Donald Trump did not shred the “very bad” nuclear deal with Iran. He has strongly shaken it and trembled the image that Iran tried to market at the international level after the signing of the agreement.
He raised doubts and asked questions about what his predecessor, Barack Obama, considered the most important achievement of his era.
The deal was not the most important part of the president’s speech. It was rather the message that Iran’s problem with the world and the Middle East is about its role outside its borders, long before its nuclear dream; as if he wanted to say that the role is more dangerous than the bomb, and that thinking about the bomb may be aimed at protecting the ability to maintain this role.
Also read: Blowing up the nuclear agreement
The American president awakened memories and facts that Obama was keen to forget. He recalled the bloody events in the Iranian-American relations since the victory of the Khomeini revolution. He reminded the Americans of their diplomats being held hostage at their country’s embassy in Tehran as Iranians shouted “Death to America.” He has also mentioned the coffins of American soldiers returning from Beirut because of a bomb carrying the fingerprints of the Iranian intelligence.
Trump went beyond the aspect of bilateral relations. He accused Iran of being “the biggest supporter of terrorism in the world”, harboring al-Qaeda officials, and turning a destabilizing approach into a permanent policy. He also pointed to the Revolutionary Guard’s role and weapons in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
The US president seemed to be putting together accusations as a prelude to trial, or as someone preparing a complete file to justify the “new strategy” toward Iran.
What Trump has publicly announced from the White House is what US diplomats say in closed rooms and private meetingsGhassan Charbel
A clear message
This strategy contains a clear message to the people of the Middle East. He said: “We will revitalize our traditional alliances and regional partnerships as bulwarks against Iranian subversion and restore a more stable balance of power in the region… We will work to deny the Iranian regime … funding for its malign activities.” The Treasury’s sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard were the first fruits of Trump’s words.
Many points have to be considered in Trump’s position. He placed Iran back in the center of danger, after Korea occupied this place in the previous weeks. It became clear that Trump considers his first test to be in the Middle East, not along China’s borders.
Trump also re-emphasized the danger posed by the Iranian role, which is translated in a large-scale attack on the Middle East region – an area that concerns the world in terms of its wealth, stability and balance of power.
The third message is that America, which has signed the nuclear agreement with Iran, is not in a position, especially under the current administration, to consider violations that Iran has made in a number of Arab countries as a de-facto reality that must be recognized.
This practically means that Washington does not recognize Tehran’s right to have the last say in Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sana’a, and refuses that Qassem Soleimani becomes the chief of generals in the four capitals.
What Trump has publicly announced from the White House is what US diplomats say in closed rooms and private meetings. His position is also consistent with the stance of US generals who worked in Iraq and witnessed the size of the coup led by Iran in the region, especially after the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime…A coup that is waged “by militias, rockets and small mobile armies and by destroying the immunity of international borders,” as described by an Arab official.
Trump’s speech turning into policies on the ground will certainly reverse the approach Obama has taken in his last years in power. An American diplomat says he has asked Obama more than once to allow some weapons into Syria to restore balance that would force the regime to engage in serious negotiations.
He adds that Obama’s consistent position was based on three rejections: No to war against Iran in Syria, no to a position threatening US Special Forces in Iraq, and no to a stance threatening nuclear negotiations with Iran.
The diplomat concludes that Iran was more interested in field expansions than its nuclear program, and thus succeeded in “changing the positions of countries and their political and sectarian balances and altering the environment of historic Arab capitals.”
America’s allies and friends had feelings of resentment when Obama insisted on reading the whole region’s file based on his desire to accomplish the Iranian nuclear deal. They considered his position a coup to the pillars of the US traditional policy, which was focused on the security of its allies and its commitment to address any threat to their stability.
Trump’s speech turning into a specific policy is aimed at containing the Iranian fiasco in the region. In coordination with Washington’s historic friends, this policy would certainly be the largest response to the great Iranian coup, which is aimed at besieging and destabilizing influential countries in the region and weakening their strategic importance.
Degree of stability
There is no return to a degree of stability in the region unless the balance of power is adjusted by new regulations that require armies to be stationed within their own countries and that force militias to leave the territory of others.
Arab moderates do not see an opportunity of this kind without an American role that will revive the red lines in the face of successive coups and the spread of militias. In this context, it is possible to understand Saudi Arabia’s support for the “firm strategy” announced by Trump, and the phone call made by King Salman bin Abdulaziz with Trump after the latter’s speech.
Trump has returned the issue of the Iranian role to the international agenda. This was evident in the conversation between Angela Merkel and Theresa May.
While the two officials stressed their adherence to the nuclear agreement with Iran, they underlined the need for the international community to face the Persian State’s destabilizing policies – an issue that will be discussed in the coming days on the European table. It is obvious that Iran is angered with the new attention to its destabilizing role.
We must wait and see whether it would respond by its old means and where. It is certain that Trump’s speech turning into a policy represents a major coup against the Iranian coup, which has benefited greatly from the invasion of Iraq, Obama’s withdrawal tendencies, and the emergence of ISIS and its horrific practices.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.
Ghassan Charbel is the Editor-in-Chief of London-based Al Sharq al-Awsat newspaper. Ghassan's Twitter handle is @GhasanCharbel.