Trump’s Version of the Iran Accord: Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

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By Prabir Purkayastha, the founder and editor in chief of Newsclick. He is the president of the Free Software Movement of India and is an engineer and a science activist. Produced in partnership by Newsclick and Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute

Trump’s Iran policy is akin to that of a schoolyard bully. More worrying is the passivity of the rest of the world and the dangerous drift to another devastating war in the region.

The U.S., after walking out of the Iran accord, is now shouting foul as Iran has breached the 300 kg enriched-uranium stockpile limit of the accord. Does the U.S. expect Iran to be bound by the accord while it happily reneges on it? Or is its concept of international accords the playground bully’s version of a coin toss, “Heads I win, tails you lose”?

The Iran accord, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action(JCPOA), between six countries and Iran was signed in 2015. The six countries are France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, China and the United States. JCPOA brought down Iran’s stockpile of processed uranium (uranium hexafluoride) from 10,000 kg to just 300 kg or only 2 percentof what it had before the agreement was signed—the same JCPOA agreement from which Trump walked out in May last year, calling it the“worst deal ever.”

Those media sections hyping up Iran breaching the 300 kg limit in JCPOA as a step toward acquiring nuclear weapons capability are simply providing an alibi for the Trump administration’s warmongering.

The U.S.has termed Iran’s exceeding the 300 kg limit as an example of how it was never serious about the agreement. In an Orwellian doublespeak, the White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said, “There is little doubt that even beforethe deal’s existence, Iran was violating its terms” (emphasis mine).

IAEA, the governing body on this issue, has certified as late as March 31, 2019, that Iran was fully in compliance with the agreement even after putting the U.S. and other signatories on notice on its future steps.

Trump and Bolton’s game plan is, and has always been, to beat Iran into total submission: no enrichment, no rocket or missile capability and no alliances or supporting groups or countries in the region thatthe U.S.and its allies don’t like. This is what the U.S.tried in the Bush years with no success. This is the trajectory that led to Iran continuously building up its nuclear capability—centrifuges, stockpile, reactors, etc. It is the recognition that this was a route to nowhere, or another devastating warin the region, that forced the Obama administration to come to the negotiating table and finally the Iran accord.

The Iran accord, though signed between sixcountries and Iran, had its major obligations on the U.S.and Iran. Iran agreed to drastically reduce its uranium stockpile, bring down its number of centrifuges to less than a third, and dismantle some of its reactors. The U.S.agreed to remove sanctions and unfreeze over $100 billion of Iran’s assets that the U.S.had seized. TheU.S.and its allies—France, UK, Germany—had also agreed that theywill not reimpose sanctions on Iran, and if they did, Iran had declared in the agreement itself whichofthe commitments it would breach. And one of them was the 300 kgstockpile limit. To quote the Section 8 of the JCPOA, “Iran has stated that it will treat such a re-introduction or re-imposition of the sanctions…as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.”

Why did Iran choose the 300 kgstockpile limit as its response to the U.S.sanctions? The U.S.—and this is particularly evil—has additionally sanctioned on May 8, 2019, Iran’s ability to exportlow-enriched uranium and heavy water out of the country, which it was doing before the last round ofU.S.sanctions. By exporting the extra amount of enriched uranium that it produces beyond its needs, it kept its domestic stockpile limited to 300 kg. In other words, its breach of the 300 kglimit is a direct consequence of the U.S.sanctions; or, as the JCPOA defined it, the U.S.“imposing new nuclear-related sanctions.”

The U.S.sanctions not only affectIran’s ability to pay for imports through the export of oil, but also imports vital to its economy.Under Trump’s policy of maximum pressure, the U.S.sanctions would be imposed on any entity that trades with Iran, a policy to completely strangulate Iran economically.

The sanctions that the U.S.has imposed on Iran are not only in breach of JCPOA but equivalent to a declaration of economic war, and illegal under international law. The International Court of Justice in its judgment onJune 27, 1986, concerning Nicaragua vs. the United States, made explicit that any signatory to the United Nations cannot use physical, economic or any other measure to coerce another State. Iran sanctions are economic warfare, war by other means. As Alfred-Mauricede Zayas, an expert on international law and formerly with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in the context ofU.S.sanctionson Venezuela:

Modern-day economic sanctions and blockades are comparable with medieval sieges of towns…Twenty-first century sanctions attempt to bring not just a town, but sovereign countries to their knees.

The U.S.sanctions are in violation of the UN Security Council resolutionthat endorsed the JCPOA.

The problem that Iran faces is that all countries that do not agree with the U.S.on abandoning the JCPOA have very done very little to counteract the U.S.sanctions on Iran—except lip service. Even worse, they have tacitly become a part of the U.S.sanctions regime while criticizingit, due to the U.S.stranglehold on the world’s financial system.

TheU.S.control of the SWIFTforeign exchangetransaction system is only one element of the U.S.sanctions regime. Even friendly countries or their companies face sanctions from the U.S., as anyentity that is involved in the oil trade with Iran—the tankers, insurance companies, the refineries, banks—comes under risk of U.S.sanctions; or if they export goods to Iran.No European company wants to touch either buying or selling goods to Iran as they are afraid of U.S.sanctions on their non-Iran related activities. That is why INSTEX, the alternate foreign exchangetransaction system that European countries have created, has yet to take off.

A number of Indian companies had also faced such threats last time the U.S.had imposed sanctions on Iran. The State Bank of India and Indian oil companies had then been threatened with U.S.sanctions. This time, not only does India face about 10-12percentof its oil/gas imports needing to be substituted from other sources;it also means that its exports to Iran would take a big hit.

Iran had made it clear to the other countries that are signatories to the JCPOA that if they wanted Iran to abide by the agreement, they would then have to be willing to buy Iranian oil and continue their trade with Iran. Iran needs a range of goods—from medicines, to chemicals, to machinery—which it pays for with its oil exports. Turkey’s Halkbank faces penalties in the U.S.over its sanction-busting last time, the reason Turkey appears unwilling to confront the U.S.

After Trump’s pulling out of the JCPOA, The EU-3France, Germany and the UK—had committed themselves(July 6, 2018, statement Para 8) as signatories to uphold their side of the deal. The EU-3 has failed to match its words with deeds. Iran had put the world, particularly the other signatories to JCPOA, on notice that if they did not take positive steps to trade with Iran, it would breach the 300 kgstockpile limit on enriched uranium. It has now done so.

Where do we go from here? Will Iran quietly lie down and submit to the U.S.? Or will it hunker down, allowing its industry to not modernizeand its people to suffer various shortages? Will it hit back by arming the Houthis with better weapons against Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates, the U.S.allies in the region? Will it restrict oil flows through the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s biggest choke point that carries 20percentof the world’s oil and liquefied natural gas? What happens if a U.S.drone or a spy plane is shot down over Iran?

We are now back to a collision trajectory between the U.S.and Iran, which can only lead to again another war in West Asia. The problem with the European powers, and to a lesser extent all the major non-NATO powers, is their passivity on this issue. They seem to be content for it to be a U.S.-Iran issue, never mind itsdevastating consequence for the worldand its economy. This non-intervention of the international community is the key issue that is facing us today—not just the U.S.becoming a rogue hegemon.

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25 comments

  1. timber

    My 2 cents:

    Russia/Iran/China need to stop playing by U.S. rules.

    Iran’s biggest mistake was to not build nuclear weapons.

    Russia even gave Saudi Arabia S400, but not Iran. Maybe this was strategery on Russia part and just a miscalculation.

    Russia/China should send a clear signal the multipolar world is gone: Sign a mutual defense pact with Iran or something.

    The could call it the NATO-CRUSHER Pact.

    That just might get some attention.

    Reply
    1. PlutoniumKun

      Russia and Iran may have good relations now, but they are historically regional rivals, with major issues over the Caspian Sea and Islamic minorities within Russia (Russia has always for obvious reasons steered clear of Islamicist countries, favouring secularists). The notion of throwing unconditional support to Iran is not straightforward for the Russians. Not least that the Russian economy can’t afford the level of support Iran may need. Putin has other priorities.

      China will not bind itself to Iran. It is far too dependent on oil from the Gulf States (Iran can’t replace SA oil in quantity or quality for China). Given a choice, the Chinese will go for self interest, which means neutrality in any conflict between Iran and US/SA/UAE. A severely weakened Iran is also an Iran that would be more dependent on conceding deals to China in the One Belt One Road initiative so a strong Iran is not necessarily in China’s geopolitical interests. They also don’t want to open up a new front on the trade war with the US. The Chinese will always be ruthlessly pragmatic when it comes to these issues.

      The UK will follow the US blindly into this, post Brexit they’ve no choice. There is probably some will politically within Europe to stand up to the US – the problem is that European businesses have made their choice – they’d rather stay on the right side of the US/SA/UAE for pragmatic business reasons. So there will be no urgency from Europe as usual.

      While its been reported that Russia will sell the S-400 to Saudi Arabia, I doubt this was any more than theatre. Why on earth would the Russians sell their most advanced system to a country which will allow US/Israeli access to its working innards within day one of its delivery? At best, they’ll sell a system with degraded software and hardware which would be S-400 in name only.

      The reality is that Iran is alone in this, it has no obvious allies with sufficient clout to make a difference.

      Reply
      1. Eustache de Saint Pierre

        Thank you PK for another somewhat depressing reality check. I suppose that Trump is just a more obvious version of the usual US schoolyard bully, backed by the usual cohort of other bullies but with some name changes. Perhaps Iran has come to the same conclusion & has decided that it would rather try & bring the whole house down with it rather than submit.

        There does it appears to me to be an all or nothing feel to very much these days.

        Reply
        1. Clive

          This, your last sentence, has been occupying my thoughts on-and-off but with increasing frequency over the past few weeks and months.

          While I can easily do the usual Slough of Despond reaction I have both a more contextually-sensitive but still not exactly great-outcome mixed feeling about it.

          For the longest time now, since the end of WWII possibly, the world has been engaging in a conscious and unconscious set of actions which are, to cut to the chase, sweeping problems under the rug. I’ll list a few off the top of my head which fall into this category. Northern Ireland. Gibraltar. Israel/Palestine. Post-revolutionary Iran. European continental-mainland militarism and conflict-ridden history, its frequent reoccurrence and how to stop another yet-another occurrence. Capitalism in a zero-growth and resource-constrained environment. On and on and on the list goes. Readers can add their own, from their locality or their hot-button topics.

          Why typifies each of these is a set of “solutions” which are not really solutions at all. They’re — at very best — partially-completed, unfulfilled, works-in-progress. Each needed more effort on the part of the various protagonists and their allies. But, once some sort of vague stability, or at least the appearance of stability (or the “crisis” phase of a crisis was over) off everyone trotted, declaring “job done”, patting themselves on the back and either intentionally or unintentionally not bothering to worry that what has been done is only stable in the short or medium term. The real, underlying problems are still there. They’ve just been ameliorated. Somewhat.

          Well, no more. All those pots on the world’s stovetop which sat there simmering away are coming to the boil. Frantically swapping them around on the hob isn’t going to work. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and do the washing up.

          Reply
      2. Thuto

        While I see the merits of your argument, I also hope the strategists in Moscow and Beijing realise the danger of everyone retreating into the cocoon of neutrality for pragmatic/historical/business reasons is that when Iran is boxed into a corner and sees no way out but to bring the whole house down, this black swan event will render much of what you posit academic. A varsity friend works for Aramco and has privately confessed that everyone knows that once the missiles start flying from Tehran, Saudi Arabia, to say nothing of the UAE, will be completely overwhelmed and the oil production infrastructure destroyed. This means no oil for China or any of the countries that depend on supply from SA.

        Needless to say the impact on the global economy will be catastrophic. Imho we’ve passed the stage where countries can wash their hands of involvement in steering things away from where they appear to be headed out of self-interest or rallying around national flags.

        Reply
        1. PlutoniumKun

          I don’t believe they will retreat into a cocoon, but both Russia and China are acutely aware of the dangers of getting dragged into wars which are not in their interests. Both countries were unwittingly dragged into very damaging wars in the 1970’s and 80’s (respectively, Afghanistan and Vietnam) due to being unwise in their commitments to allies (i.e. the Kabul regime at the time, and Paul Pot). They are unlikely to be foolish enough to do that again, as unlike the US, they don’t have the deep resources to survive repeated defeats.

          Putin has shown he’s aware of the risks in the repeated warnings he’s given the Syrians and Hezbollah that he will not be dragged into a conflict with Israel. The Chinese have been very careful about not seeking mutual military alliances even with countries (such as Pakistan) that they are quite close to. They must surely be aware of the danger that getting behind Iran is to give an incentive to Iranian hardliners to start a war, just as the US’s blank cheque to Israel and SA has gotten it sucked into dangerous conflicts.

          I’m sure they are well aware of what is at stake in the Gulf. But their interest is in cooling it down, not getting sucked in. They may value relations with Iran, but they also value relations with the Gulf States – the Chinese in particular have billions of dollars worth of contracts with them. As the old saying goes, countries have interests, not friends. Both countries will take a ruthlessly cost benefit analysis to their approach to Iran (as will any rational State). This will lead them I believe to offering a certain level of support to Iran, but nowhere near unconditional military or other aid or assurances.

          Reply
          1. Olga

            Neither Russia, nor China will retreat regarding Iran. Remember, Russia was willing to commit a bit of its military might to Syria. Iran is even more important (see my comment below). While it is true that they do not want to get sucked into a war, the most important step is to prevent it. By the time a war starts, it is too late. That is why both countries will do all to prevent one. From all I’ve read, I think PK overestimates the importance of gulf states to China. Iran is far more important, plus China gets a lot of its oil from Iran. Petrushev’s press conference and subsequent Putin’s statements on Iran are instructive. (Plus I would wager that not even hardliners in Iran want to start a war! Any war…)

            Reply
          2. Thuto

            The black swan event is the 800kg gorilla in the room, and given its impact on not just the Middle East but practically the entire world, I believe tips the odds in favour of more involvement by both China and Russia, not less. As you correctly point out, this involvement will most likely take the form of cooling things down rather than getting drawn in but what happens when the intransigent hawks in the US refuse to be swayed from their desire for war with Iran and we do indeed end up with a hot war between Iran and the US? Isn’t it logical to believe that in such a worst case scenario China and Russia, faced with throwing in their lot with either Tehran or the US, will align with Iran?

            Reply
      3. Chris Smith

        Pragmatic in the short term. (Then again, in the long term we’re all dead.) Each time China, Russia, and especially Europe knuckle under to US pressure, it makes it that much harder to take a stand later. Not a good situation at all.

        Reply
        1. Tim Smyth

          I have discussed this many times with my European friends. The EU does have options to retaliate but with someone like Trump in charge where would it end. Their is already an argument for the EU to sanction and freeze Trump’s EU based golf courses for example in retaliation. However, how well do you think that will go over with a figure mercurial as Trump.

          Another option again quite realistic to work would be for the EU to impose secondary sanctions on Saudi Arabia and MBS giving US companies either the choice of working in the EU or working with MBS. Like with Iran secondary sanctions almost all US companies would choose to do business with the EU than with Saudi Arabia.

          Reply
      4. Olga

        The Russia-Iran relationship has been far more complex over the last 200 yrs than just being rivals. This (http://mideastweb.org/iranhistory.htm) is a bird’s eye view, but there are other sources online. Over-simplifications lead to misinformation.
        Also, the claim that China will not bind itself to Iran is likely not accurate. In fact, Iran is a crucial point in the new Silk Road development scheme. Canadian public TV has been running very informative series on the SR, and the web of connections between China and Iran is vast (I’ve not seen comparable info in other western media). ‘China will not give up Iran’ is the inevitable conclusion – although, like with other efforts, China will try to keep things muted and out of sight. (Apparently, China continued to buy Iranian oil even before JCPOA.) Plus – a weak Iran would be subject to US pressure, so that would be hardly a preferable situation for China.
        Also, not sure ‘Iran is alone.’ After the June 25th meeting in Jerusalem of the three national security advisers (Russia, US, and Israel), Petrushev proclaimed Iran an ally of Russia (there’s a press conference one can watch).

        Reply
      5. TimmyB

        That’s not true. Putin put Russian troops, planes, and anti aircraft systems in Syria. Iran has troops in Syria. The Russians and Iranians are already allies in Syria. The Russians will do all they can to support Iran.

        There is nothing short of war Trump can do to prevent Iran from continuing to enrich uranium. Neither Russia nor China would want the US to win that war. They will support Iran.

        Reply
  2. Ignacio

    We cannot afford this new war, not just in economic but in social terms. The only way is to convince the bully this is a mistake. Pile up arguments, go to the whitehouse and make him think twice. Make him see that he is not making America Great Again, on the contrary, he is accelerating the decay.

    Reply
    1. Chris Smith

      Therein lies the problem. The people in charge of the US Government is so afraid of looking weak (and that’s true from Bush II through Obama to Trump) that they won’t back down. They’d rather double down and damn the consequences. The sheer hubris is utterly depressing. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

      Reply
      1. Procopius

        Moreover, some of them, and in the National Security Council staff, are completely in denial about the effects of atomic weapons. They have convinced themselves that a “tactical” warhead is just a big bomb. Game theory has shown that the most probably reaction to use of ANY nuclear device is to conclude that the first user has gone bonkers and you must immediately use your first strike capability before he attacks you. The rationale for Obama’s “nuclear device modernization” is that we can use these smaller nukes “flexibly,” without blowback. These are the same people who were recommending we nuke the missile proving grounds in North Korea as a “bloody nose” warning that if they don’t surrender we can do worse to them. Completely divorced from reality.

        Reply
    2. False Solace

      The only thing Trump cares about is detonating Obama’s legacy. All Iran has to do is rebrand the peace agreement as “The Trump Peace Deal of 2019” with no other changes. Trump would eat it up. Then bray loudly to his fans about how he brought peace to the Middle East and prevented the Ayatollah from getting nukes and stopped a war (which he was about to cause).

      Reply
  3. Steven

    Trump’s professions to the contrary, he is not the brightest bulb on the porch. My take on Trump’s Middle East policy is similar to Tulsi Gabbard’s. Instead of making America great again, he has decided to make the country Saudi Arabia’s bitch (and maybe Sheldon Adelson’s for good measure). In addition to US government debt Saudi Arabia, possesses a lot of oil – or at least it used to. Since oil – and more recently cheap Chinese and developing country labor – now backs the debt the US and other so-called ‘industrial democracies’ continue to send beyond their borders, the thinking must be along the lines of: if the US loses control of the Saudi pump, it loses control of the rest of its vassals as well. Free to make their own deals with the devil, those vassals will no longer need the US – and no longer need to continue absorbing yet more unpayable Western government debt.

    Obama was no prince of peace. But at least he was smart enough to see the future for Western energy supplies rests with Iran, red-lined for all these many years to keep oil prices up and as punishment for the insufferable notion Iranians rather than Western investors should benefit from the oil beneath their soil.

    I just don’t get it. What is in the disgusting toadying to Saudi Arabia for the country – as opposed to its genius in chief? A Trump Towers in Riyadh? Victory in a personal pissing contest with his predecessor? What?

    Reply
  4. Matthew G. Saroff

    The foreign policy of the blob has been, “Talks can start after total capitulation,” for many years.

    Moving away from this policy with the DPRK has been the only bit of (probable accidental) sanity in Trump foreign policy.

    Reply
    1. Carolinian

      Thanks for link

      This may play well with Trump’s and Netanyahu’s bases, but do Trump and his advisers understand what they may be unleashing, through the emboldening of the religious Right in Israel (i.e. Yahwehism with all its biblical connotations of domination and even Empire)? Does Team Trump, Daniel Levy asks, really understand “how completely they are being played by various regional actors, in ways highly detrimental to American interests”?

      Probably not – which is why the region is so on edge. The actualization of a biblical Israel – which US evangelicals clearly desire – represents a provocation far, far more potent than the ‘Deal of the Century’.

      Given that Popmeo and Pence are reportedly “rapture ready” one has to ask whether the US is being led into its own version of “Yahweism.” The ZH site was putting out the perhaps comic speculation that Trump was thinking of replacing Pence on the 2020 ticket with Tucker Carlson. One can seriously suggest that it can’t come soon enough. Picking Pence was Trump’s biggest mistake.

      Reply
  5. Susan the other`

    I really only see an oil grab. All the rest is noise, but it will qualify and justify what happens. The railroad that Iran is building through Syria to the Mediterranean looks like Russian strategy. Where ever the Western powers encroach, counter them with a significant threat to their plans for power. In this case oil is power and Trump is telling us that he considers oil to the the major goal of his administration. Oil as a source of power is fading but it will never go away. One question I have is, Why turn Israel into the oil hub for Europe? Is it too difficult to go thru the Suez canal? I don’t understand that part. But it is clearly a US priority. And this latest move by Iran to run a railroad to the Med. is straight out of Russia’s playbook. The only thing I can imagine is that we are protecting ourselves from a blockade of the Persian Gulf. Even if we are at the ones who impose it. It’s all oil. So if there is ever going to be a solution to this confrontation it will have to resolve, openly and fairly, the contest for oil. It is a finite resource. We all need to face that fact.

    Reply
  6. Oh

    The US controls most of the world through its currency. I used to think that flooding the world with dollars would weaken the dollar (by other countries calling in their dollar promissory notes). Usig SWIFT and making every country pay for oil in dollars, running trade deficits with most countries, arms sales, embargos and using its military strength to threaten/blackmail countries is the policy that the US uses to get its way.

    Other countries have to take a longer term view and keep from getting hooked but it’s not likely to happen.

    Reply
    1. Wukchumni

      I could see some sort of 1971 game changing event, along the lines of Tricky Dick closing the gold window, but how we get there is a bit of a mystery.

      The almighty buck is backed by a spent military, manufacturing sent overseas and a general ill-ease of our leadership, both here & abroad.

      What could go wrong?

      Reply
  7. Carolinian

    The MOA from links is worth a look.

    https://www.moonofalabama.org/2019/07/pretty-please-trump-asked-iran-to-allow-him-to-bomb-it.html

    And there’s a Bloomberg story that a British oil tanker has abandoned its Iraq pickup and is hiding on the coast of Saudi Arabia for fear it will be seized by Iran. Without lifting a finger Iran may already be throwing sand into the world oil delivery gears with generous help from those piratical English Tories. Trump truly has the tiger by the tail this time..

    Reply
  8. Wukchumni

    A tale of two tails…

    For years it was tucked away in a safe deposit box, but soon a rare two-tailed coin will be in the national spotlight.

    The 1965 Washington quarter-dollar struck from two reverse dies has been authenticated by one of the nation’s top coin certification services, which estimated its value at between $75,000 and $100,000.

    Fred Weinberg, 51, of Encino, a professional coin collector and a leading expert in mint errors for 30 years, discovered the one-of-a-kind coin among a lot of 350 coins he purchased in May from the California controller’s office at an auction of unclaimed property from bank safe-deposit boxes.

    https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2001-jul-19-me-24210-story.html

    Reply

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