By Mohammad Mazhari

'Ties with Iran will be hostile even if U.S. rejoins JCPOA with a Democratic president, Congress'

October 6, 2020 - 23:18

TEHRAN – Even if the U.S. rejoins the 2015 nuclear deal with a “Democratic president and Congress” the relationship between Washington and Tehran will remain “difficult and adversarial”, a former White House official predicts.

In an interview with the Tehran Times, Professor Frank N. von Hippel also says “Iran has its own good historical reasons to distrust the U.S.” 
Frank N. von Hippel, a former assistant director for national security in the White House Office of Science and Technology, cites the 1953 overthrow of the Mossadegh government and the backing of Saddam Hussein during his 1980-88 war against Iran as examples for distrust.

This is the text of the interview:

Q: What is the difference between Democratic and Conservative policies towards Iran?

A:  I believe a Democratic administration would be more independent of the views of the leaderships of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and UAE. But, if Iran sets politically impossible conditions for rejoining the JCPOA, then sanctions will continue, and France, Germany, and the UK would indeed become more supportive of the U.S. position.

Q: Iran has said it will reverse its decision in reducing JCPOA commitments provided that the new U.S. administration make undertakings that it will not pull out of the nuclear deal and that it would “compensate the financial losses caused by the sanctions.” What is your assessment?

 A: I am afraid the second condition would be politically impossible.

 “I understand the argument that the Trump administration gratuitously did great economic damage to Iran and that Iran should be compensated for that damage.” I understand the argument that the Trump administration gratuitously did great economic damage to Iran and that Iran should be compensated for that damage.  However, despite the U.S. rejoining the JCPOA agreement and even with a Democratic president and Congress, the relationship between the U.S. and Iran will remain difficult and adversarial.

 Iran has its own good historical reasons to distrust the U.S. (including the 1953 overthrow of the Mossadegh government and the backing of Saddam Hussein during his 1980-88 war against Iran).

 But the U.S. – whether led by Democrats or Republicans – has concerns about Iran. Even if the U.S. reduces its military presence in the Persian Gulf, and even if there is disillusionment with Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians, there will remain a commitment to the security of Israel and a concern about Iran's support of Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip as threats to Israel. 

 In that context, the idea of restitution of $100-200 billion for the Trump Administration's economic damages to Iran would be politically impossible.  If that made it impossible to reestablish the JCPOA, the confrontation over Iran's nuclear program would continue, and it would be impossible to proceed to try to develop a broader détente between Iran and the U.S.

Q: A New York Times report has revealed that Trump paid no income tax in 10 of the last 15 years. How can it affect his reelection bid?

 A: There will probably be a marginal effect. The people who already oppose Trump will have one more reason.  On the other side, the people who support Trump because they are against abortion, or gun control, or government regulations, or are hoping to keep non-white people from political power have already come to terms with and accepted Trump's corruption.  But marginal effects may be important in this election.

Q: Donald Trump has nominated Amy Coney Barrett to become an associate justice of the Supreme Court. In case of disagreement over the result of the elections, can the choice change the balance in his favor?

 A: The polls show Trump likely to lose a fair election.  Therefore, he is trying to raise doubts about the fairness of the election to justify his own measures to make it unfair by suppressing the vote in areas where Black and Latinos live and disqualify as many as possible of the mail-in ballots, which Democrats tend to use more than Republicans.  Such measures are resulting in legal challenges, some of which might reach the Supreme Court, which, in 2000, decided a contested vote-counting situation in Florida in favor of the Republican candidate, George W. Bush.  The Democrats hope that the margin against Trump will be so large that such a decision would not be credible.

Q: Can Trump resort to the Insurrection Act to send active-duty troops onto American streets to quell possible protests over the election results?

 A: Trump has threatened to do so, but, after Trump's political use of non-military forces to suppress a peaceful demonstration near the White House on 1 June, the military has become more resistant to being used for political purposes.

Q: Regardless of who will be in the White House, do you expect a meaningful change in U.S. policies, including endless wars and intervening in other countries' domestic issues?

A: The interventions and endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were triggered by the Al Qaeda attacks in New York and Washington on 11 September 2001.  Fear of terrorism continues to be used to justify relatively small U.S. deployments in many countries in Africa and elsewhere.

Concerns about potential Iranian hegemony in the Persian Gulf region and control of its oil – or even just disruption of tanker traffic through the Straits of Hormuz – have justified continued U.S. deployments there. 

My own view and probably that of a majority in the U.S. is that the U.S. has overemphasized the use of its military and underemphasized the use of diplomacy in international relations – especially under the Trump Administration.  I would hope that a Democrat president and Congress would reflect that perception.  Also, we need to reduce our military budget so that we can deal with our domestic problems of inequality, decaying infrastructure, and the need to shift away from fossil fuels.

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