Sputnik: Despite numerous pleas not to withdraw from the deal, President Trump did it anyway. Why has he taken this step? Was it to be expected?
Ramin Mazaheri: Was it to be expected? I certainly did. History shows that America has a very strict policy of not keeping its policies. We can look at North Korea: they made major steps towards dismantling their nuclear project during their previous leader’s era. The video of them blowing up the cooling tower to officially shut their nuclear plant is a famous image many will remember.
The US did not ease up its sanctions, did not allow food aid, did not allow energy deliveries, and this is undoubtedly why North Korea pursued their own nuclear program: they saw the US could not be trusted to honor their policies. Given that Iran is one of the chief ideological enemies of Washington, even if Hillary had won, the whole world should have been surprised if the US kept this deal.
But Trump withdrawing, especially, is not a surprise. During his election campaign he was amazingly open to diplomacy with many longtime US enemies, including Russia, but he was consistently extremely hard-line against only two countries: Iran and Cuba. The reason for this is American politics: there is no pro-Iran lobby in the US which could push things in our favor, and in the American political model, lobbies are forces that drive policy. Furthermore, there are numerous, powerful anti-Iran lobbies who wish to push the political system against Iran. Trump will not win any votes, nor gain any campaign financing, by making peace with Iran. In fact, it is certain such a move would cost him dearly! Trump wants to get re-elected, so the only way we could imagine any sort of Nixon-China-like detente between the US and Iran is during his second term, and even then it would be a bit surprising.
Why Would US Stay?
So, when we consider all of this animosity from the US, we are not surprised that Trump pulled out. Why would the US stay, after all? They are ideologically opposed to Tehran. Washington’s ideology is capitalism … but they have no money at stake in Iran because they do no business, so that’s not a factor. Washington’s other driving ideology is imperialism, and we see how Iran opposes with money and guns Western imperialist projects in Iran itself, quite successfully, and also in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Syria – the whole region.
Who else takes on the US so brazenly in 2018, if not Iran? When we look at the rather undemocratic structure of the American system, we must ask: what is the impetus for a positive change in US policy towards Iran? There is nothing pushing Washington in a pro-Iran direction, and Washington does not have the benevolent, peaceful, politically modern ideology which could move it away from belligerence. So Trump fits right in with longtime US policy towards Iran.
Sputnik: The Iranian leader said that the deal would survive without the US. Meanwhile, Russia and the EU have pledged to stay committed to the deal. What are your prognoses as to what future is in store for the JCPOA?
Ramin Mazaheri: The JCPOA is, without question, still in force. It exists and will be followed by everyone except the United States. The US has withdrawn unilaterally, but this move does not have the ability to entirely scuttle the deal. The US will impose more sanctions, they will not honor what they promised, and that’s their choice. But the other five signatories have all agreed: the JCPOA continues, but without the US.
So that’s the future – the JCPOA continues, and the US resumes their economic blockade, their sanctions, their aggression on Iran, which has been in place since 1979 and which Barack Obama did not alleviate during the 1.5 years he was in office while the JCPOA was in place. Iranians will not forget that of course. The US may use the same tactic with regard to Iran as they did with Cuba: despite Obama’s claims of detente, the US did not lift their murderous, impoverishing blockade; Obama even put billion dollar fines on European banks for working with Cuba in order to scare Europeans away from working with Havana after the so-called detente. This could be the same scenario with Iran.
What is so interesting today, what is truly historic, is that we can honestly say that Europe has truly broken up with US foreign policy. Immediately after Trump’s announcement, the EU, France, the UK and Germany all said they reject that move, and that they will move ahead without the US. Never has that happened since the popular revolution of 1979.
'Europe Comes Over as Iran Keeps Beating US'
Even if billions in trade exists between Iran and EU member nations, there has never been a public break which would declare so clearly that Europe is siding with Iran. So this is something which I think many Iranians are savoring, at least for one day.
And it should be savored, because Europe has not come over to Iran’s side because they all of a sudden agree with what I call the Iranian Islamic Socialist model: Europe has come over because Iran keeps beating the United States. Iran had a popular, modern, anti-imperialist revolution, fought off Iraq which was foisted on Iran by the West, has grown and thrived despite the economic blockade and now Europe wants to end the hostility and go back to making money with Iran.
So this public siding of Europe with Iran against the US is undoubtedly very historic, and this is the political strategy Iran’s government has obviously pursued. Just like the US, Europe is still neo-imperialist and capitalist and totally against the idea of Islam in democratic politics, so Tehran had to give them an economic incentive. They sought to make economic deals with Europe, and thus to give them that economic incentive to support Iran in the face of US-Israeli aggression.
Nuclear Deal and European Business
And I covered Rouhani’s visit in 2016 to France, where they signed dozens of deals worth dozens of billions of dollars. This is what French President Macron cares about now – preserving those deals. But I also read the fine print on those deals, and Rouhani was not selling off Iran, those were not neoliberal capitalist deals, but regular mutually beneficial deals. Those deals included technology transfers and joint projects – Iran was going to learn new techniques which would make it even more modern, France would be paid handsomely, and the world would be a slightly better place. And … France now has to protect their business interests and businessmen from American bombs!
The problem has been, and this is important: no deals have really been done. The biggest deal, with Total Oil on the huge South Pars gas field, has not started. And that’s all because of the indecision of Trump – for 1.5 years France, Italy and Europe have not known if they would be sanctioned or not, so they had done nothing. So this is really quite important: Trump has rather foolishly played his card off: “I can force prolonged indecision,” and that card was quite bad for Iran’s economy. In this sense, it is excellent that Trump revealed his position, because the waiting is the hardest part. Now, there is no more waiting: the stakes are clear, and Europe is backing Iran.
At least for now. Will Europe do business with Iran and then get hit with billion dollar fines by the US for violating their sanctions, exactly like what happened with Cuba? That is the main question. The main question is not: will the EU lose out on the entire US market because of Iran, because that’s not really feasible, economically. Firstly, both are neoliberal capitalist countries, so neither wants a trade war by definition. Fines are the main worry, because those come right out of corporate profits.
Well, we have seen in the past year some truly amazing developments, which surprised a skeptic like me: This year EU officials threatened to install so-called "blocking regulations" to protect EU firms doing business in Iran from any possible US sanctions. Also, France and other EU nations announced they will start offering euro-denominated credits to Iranian companies, in order to bypass the dollar and American companies completely. All of Iran's top trade partners in the EU are reportedly working on similar mechanisms, which would preclude the possibility of US sanctions.
So Europe clearly has been putting the economic groundwork in place to build and to protect their trade with Iran. The announcement of support for Iran over Trump was not done without planning, of course. This is all very surprising, considering the decades of European anti-Iran aggression, but what this shows is that Europe does not want another Cuba and more billion-dollar fines on European private companies, and that they want to work with Iran.
A couple of last points: The biggest European deal is Total’s oil deal regarding South Pars, the world’s largest natural gas field, and which Iran shares with Qatar, and which thus ensures working relations between the two countries. Written into the contract, quite intelligently, is that if Total does drop out, China takes their place. So, that’s certainly a relief to Iranians. However, from another point of view, we should still want the French to be involved, because it’s bad business to put all your eggs in one basket. You need multiple suppliers. As big as China is, Iran does not want to be over a barrel where China has all the leverage. That has been the case recently, and this allows in cheaper Chinese goods, which undermines Iranian national industries, which creates unemployment, but the government has had no alternative because they have to keep Beijing’s support. If the government can get Europe off our back, that will also reduce China’s leverage, and ensure more mutually beneficial deals.
Macron's Visit to Iran Would be 'Historic Step'
Lastly, the wild card here is Macron: France has always been the diplomatic face of the EU. Macron was planning to go to Tehran this year, but was waiting on what Trump would do. Macron’s foreign minister visited it in March, and was, as the French generally are, and as Hollande was when Rouhani visited him, rude, disrespectful, domineering, condescending and superior, even when in someone else’s home. Now … is Macron going to visit this year? That would be a huge step, a historic step from a Western leader, and a major indication that Europe is breaking with the US on Iran. We’ll have to wait and see.
Now those who don’t believe Macron will go are quite justified, as well: Macron is a total neoliberal. It was US sanctions on European companies which scared the EU into letting GE walk into France and leave with the energy division of French industrial jewel Alstom. That deal was brokered by Macron, even though many in France were saying: what is this crazy denationalization you are doing, you are selling off our country to foreigners. But Macron is a neoliberal and has no country – his country is big finances, the Rothschilds, etc. He does not believe in patriotism. He is an American wannabe, and his ideology tells him to go where the money is, and that is the US, so why stick with Iran?
After all, we just have to wait and see.
Sputnik: Do you think the US can still pressure its European allies to change their stance and try to strike a new deal with Iran? Would the allies give in?
Ramin Mazaheri: What Europe does very well, especially France, is to make cosmetic changes and proclaim them to be revolutionary. I could see France trying to renegotiate a deal – making their efforts as high profile as possible – and then declaring whatever the final product is to be a huge change.
But Europe is already on the same page as Russia and China: they want this deal. They want Iranian oil – Europe needs another supplier other than Russia for the same reasons as Iran needs another economic partner besides China. Europe seems, at this point, willing to keep the deal as is, and simply to cross out the name “the United States.”
And that’s what Tehran wants. Of course, Tehran could quite fairly spin a new deal as a major victory – because any Iran-Europe anti-US rapprochement would truly be historic – but their ultimate victory would be to simply have the words “the United States” crossed out! That would in everybody’s eyes be seen like Iran is a major player that it has the ability to get that done. So, I hope they go that route, of course.
Europe is always claiming that this is a deal for world safety, much like the Iraqi WMDs, even though Iran has no nuclear bomb. Iran does not need one – they are not poor North Korea, nor tiny Libya, they have many more people and natural resources. Iran has complied 100% percent with the anti-nuclear bomb conditions, so Europe does not need a new deal to sell to their citizens.
Sputnik: Iranian lawmakers are introducing a motion that calls for "proportional and reciprocal" action by the government. What are we to expect from Iran now that Trump pulled out the US from the deal?
Well, Rouhani put it rather perfectly: he said, for 40 years we’ve said the US never complies, that the US is only aggressive to Iran, and that Trump’s move was a clear demonstration of what they have been doing for months – only leaving a signature but doing nothing which could be of actual benefit to the Iranian people.
Those are very hard words to American ears, even though they are 100 percent true! And Rouhani is not called a “hard-liner” against the US. So Trump’s move will give more influence to the so-called hard-liners who do not trust the US and say the US can’t be trusted, and these hard-liners are only guilty of analyzing history.
My point here is: very few people in Iran and seemingly no one at any level of government is deluded into thinking smiling Obama or unpredictable Trump don’t represent the exact same system, which is anti-Iran, pro-imperialist, anti-socialist and totally opposed to Islamic democracy.
You can only get burned so many times before you stop being surprised that fire is hot. The government learned this lesson long ago, they have been putting backup plans into place, and the economic deals with France, Italy and others are an obvious sign of that.
And there is no choice for Tehran: the people support the Iranian system massively and would not tolerate the pro-imperialism moves which would allow rapprochement with Washington, it will be business as usual in Iran. Business will be harder, but Iran is not the only country which deals with truly murderous sanctions from the US.
Sputnik: Iran also stated that the US move was a violation of the accord that would isolate the US. What are your thoughts on this assessment? In what way could the US decision backfire?
Ramin Mazaheri: I think that the day after Trump’s decision, that’s undoubtedly the case. Europe is enraged with Trump and sides with Tehran. In a way, this could have only happened under Trump: his wildman antics have given Europe the cover for their citizens to break with the US. Trump looks so undesirable as an ally that the average European, who is, quite fairly, rather apathetic regarding faraway Iran, is not about to punish their leaders for opposing Trump.
Europe Long Preparing to Protect Trade With Iran From Fines
The image battle, much more so than the ins and outs of the illegal, unilateral nature of Trump’s move, is what is allowing Europe to isolate themselves from the US on Iran.
This is exactly what Tehran had hoped for. The main question, of course, is how long will it continue. Europe clearly has been putting the economic groundwork in place to build and to protect their trade with Iran from fines, which are Washington’s main pressure, as Cuba demonstrates. I mentioned that previously. Both the US and EU, being neoliberal, are not going to get into a trade war over Iran.
In the end, only Trump could have allowed such a thing to happen. Hillary would have never been so foolish as to play her "forcing indecision" card when she didn’t have to. The EU could have never publicly broken with someone as capable as she was, as she would have made so many under-the-table deals, being "Crooked Hillary" as she is often called.
And let’s recall just how good this may all be for the American people: They do not benefit one bit from sanctioning their fellow humans in Iran. Sanctions on Iran only defy the morality of the everyday American; the average American would never ban medicines to Iranians, and nor Cubans. And they only strengthen the 1 percent in the US that rules over them in such a totally unregulated manner.
For Iranians, after one and a half years Trump has finally done what he said. We can’t be surprised, but we should be very glad the waiting is over. The government is not surprised and had plans in place, namely winning European support via economic deals, and Europe is standing by their new economic partner, at least for now.
The views and opinions expressed by Ramin Mazaher do not necessarily reflect Sputnik's position.