FeaturedInternationalVOLUME 14 ISSUE # 21

Iran’s resistance paying off?

US President Donald Trump and his aides have started sending messages of “unconditional” talks to Iranian officials after months of bitter confrontation. The dialogue offers are being seen as a victory for Iran, which refused to bow to the US pressure in the wake of harsh international sanctions.


The dialogue offers are in contrast to recent actions of the US, which re-imposed sanctions on Iran last year and ratcheted them up in May, ordering all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil. In recent weeks, it has also hinted at military confrontation, saying it was sending extra forces to the Middle East to respond to an Iranian threat. Cooling down his rhetoric recently, Donald Trump said he was hopeful Iran would come to the negotiating table to reach a new deal. His Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is also ready to talk to Iranian officials with “no preconditions.” However, Iranian supreme leader Seyyed Ali Khamenei said his people and authorities would not fall for US President Donald Trump’s political ploys. Addressing a ceremony in Tehran, he warned that the US recourse to political approaches aimed at creating an impression that it had abandoned its subversive ways against the Islamic Republic. He lauded Iran’s “doctrine of resistance” against imperialism and said the goal behind pursuing resistance was to reach the point of economic, political, social, and military deterrence.


Iranian Military Chief Major General Mohammad Bagheri also dismissed any negotiations with Washington on Iran’s missile programme. “The Iranian nation will not retreat an iota from its defensive capabilities,” Bagheri said. President Hassan Rouhani suggested Iran might be willing to hold talks if the United States showed it respect, but insisted that Tehran would not be pressured into negotiations. Iran has also warned that oil prices will jump beyond $100 a barrel if the first bullet is fired in the Persian Gulf. A top military aide to Ali Khamenei warned that the US military vessels in the Persian Gulf were within the range of Iranian missiles. Yahya Rahim Safavi said, “The Americans are fully aware that their military forces in the region are within the Iran’s missile range and all US and foreigners’ navy in the Persian Gulf are within the range of land-to-sea missiles of the Revolution Guards. The first bullet fired in the Persian Gulf will push oil prices above $100. This would be unbearable to America, Europe and the US allies, like Japan and South Korea,” Rahim Safavi was quoted as saying by the Iranian media.


According to the New York Times, President Trump and his aides have sent a dizzying, seemingly conflicting set of messages to Iran in recent weeks, ordering more troops to the Middle East and a carrier to the Arabian Sea as military threats even while declaring that Washington is seeking new negotiations, not war. European allies, still trying to save a 2015 deal to restrain Iran’s nuclear programme that Mr. Trump abandoned a year ago, are trying to make sense of the administration’s strategy. It appears Mr. Trump wants to play the role of neither conqueror nor courtier, walking a fine line between military threats and diplomatic outreach but committing to neither. At various points, he has warned that there is “always a chance” of conflict with Iran while urging negotiations — with no visible plan to make them happen, the newspaper observed.

Some American officials fear the president may have undercut his own leverage by repeating that he does not want a conflict with Iran — deliberate or accidental — as the 2020 election approaches. And Mr. Trump has recently distanced himself from the White House national security adviser, John R. Bolton, who publicly advocated regime change in Iran for years before joining the administration. But Mr. Trump has also shown little interest in setting up a real diplomatic process to begin talks with Iranian leaders, the officials said, including resisting the kind of secret, back-channel discussions that President Barack Obama started several years before broad negotiations began. In short, Mr. Trump neither avidly supports engaging Iran nor wants to be so confrontational to provoke Tehran into lashing out. Administration officials insist this middling course has worked — at least so far, the newspaper noted.


On May 21, Patrick Shanahan, the acting US defense secretary, claimed that the alleged threat from Iran had diminished as a result of an American show of force in the Middle East. All the while, democratic lawmakers have been warning that anti-Iran hawks in the Donald Trump administration are laying the groundwork for an armed conflict with Tehran, noted Mojtaba Barghandan, an Iranian researcher, Middle East political and security analyst. As a country with a dark history of war, occupation, genocide and war crimes, the US is certainly afraid of every tiny move around the globe. In contrast, the Islamic Republic of Iran believes that prevention is better than rehabilitation, he elaborated.


Experts say Iran has always taken necessary actions for defensive purposes since the inception of the Islamic Revolution. On top of that, it reacts to threats with diplomatic language first and if it does not operate, it would prefer to recourse to international communities before applying the same language as the source of the threat. The US military’s continuous threats and rhetorical retreats through official and unofficial statements are for setting a new agenda behind the scenes. It is not because the US military may come to a conclusion that the Islamic Republic’s military is really punching above its weight.


Although this agenda setting may decrease the probability of a real war between Iran and the US, yet it may in the long run enforce changes in various parameters for both sides such as political stability, economic capability and military strength that are the main elements in measuring the balance of power among states. The perception of a threat may also emerge depending on the interpretation of the threat in different situations. The threat interpretations are neither imaginary nor can be taken solely as the base for threat perception. At the same time, the extent that an action can be interpreted as a threat may depend on the history of the two sides’ background of conflicts.


Thus, based on the historical facts, there has been neither a real war nor long-lasting cooperation between the two countries, but rather some consensuses between them when and wherever it has been necessary for the preservation of their strategic interests. The threat for Iran and the US can be interpreted based on the history of their interactions and counteractions and the variety of tools they have employed to enforce the other side to retreat wherever and whenever it has been applicable.