By Mohammad Mazhari

Neither Trump nor Biden can change Iran policies: professor

December 19, 2021 - 21:25

TEHRAN - An American professor says that Iran does not look like buckling under U.S. pressure.

Noting that “Trump tried to use sticks and Biden is leaning more on carrots, Karl Kaltenthaler tells the Tehran Times that “in the end, both Trump and Biden may fail in getting Iran to move in the direction they wanted.”  

After Trump failed in kneeling Iran via maximum pressure camping and U.S. exit from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Biden promised to reverse Trump’s foreign policies.

However, many critics say Biden was not successful when it comes to reviving the JCPOA, as he continues, indeed, Trump’s pressure policy.

“Trump also wanted a deal but saw pressure on Iran as the way to get it,” Kaltenthaler remarks.  “It did not look like Iran was buckling under the maximum pressure campaign.”

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: How do you see the chance of reaching an agreement in the Vienna talks?

A: I think the chances of reaching an agreement have dropped fairly significantly over the last few months.  An agreement is still possible, and I think both sides would like to reach an agreement, but the probability of an agreement being reached is much less than when the U.S. re-entered indirect talks with the Iranian side.  

The change in government in Iran is a major factor in the reduction of my optimism about the talks.   It has taken a much more maximalist position in the talks and the increased Iranian enrichment of uranium beyond what makes sense for civilian use has changed the atmosphere of the talks and created the impression that the Iranian side would like a deal but can also live without an agreement.

“Ratifying a nuclear deal with Iran in the U.S. Senate would be immensely difficult and would not be a fool-proof guarantee.”Q: Do you think Iran's concerns about reaching any possible pact by the next administration in the U.S. are unreasonable?

A: Those concerns are not unreasonable but that does not mean there is anything the Biden administration can do about it. The U.S. side cannot promise that a new administration will not withdraw from the JCPOA again.  There is simply no way to make that kind of commitment.

Q: Some critics say Biden procrastinated in dealing with JCPOA and reviving it, as some Republicans believe Trump could reach a deal with Iran if he was in office. What is your comment?

A: I think both assertions are likely false.  I cannot see a motivation for Biden to stall on the negotiations.  He wants a deal and sees it as integral to American security.  Trump also wanted a deal but saw pressure on Iran as the way to get it.  It did not look like Iran was buckling under the maximum pressure campaign.

Q: Iran has reiterated that the guarantee is essential for a good deal. How can the parties of the JCPOA develop a mechanism to guarantee its maintenance? There are two theories; first, legal guarantees like ratification of the pact in the congress and second, gaining political weight and cards that can challenge the opposite side in case of breaching the pact. Do you think the first theory is unrealistic?

A: Ratifying a nuclear deal with Iran in the U.S. Senate would be immensely difficult and would not be a fool-proof guarantee that the deal would be protected in the future.  The Iranian government is deeply distrusted by many Americans and there are many powerful groups mobilized to oppose the deal.  There would be intense pressure on Senators not to ratify such a deal.  I do not think it is a realistic option.

Q: If you want to teach your students about the repercussions of U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA, as it encouraged Iran to develop its nuclear capacities, what would you say about the lessons U.S. politicians must learn from Trump’s policies?

A: I do discuss with my students how a state can try to change the behavior of another state.   A state can use diplomacy, economic means, military force, or information campaigns to change the behavior of other states.  More generally, a state can use carrots or sticks to try to get the behavior it wants.  Trump tried to use sticks and Biden is leaning more on carrots.  In the end, both Trump and Biden may fail in getting Iran to move in the direction they wanted.   

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