By Javad Heirannia

Pandemic effect on U.S. economy will be very important factor in 2020 elections, says ex-UK ambassador to UN 

June 8, 2020 - 14:3

TEHRAN – Peter Jenkins, the former UK ambassador to the IAEA and UN, says that the effect which the pandemic has had on the U.S. economy will be a very important factor in the November elections.

Jenkins, also a former associate fellow of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, says, “The U.S. unemployment rate will be much higher in November than it was at the start of 2020.”

Jenkins also says he doubts the U.S. would soften approach toward Iran and China if Joe Biden is elected president in the November 20 elections.

Following is the full text of the interview:

Q: Unfortunately, the number of victims of Coronavirus in the United States has exceeded 100,000. The Trump administration, meanwhile, predicted the death toll would not rise to this number. How effective do you think Trump's performance will be in countering the Coronavirus in the U.S. presidential election?

A: A lot can change between now and the presidential elections in November. The signs are, however, that many electors in the South and West of the United States who voted for President Trump in 2016 intend to do so again, despite his mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Less likely is that he will again win the states in the North and East – Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania - that gave him a majority in the electoral college in 2016. He won those states by narrow margins. His mishandling of the pandemic can affect those narrow margins.

Q: The effects of the Coronavirus outbreak on the U.S. economy are also among the issues that have pushed Trump to try to lift the quarantine situation sooner. To what extent can this contribute to the deterioration of the situation?

A: My guess is that the effect which the pandemic has had on the U.S. economy will be a very important factor in the 2020 elections. The U.S. unemployment rate will be much higher in November than it was at the start of 2020. The consumer debt burden on ordinary Americans, already heavy in January, will be even heavier by November. I doubt that President Trump can alter this outcome to any great extent, obvious though his interest in doing so seems to be.

Q: One of the approaches of the Trump administration in foreign policy, which seems to be from Kissinger's point of view, is to control and increase pressure on China. Recently, Trump announced that he would pull companies out of Hong Kong if the Chinese government passed the Hong Kong National Security law. Trump, on the other hand, has stepped up operations in the South China Sea. What are the main reasons for the tightening of China's containment?

A: President Trump is casting around for ways of salvaging his presidency and countering the pandemic’s damaging impact on his re-election prospects. In these circumstances, picking a fight with an external adversary and creating a national cause that enables him to appeal to the patriotism of the American people is an attractive stratagem. This seems to me the most credible explanation for a marked worsening of U.S. relations with China since the onset of the pandemic.  

Q: Will Joe Biden change his approach toward China if he is elected president? Also, what will be his approach to the JCPOA (the 2015 nuclear deal) and Iran in general?

A: The worsening of relations with China to which I have just referred has taken place on fertile ground. For several years now the U.S. establishment’s view of China has been hardening. By “U.S. establishment view” I mean a view shared by a large majority of Republicans and Democrats in the political community, and by the bulk of conservatives and liberals in the intellectual community. The American establishment has come to see China as presenting a threat to the global primacy to which Americans have become attached, and to which it refers euphemistically as “U.S. leadership”. Consequently, I doubt that we can expect a softening of attitude if Joe Biden becomes president. Relations will improve, however. Diplomacy will resume, and a Biden administration will look for negotiated solutions to as many as possible of the concerns that have fuelled U.S. resentment and fear of China.

Peter Jenkins doubts U.S. would ‘soften’ approach toward China and Iran if Biden is elected president 

I expect much the same to be true of the relationship with Iran. Many in the political and intellectual communities will retain hostile feelings towards the Islamic Republic, resentful of the injuries which the Republic has inflicted on the United States since 1979 and forgetful of the injuries that the United States has inflicted on Iran during that same period. But a Biden administration will want to give diplomacy a chance to resolve some of its specific concerns. High among these will be Iran’s nuclear programme. A logical starting-point would be to re-join the JCPOA and to engage in confidence-building by fulfilling the undertakings into which the Obama administration entered in 2015.