By Mohammad Mazhari

Russia-West tension can affect any possible agreement with Iran: professor

February 25, 2022 - 22:4

TEHRAN – A professor of government and international affairs at George Mason University believes that tension between Russia and the West can increase or decrease the importance of agreement with Iran.

“The current crisis in relations between Russia and the West both increases and decreases the attractiveness of an agreement,” Edward Rhodes tells the Tehran Times

“Obviously, reductions in the supply of oil and natural gas from Russia to Europe make bringing Iran fully back into world energy markets attractive,” Rhodes notes.

Russia’s military operation in Ukraine has led to an unprecedented escalation between Moscow and European capitals as well as Washington. Concerns about energy supply in the world have been rising.  
As Germany on Tuesday halted the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea gas pipeline project, Western powers are thinking of alternatives that can replace Russia in supplying energy.

The professor is of the opinion that Iran can be an attractive alternative if the trust between Tehran and the West is restored.
Following is the text of the interview:

Q: All parties to the JCPOA are talking about an imminent agreement in Vienna. Are you optimistic despite mutual rhetoric between Iran and the U.S.?

A: First, let me note that from the comments being made by officials here in Washington, it is not at all clear that an agreement in Vienna is imminent.  
I very much hope that a mutually acceptable agreement can be reached - one that brings Iran fully back into the global economy, that is effective in committing Iran to nuclear non-proliferation, and that contributes to the reduction of violence in the Persian Gulf and larger Middle Eastern (West Asian) region. 

I think that an agreement that achieves these three goals is in the best interest of the West, of the Iranian people, and of the world more generally.  Given the obstacles to reaching such an agreement, however, I think considerable doubt is warranted that it can in fact be achieved.  That progress has been reported in Vienna is, of course, a good sign.  Until all the parties formally and publicly announce that an agreement has definitively been reached, however, I think any celebration is very, very premature.

Even given the interest that all parties share in reaching an agreement, the fact that the United States cannot, as a legal or practical matter, provide guarantees that it would not reimpose sanctions should it believe this necessary, like the fact that Iran is unable or unwilling to provide guarantees that it will not resume activities that would yield the capacity to produce nuclear weapons, makes an agreement politically difficult.  An agreement would require not only that both governments be willing to trust the other, but that they acknowledge to their own public that this is the case.
What Iranians need to understand is that, unfortunately, the American public is deeply skeptical about the Iranian government.  Any agreement that might appear to be making concessions to Iran or that requires the United States to trust the Iranian government will be very unpopular with the Americans.  Even those members of Congress who themselves believe that an agreement is desirable will be sensitive to the views of their constituents.

The American public's hostility toward the Iranian government dates back to the "Hostage Crisis" of 1979-80, which was a searing experience for Americans of that generation.  

Americans remain aware that Iranian leaders have, in the past, referred to the United States as "the Great Satan."  Americans are, for the most part, deeply religious people, and while they may be willing to admit to making mistakes, they are unlikely to be forgiving or trusting with anyone who describes them as being supporters of Satan.  That Iran has been openly hostile toward Israel is a further problem for many American Christians who regard the existence of Israel as having Biblical significance.

Given this background, building trust between America and Iran is likely to be a task that takes generations.  Not much progress is currently being made.

For the Biden administration, any agreement in Vienna - short of one that commits Iran to continuous, unconstrained monitoring of plausibly atomic-related facilities by international observers and that offers meaningful guarantees that Iran will cease supporting its allies in the region - will be politically very costly.  Especially with midterm elections on the horizon, members of his party in Congress will be urging caution.  

The current crisis in relations between Russia and the West both increases and decreases the attractiveness of an agreement.  Obviously, reductions in the supply of oil and natural gas from Russia to Europe make bringing Iran fully back into world energy markets

attractive.  At the same time, however, in this environment of heightened tension, any "concessions" to anyone become more and more difficult.

Q: What will be the implications of a JCPOA revival for the world and the relations between Iran and the West?

A: The Obama administration's hope had been that the JCPOA would open the door toward more broadly improved relations between Iran and the West.  This never materialized - in the first place because of Iran's continued support of anti-Western groups in the region, and then because of the Trump administration's imposition of sanctions.  If the original JCPOA did not create conditions for further progress, it is hard to be optimistic that a return to JCPOA will do so.

Indeed, reports in the Western press are that the Iranian government has explicitly ruled out the possibility that a return to the JCPOA might open the door to wider cooperation.  Whatever the case, however, there is very little optimism that the JCPOA by itself will lead to improved relations.  What would be necessary would be a substantial change in rhetoric on both sides, visible steps in cooperating on matters of shared interest (for example, in medicine, literature, music, or the visual arts), and some indication that the major foreign policy differences between the two states can in fact be addressed.

Q: Which sides are the main opponents of JCPOA revival in the U.S.? How can they make the restoration of the deal costly? 

A: What needs to be emphasized is that the principal opponent to the JCPOA is the American public.  In saying this, I also need to make clear that only a tiny handful of Americans are aware of U.S. sanctions on Iran or of the fact that the Vienna negotiations have been taking place.  But opinion leaders are aware that the American public could easily be mobilized in opposition to the JCPOA and can probably not be mobilized in support.

For purely political reasons, so long as it is the Biden administration conducting the negotiations, Republicans are likely opponents of the JCPOA.  So long as the Israeli government views the JCPOA as dangerous, supporters of Israel - fundamentalist Christians even more than Jews - are also likely to mobilize opposition.  Beyond this, the wide variety of interest groups that have economic or other ties to Arab states that feel threatened by Iran's foreign policies are also to be inclined to oppose the JCPOA.  The Biden administration is thus likely to face considerable political opposition within the Democratic Party as well.

Q: Why do hawkish politicians and Republicans insist on engaging the U.S. in costly clashes around the world? 

A: It is important to avoid simplistic answers.  A lesson that many Americans learned from the war against Nazism, fascism, and nationalist-militarism in the 1940s; from the longer Cold War against communism in the 1950s-1990s; and from the experience of terrorist attacks on ordinary civilians is that there is evil in the world, and that simply ignoring this evil is not an option. 

Although they are unaware of this, the thinking of most Americans is deeply influenced by the early Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo and by 20th-century Christian theologians such as Reinhold Niebuhr.  Even though most Americans themselves are completely unaware of their own religious and philosophical presumptions about the world, no one should underestimate how deeply rooted most Americans are in these philosophic traditions.

Q: Do you predict the U.S. Congress would create hurdles in the path to revive the JCPOA at least in the future or after the Biden administration?
A: If Congress is forced to weigh in on the JCPOA at the present time, a return to the JCPOA will not happen.  In time, Congress and the American people may well become more supportive.

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