By Mohammad Mazhari

Richard Nephew a worrying signal to Tehran: expert

March 7, 2021 - 10:15

TEHRAN – A political science professor at the Open University in Britain believes it is a "worrying signal" that Richard Nephew, the architect of sanctions on Iran during the Obama administration, has taken a new role in the Iran Biden administration.

"Based on his previous experience, Richard Nephew is a more concerning choice," Edward Wastnidge tells the Tehran Times.

"As someone who was the architect of successive punitive sanctions against Tehran, and a keen advocate for their usage, it sends a worrying signal," notes Wastnidge, the lecturer in politics and international studies.

Richard Nephew, a scholar, and authority on sanctions joined the Biden administration on Monday as deputy to Robert Malley, the special U.S. envoy for Iran.

The appointment of Nephew has met with derision and criticism from Tehran.

"This is Biden perhaps trying to show two different faces in relations to Iran, but the concern is that doing so will result in an incoherent strategy that may not be as much of a step away from the Trump regime as some observers may have hoped for," Wastnidge argues.
Following is the text of the interview:

Q: What do you think of Biden's team, which includes Robert Malley and Richard Nephew, as some Iranians believe Biden is pursuing Trump's Iran policy?

A: It appears that Biden is trying to balance between his campaign promises and the very real hostility that certain sections of the U.S. polity have towards Iran.  On its face, Robert Malley appeared to be a rational choice, given his experience of working with key Iranian figures during the negotiations that led to the JCPOA. 

"The use of such measures (sanctions) is not only counter-productive but also a morally bankrupt approach," says Edward Wastnidge, a political science professor from Open University. This is in marked contrast to his predecessors, of course, whose outright hostility and unjust policies toward Iran are well known. However, we will have to see whether he can restore much-needed balance in America's Islamic Republic approach.  I would not be surprised if his instincts for diplomatic solutions were curtailed by more hawkish voices inside the administration and beyond.

Based on his previous experience, Richard Nephew is a more concerning choice. As someone who was the architect of successive punitive sanctions against Tehran, and a keen advocate for their usage, it sends a worrying signal.  This is Biden perhaps trying to show two different faces in relations to Iran, but the concern is that doing so will result in an incoherent strategy that may not be as much of a step away from the Trump regime as some observers may have hoped for.
 
Q: Biden's administration is going to be filled by some figures who served under Obama's presidency and it seems that the new administration is too cautious and is not brave enough to make radical reforms. What is your view?

A: I tend to agree with this view also. On the one hand, it is understandable why he would choose to go with trusted allies - people he has worked with under Obama - in order to shape what he might view as a more internationalist foreign policy, focused on multilateralism, rather than the 'America first' policies of Trump. 

On the other hand, though, this does have the effect of constraining innovative and radical voices that would seek to make a real impact in redirecting U.S. foreign policy.  Biden is ultimately a man of the system, just as Obama was, and it is not a system known for favoring radical voices, Trump being the rather extreme exception in this case.

Q: Less than six weeks after leaving office, former U.S. President Donald Trump Sunday unleashed a torrent of attacks on his successor, contending President Joe Biden has had the "most disastrous first month in modern history" in the White House. Do you think Biden can handle the challenges?

?A: I think that these kinds of attacks are symptomatic of the many divides that we see in contemporary society and politics in the U.S. Within this context, Trump's more extreme supporters demonstrated their ability to undertake violent insurrection against the state earlier this year, as we all witnessed.  However, Trump's comments are more indicative of a bitter, conspiratorially-minded election loser than any kind of sane political analysis. 
 I think a key challenge for Biden will be trying to appease the more conservative-minded sections of the electorate while speaking to the desires of the more progressive forces within U.S. politics.

Q: Do you think using sanctions as leverage on Iran was successful?
A: Using sanctions as leverage against the Islamic Republic was an abject failure - it was a vindictive and cruel form of collective punishment against the entire nation. Ultimately, it is ordinary Iranians that feel the impact of such misguided policies. The use of such measures is counter-productive and a morally bankrupt approach in which to conduct international affairs. 

Iran can, of course, deflect some of the pressure from this kind of approach through strengthening its resistance economy and finding novel ways of circumventing the sanctions regime. However, the U.S. is still able to exert considerable control over the global economy, and it uses this to advance its aims in a high-handed, imperial manner borne of a sense of American exceptionalism. 

Sadly, we see this arrogance manifested in successive interventions in the region that have sowed nothing but violence and division - much like the imperial projects of times past.

Q: Is there any conception or understanding in American media and among American politicians of why Tehran is angry with Washington? 

A: There are occasional chinks of light in the depressing picture that is U.S. foreign policy towards Iran. Firstly, we are seeing a younger, more critical generation of scholars and some politicians who are cognizant of the negative impact that successive U.S. government policies have had on Iran and West Asia more broadly.  However, it will take some time for such voices to have any real impact on U.S. foreign policy, and the so-called 'expertise' of much of D.C. think tank community is utterly compromised by its links to some of the region's most repressive regimes. 

We might see slight nods in the right direction, but ultimately a lot of what we hear from the new administration, for example, with regards taking a firmer line with the Saudi regime, or pursuing diplomacy with Iran, is really just window dressing and these are still people who expect that the U.S. has a divine right to rule and therefore intervene as and when it pleases. 

All it's doing is just shifting the narrative to justify its policies to a wider international public and so make it more palatable to them. Ultimately, there can only be positive movement when the hypocrisy that continues to taint U.S. foreign policy in the region is finally recognized and understood. 

There is an understandable lack of trust as to the intentions of any U.S. administration. This is not only due to Washington's unreliability in the past and present but also because of the many vested interests it has with states hostile to Iran.



 

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