By Mohammad Mazhari

Iran's conventional arms are completely legal: American scholar

January 29, 2021 - 10:29

TEHRAN – Describing that depriving Iran from its defensive capabilities is a “fantasy”, an American academic says “Iran's conventional weapons are completely legal.” 

“The objection to them is the fantasy that Iran could at some future date use conventional weapons to deliver a nuclear warhead to Israel,” William O. Beeman tells the Tehran Times.

Professor emeritus of the State University of Minnesota emphasizes that “Iranian leaders will never agree to limit conventional defense in order to return to the JCPOA.”

The following is the text of the interview: 

Q: What is the significance of the JCPOA in these circumstances while some Arab regimes and Israel argue that the region does not need revitalizing such a deal?

A: There is a bit of a charade going on here. What Israel objects to is not the restoration of the JCPOA. Even Israel knows that the JCPOA was never necessary since Iran was already prohibited from developing nuclear weapons through the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) dating back to 1970. It was the false claims that Iran was violating the NPT in 2003 and the sanctions imposed on Iran that created the need for the JCPOA. Iran has no nuclear weapons program and is not going to develop one as long as Iran remains a signatory to the NPT. 

No, what Israel and the Arab states are worried about is the normalization of relations between the United States and Iran. Iran is the most powerful nation in the region. As long as Iran remains estranged from the United States, and economically weakened through sanctions, these other States believe that their own power and influence is aided. They do not want any improvement in U.S.-Iranian relations, and they don't want Iran to be strengthened economically, and that is why they oppose the JCPOA. 

Q: Some advisers close to Biden like Robert Malley believe that discussing Iran's missiles won't help reach an understanding over the nuclear dispute. Do you think the U.S. will return to JCPOA without pre-condition?

A: Robert Malley is a very seasoned foreign relations expert, who has had long dealings with Iran. He is Egyptian/Syrian in family origin and knows the region very well.  Malley is right. Imposing pre-conditions on the United States return to the JCPOA is going to muddle, and perhaps totally frustrate the process. 

“The objection to them is the fantasy that Iran could at some future date use conventional weapons to deliver a nuclear warhead to Israel,” Professor Beeman notes.Iran's conventional weapons are completely legal. The objection to them is the fantasy that Iran could at some future date use conventional weapons to deliver a nuclear warhead to Israel. This is the most far-fetched scenario possible, but Netanyahu and Republican hawks in the United States have convinced low-information citizens of their countries that Iran is a month, two months, six months, from producing a bomb and attacking Israel. They have been saying this since 1990, so one would think that by now people would understand that this is a totally ridiculous accusation.

So, this is going to be a non-starter in dealing with Iran. Iranian leaders will never agree to limit conventional defense in order to return to the JCPOA. 

But what Iran may be willing to do as a kind of precondition is to scale back its enrichment of uranium. Of course, I believe that Iran increased enrichment, not for any functional purpose, but rather to have precisely this bargaining chip when it came time to discuss returning to the JCPOA. 

This will be a bargaining situation, however. And this is a situation where both the United States and Iran cannot afford to lose face in these negotiations. This is not personal for Biden. If he gives up too much or gives in too easily, he will be attacked by Republicans immediately, and a good part of the American public who voted for Trump will believe these Republican attacks. Iran also has an election coming up this spring, and the success in dealing with the United States will be important in this election as well. 

Q: What do we learn from Trump's presidency and his “maximum pressure” policy? Why did Trump fail to dictate his administration’s 12 terms on Iran?

A: Trump was committed to regime change in Iran, or at least to forcing Iran to come to the United States with concessions on support for external actors, reduction of its conventional weapons programs, and whatever else Trump could imagine. He wanted Iran to come begging to him, and he thought that the maximum pressure strategy would work. 

He was returning to the George W. Bush administration policies toward Iran. The Bush administration believed mistakenly that if enough economic pressure could be exerted on Iran, the Iranian people would rise up and overthrow their own government. A ridiculous idea, but it was very seriously promulgated by Bush, and also by Trump. People like John Bolton actively encouraged this. 

I should mention that royalists and other Iranians living in the United States who are opposed to the current Iranian government were actively supporting Trump in this last election because they had been told by Trump's officials that if he were re-elected he would launch a military attack on Iran and overthrow the government. 

Trump's policy was designed to be a strong departure from the Obama administration. If Obama was trying to improve relations with Iran, in the hopes of making progress in areas of mutual interest, then Trump definitely wanted to go in the opposite direction and show extreme hostility toward Iran to pressure Iran into doing what his administration wanted. 

But it didn't work. Trump knew nothing about Iran. In fact, Iran has a very robust internal economy. Iran is self-sufficient in just about everything except for specialized pharmaceuticals and specialized technical equipment. In fact, the poverty level in Iran is less than that in the United States. Iran's economy actually expanded during the two years of the Trump administration. Iran survived these Maximum Pressure sanctions. It created some very difficult economic situations for some people, but for the most part, life continued rather normally.  

Q: Is there any obvious mechanism to return to the JCPOA? Some observers suggest "compliance-compliance". What is your comment?

A: No. Too much time has passed, and although President Biden is committed to returning to the JCPOA he cannot do it without negotiations. For one thing, the sanctions against Iran are so incredibly complicated, they will take a long time to be untangled. See the Wikipedia page below. You will see that there are layers and layers of sanctions that need to be dealt with. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_sanctions_against_Iran#:~:text=U.S.%20economic%20sanctions%20are%20administered,parts%20to%20Iranian%20aviation%20companies.

But more importantly, as I mentioned above, there is a political reality involved. If Biden just declared that the JCPOA sanctions were lifted without any concessions from Iran, he would be pilloried by Republicans, and the Democratic party would lose power in the next elections in 2022.  So, there must be negotiations. Both sides will have to make some concessions, and the other signatories to the JCOPA must also be involved.  With goodwill, this will be possible, but it will be an involved process. 

Q: What are the main challenges of Biden in the future? Is America concerned about Trump's return?

A: For President Biden the massive effort in unifying the nation. The United States is very badly divided. He also has to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic which is worse in the United States than practically anywhere else. He has had a few good days thus far, and people are feeling optimistic, but it will be a difficult four years for him. And in this context, the U.S. Iranian relationship has a much lower priority than many other things. It is important, but if negotiations over the JCPOA and sanctions.



 

Comments

  • 2021-01-30 22:41
    The last sentence is not complete. Please complete it. The article is brilliant.

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