plays a very negative role to those who are opposed to its policies. We can argue that in this regard Iran is a regional source of instability.
As for the nuclear issue, so far Iran hasn't violated the agreement; but there's fear among some groups that Iran in the future will be able to attain nuclear capabilities once the agreement is ended. Here Trump takes a very radical view; he wants to prevent it from even being a possibility in the distant future. Whether or not he's correct regarding this issue is too early to be seen.
Sputnik: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said that the United States has found itself further isolated; is there a truth in this claim?
Meir Litvak: Under Trump, the US is isolated because Trump has started conflicts and wars against many of America's former allies. The US is engaged in a customs war or a trade war with China, it is also in a conflict over trade with the European Union; so we can say that the US is a little more isolated. It's also true that regarding the nuclear agreement the US is fairly isolated. But, on the other hand, you can say that American sanctions have forced many European, Indian and other international companies to cave into the American pressure as much as they dislike it and reduce their relations with Iran. So, even though the US may be isolated politically, it is still very powerful in imposing its will on many countries and companies, whether they like it or not.
Sputnik: China and Turkey said they would continue purchasing Iranian oil and gas, and other signatories of the Iranian nuclear deal said they would set up a payment system to bypass the US sanctions; how could these developments affect US policy on Iran?
Meir Litvak: Clearly, they are harmful to American policy. But we should also take into consideration that Iranian oil exports have been cut by more than half in the past year; various companies declared that they wouldn't deal with Iran. Most European companies have decided to work on their own and not believe what the EU says and stopped their businesses with Iran. To give you another example, India, a major oil customer for Iran, declared that it would significantly reduce its oil purchases from Iran, and whatever oil it would buy it would pay with rupees, which is not helpful to the Iranian economy.
So, while the US didn't get everything it wanted regarding sanctions, so far the impact on Iran has been more significant that the US has expected. The European talk but they don't do much; the EU is excellent in talking and making resolutions, but not that good in action. Meanwhile, European businessmen don't believe the EU's talks and words. So, the picture is mixed. Clearly, China is a key player here and the fact that the US and China are in a trade war doesn't help American efforts against yuan. The same thing is with Turkey, but Turkey wouldn't salvage the Iranian oil exports although it will help the Iranians avoid collapse.
Sputnik: Can we say that we're witnessing the international community being divided into two groups — the one supporting the US policy on Iran, and the other which wants to do business with Iran and bypass US sanctions?
Meir Litvak: There're many divisions; this is one of them. But again, I would say that it is divided between the US, almost alone, and by the way many other countries that support the Americans publically and silently and want to curb Iran and are very much afraid of Iran, and many other countries that want to continue trade with Iran and believe that the nuclear agreement is the lesser evil of all other options, therefore they support the nuclear agreement. But again, there're other divisions in the Middle East, in the world, on trade, the environment, etc. The world is a very complicated and conflictual place with or without the Iranian crisis.
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