By Javad Heirannia

Impossible to predict where Trump will go with Iran policy: Falk

June 29, 2019

TEHRAN - Richard Anderson Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, says “We have learned that it is impossible to predict where Trump will go with Iran policy.”

Former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights says “The American people seem opposed at this time to any kind of military undertaking that risks war with Iran.”
Following is the full text of the interview:

Q: Do you think that the maximum pressure campaign on Iran will have an outcome for the Trump government?

A: We have learned that it is impossible to predict where Trump will go with Iran policy. Judging from relations with other leaders, he is likely to be more forthcoming if the foreign government and its leaders are receptive to his diplomatic initiatives and face to face meetings.

Whether this pattern would be followed in relation to Iran is unlikely for several reasons. First of all, Trump has himself taken a number of unilateral provocative steps for which there was no justification, starting with the withdrawal from the Nuclear Program Agreement followed by the imposition of a harsh sanctions regime that seeks to coerce other countries from not trading with Iran, which itself is an instance of economic aggression in violation of international law. Secondly, Trump’s chief advisors seem determined to push the US Government to escalate tensions and threaten military action. Thirdly, U.S. military capabilities have been increased with the obvious goal of posing a threat to and exerting pressure on Iran, or some in the US claim for deterrent purposes. Fourthly, the anti-Iran policy has been pushed by Israel and Saudi Arabia, which exert excessive influence on American foreign policy in the Middle East.

At the same time Trump’s unpredictability may suggest that a more hopeful future. Trump has indicated a willingness to talk, and has seemed reluctant to initiate wars as distinct from making threats. He was critical of Democrats for the regime-changing wars in the Middle East, especially Iraq, and may believe that a military confrontation with Iran would hurt his reelection prospects in 2020. The American people seem opposed at this time to any kind of military undertaking that risks war with Iran.

Q: It looks as though we are approaching the date of the American presidential election, Trump's willingness is increasing to talk with Iranian authorities. Some believe that this tendency is more for electoral advertising than as his foreign policy achievement. What is your opinion?

A: As my prior response suggests, it is always difficult to grasp Trump’s political motivations accurately, and he is quite capable of thinking that peace talks with Iran will help his reelection plans one day and think the opposite way the next day. His positions are adopted and abandoned that reflects his calculations of advantage at a particular moment in time.

Trump knows very little about the substantive issues relating to Iran. All he seems to know is that his friends in Tel Aviv and Riyadh dislike Iran and that his nemesis, Obama, reached a normalizing relationship with Iran that he has repudiated. 

It is quite likely that if Trump thinks he could achieve a new agreement on Iran’s nuclear program that he could promote as his personal diplomatic victory, and claim as a reward for his hard line approach allowing him to proclaim a great political victory. He might believe that such an outcome would bring him victory and a second term in the White House, and he could be right about this. 

Q: If the maximum pressure against Iran does not reach the result,   would you imagine a change in Trump's warring team, including the expulsion of John Bolton and Mike Pompeo?

A: As with the earlier questions, we cannot confidently predict how Trump will handle high officials in his own government whom he thinks disagree or obstruct his policies. It seems that most often such officials resign or are fired, but not always. Yet if he claims victory with respect to his Iran policies he may not break with Bolton & Pompeo.

We cannot know at this point whether the hard line advocated by Bolton and Pompeo is seeking results by exerting maximum pressure via threat diplomacy or is a prelude to war if Iran does not give in or retaliates in some way.  These tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman can be understood either as a possible effort by the intelligence agencies and Bolton/Pompeo to induce Trump to authorize a ‘decisive response’ or maybe just an effort to mobilize public opinion in the US and Europe to become more supportive of the current Washington approach based on hostility and provocation. We do know that the evidence increasingly points to false flag operations in these tanker attacks, and thus clearly intended to raise tensions and set the stage for a further escalation of the conflict.

Q: Given that China's trade war with China will have unfavorable effects on the US economy in the coming months and the economy is also the card winner for the Trump. Reelection campaign, how do you assess the results of the US elections in 2020 in the shadow of the continuation of the trade war with China?

A: As far as we now know, the Trump trade policies are producing a trade war with China that will not end soon, but whether its negative effects will alter the 2020 national elections is highly uncertain at this time. As long as the American stock market remains high and the unemployment levels remain low it is not likely to be a major factor as compared to health, immigration, security, and most of all, a test of Trump’s degree of popularity with the American voting public.

Q: A poll was recently held by Fox News, Media sponsor of Trump, that shows that Trump has less voter support than five Democrats, including Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. Given the fact that the poll was held by Fox News, How do you evaluate it? (Of course, there were some differences between Trump and Fox News recently)

A: Fox News continues to be mainly supportive of Trump, and this presidential popularity poll may have been released to energize Trump support groups to work harder, warning of. a strong challenge from a candidate of the Democratic Party.

There is a broad American consensus that China had been acting unfairly in international trade, which justified some efforts to resurface the playing field in relation to trade and intellectual property rights, but among economists there seems wide agreement that raising tariffs on Chinese imports are not an effective tool for reaching this goal, but are counterproductive to the extent that they drag down the world economy, and end up hurting the United States. As your question suggests over time a trade war will produce a downturn in the American economy that then drags down the world economy. 

These early polls are not reliable. I do not expect that either Sanders or Biden to end up as the choice of the Democratic Party to oppose Trump in 2020. I believe Biden will be seen as too weak a candidate that would self-destruct if facing Trump, while Sanders is seen as too divisive, old, and narrow in his focus. What is true is that Trump remains a historically unpopular president, and is definitely vulnerable to defeat if the Democratic Party puts forward a candidate that unifies its moderate and progressive factions while offering positive programs on the main domestic issues and proposing a more constructive foreign policy. Such Democratic candidate would certainly act to restore the nuclear agreement with Iran and reinstitute a suspension of sanctions in accord with the agreement, which would also achieve a restored consensus with. Europe, Russia, China. If such an eventuality occurs, Iran would be expected to renew its commitment as to an agreed level and quantity of enriched uranium and an acceptance of limits on the annual production of heavy water. Such a positive expectation would be reason enough for me to vote in favor of whomever the Democratic Party ends of nominating. I hope it will be Elizabeth Warren, but several others would be acceptable to me.

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