IN May 2018, Donald Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear agreement, which encompassed a rigorous set of restrictions and inspections guaranteeing that Iran would not obtain a nuclear weapon. It is important to understand that the JCPOA is not just an agreement between the US and Iran but one negotiated by the P5+1 – the UK, France, China, Russia and Germany – and endorsed by the United Nations Security Council. The US allies have declared that they will continue to support the agreement, as it is in their own national security interests. Trump also rejected the advice of his own top national security officials like the Chair Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford, and defence secretary James Mattis, who repeatedly stated that staying in the agreement is in the national security interests of the US.
By withdrawing from the JCPOA the US has lost the credibility, as no country in the world would sign non-proliferation or any other agreement with the US at least till President Trump is at the helm. Iran’s ‘sin’ is that it backs Bashar al-Assad, supports Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine, and is also accused of human rights abuses inside Iran. In fact, the US uses such pretexts to create disaffection and turmoil in any country that does not fall in line with it. Americans have seen 17 years of war in Afghanistan and 15 years of war in Iraq, and they do not want to be part of never-ending wars in the Middle East. They do not want to be drawn into a Sunni-Shia, Saudi Arabia-Iran regional conflict. By withdrawing from the nuclear agreement and his reckless statements, Trump and his administration has made the world unsafe.
The US feels that the Iranian regime is using the money earned from Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to spread misery in the world by exporting terrorism, which needs to be stopped. The US believes that its withdrawal from the JCPOA and slapping sanctions has already strained Iranian economy, as “Iranian riyal is tanking, unemployment in Iran is rising, and there are widespread protests over social issues and labor unrest”. The US leadership is expressing deep concerns about reports of Iranian regime’s violence against unarmed citizens and supports the Iranian people’s right to peacefully protest against corruption and oppression without fear of reprisal. But with US sanctions people of Iran tend to suffer more, and they would understand that it was due to the US. Anyhow, this is continuation of US policy of regime change, but the US is not likely to succeed.
In April 2017, the US had bombed Syrian forces just days after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested the administration would be fine with Assad staying in power. On June 9, Tillerson called on Saudi Arabia and its allies to end their isolation of Qatar. But within a couple of hours, Trump sided with the Saudis and accused Qatar of funding terrorism. Tillerson had once suggested holding negotiations with North Korea but President Trump rejected the idea in a tweet. And later Tillerson was shown the door. Now, President Trump has slapped more sanctions on Iran and says all countries should bring their oil imports from Iran to zero by the cut-off date of November 8, 2018 else, they will come under secondary sanctions from the US. European Union has asked companies of member countries to continue business with Iran, as the governments would watch their interests.
China has opposed the US’ unilateral sanctions, declaring its business ties with Iran as open, transparent and lawful. China is biggest oil trading partner of Iran having invested in Iran’s oil industry and being biggest importer of Iran’s oil. China alone accounted for 25.6 per cent of Iran’s imports and 19.7pc of its exports since March that are more than all European countries combined. Russia, Turkey and EU have declared the sanctions uncalled for. EU vowed to protect nuclear deal by continuing to trade with Iran. German foreign minister has warned that the unilateral US sanctions could further destabilize the Middle East and boost radical forces in the region. India also hinted to continue business with Iran stating that India’s relations with Iran are not subject to third party influence. Afghanistan pleads the U.S. to exempt Kabul-Tehran trade deals from sanctions on Iran as the country heavily relies on Iranian port of Chahbahar.
Whereas Pakistan accepts the right of Iran or for that matter of any country to develop nuclear technology, it may stay neutral on the question of US sanctions on Iran, as Saudi Arabia had welcomed the sanctions. Pakistan is facing many challenges including economic challenge, and it is already at the receiving end in FATF. Since Pakistan wants to play positive diplomatic role in reducing tensions between all Gulf countries aiming at minimizing sectarian rift, it has to remain neutral. Pakistan is under pressure from the US for different reasons. US Secretary of the State Mike Pompeo said that the US sought Pakistan’s help in Afghanistan settlement, but meanwhile the US has stopped reimbursement of $300 million Coalition Support Fund. The US should understand that a strong Pakistan can be source of strength for the regional peace; therefore the US should review its policy towards Pakistan and facilitate relations with Afghanistan.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.