By Natasha Phillips
June 7 – Relations between Iran and the U.S. are in a state of complete deadlock and will only improve if each side makes concessions, according to Dr. Shireen Hunter of Georgetown University.
“The resolution of underlying differences between Iran and America is not possible in the short term, largely because of Iran’s domestic dynamics and its hardliners’ opposition to any reconciliation with America,” said Dr. Hunter, a research professor at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, in an interview with Kayhan Life.
“This confrontation has become a matter of pride and prestige,” she added. “Neither of the two states wants to appear as having given up on its principled position. Some formula must be found that allows the two states to save face. America must make some concessions on sanctions and Iran must make some symbolic concessions, for example on its missile program.”
The United States has imposed punishing sanctions on Iran and rolled back a nuclear deal that was negotiated by President Donald Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. Acrimony between the two countries is now at a peak. Iran’s strategy so far has been to issue threats against the U.S. and refuse to negotiate unless sanctions are lifted. There are fears in some quarters that military hostilities may break out.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzō Abe is set to visit Iran on June 12 for a three-day visit aimed at helping ease tensions between Washington and Tehran — even though Japan has still not been designated as an official mediator by either side. It will be the first visit to Iran by a Japanese leader in more than 40 years. Abe is due to meet with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani.
In the meantime, the war of words between the U.S. and Iran continues.
On June 3, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the U.S. of waging an economic war on Iran, and said sanctions would have to be lifted before Tehran would hold talks with Washington.
The same day, President Trump, who was on a state visit to the United Kingdom, refused to rule out military action against Iran, calling the country the “number one terrorist nation” in the world.
Meanwhile, reports of backdoor negotiations between the U.S. and Lebanon, the home of Iran-backed Hezbollah, were announced May 14 on the pan-Arab television station Al Jadeed.
David Satterfield, the U.S. State Department’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, visited Beirut on May 13, the same day that reports of the White House revised military plans on Iran were published. Satterfield flew to Beirut to help resolve an ongoing maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel.
The meeting was endorsed by Hezbollah, indicating a breakthrough between Tehran and Washington. Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington D.C., said June 5 that the breakthrough came about thanks to a unique model which could also be used to defuse tensions between the U.S. and Iran. The model included the suggestion of imposing sanctions on inner circle government members allied with Hezbollah.
Dr. Hunter said sanctions might be imposed on Iran by other countries if Tehran failed to come to the negotiating table.
“Europe, Russia and China could impose sanctions if Tehran continues to play on international fears that a military attack on Iran could damage the health of the global economy and increase the number of refugees going to Europe,” she explained.
“This fear is Iran’s biggest asset in trying to maneuver against American pressure. However, if Iran withdraws from the nuclear deal, then that action would increase the risk of a military attack, and Europe, China and Russia may even support military actions against Tehran.”
John Hannah, a senior fellow focusing on U.S. strategy at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington D.C., has been urging even tougher U.S. actions against Iran. He told Foreign Policy that the U.S. government’s strategy on Iran could include further sanctions, cyberattacks, covert operations and limited strikes against the Revolutionary Guards. The formula could force Tehran to view negotiation as its only option, he argued.
Other analysts believe that exerting further pressure on Iran is unlikely to succeed.
Ernest J. Moniz — who was U.S. Energy Secretary during the Obama presidency –, said at a conference in Singapore on June 6 that the Trump administration’s hardline approach towards Iran was a “strategic mistake.”
He warned that Iran could withdraw from the nuclear deal within a month if the U.S. increased its pressure on Iran. The move would prevent the U.S. from being able to monitor the Islamic Republic’s nuclear capabilities, he said, adding that if Iran retaliated by disrupting the global oil industry, this could have a profound effect on the U.S. which was tied to the international oil market.
Ellie Geranmayeh, a senior policy fellow and deputy head of the Middle East and North Africa program at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London tweeted on June 6 that talks would be unlikely if sanctions weren’t lifted first.
Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 and after re-imposing sanctions on Iran, Tehran responded by ending its compliance with two of the agreement’s provisions.
Natasha is Kayhan Life’s managing editor and journalist writing on foreign affairs, Iran, and human rights.
She is a regular commentator on BBC, Sky News, London Live, France 2, RFI and RTL.
Natasha runs a child rights project called Researching Reform which aims to improve legislation and policy for children around the world.