There are increasing reports on an imminent return to the Vienna negotiations that are expected to settle the file of a nuclear deal by both Tehran and Washington, which raises a big question regarding Washington’s rationale behind that rush to return to the nuclear deal, while Iran – eagerly seeking to lift the sanctions imposed on it partially or fully – seems to be more at ease and stricter.
The reply that US officials provide to that question revolves around three objectives: preventing a nuclear race from taking place in the region, evading the miseries of a destructive regional war between Iran along with its allies and Israel with its obsession about preventing the former from turning to a third nuclear power, and preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
A quick review of the three objectives reveals that if a return to the nuclear deal was done according to what Iran has been seeking and declaring, i.e., without modifying the signed deal and with lifting all or most sanctions, then the result does not match these proclaimed three objectives.
According to Washington’s recurrent reiterations, the IAEA, Israel, and even the Europeans, Iran has reached a stage that is not far from developing a nuclear weapon, if one could rely on Iranian transparency and on Western intelligence efforts that managed to reveal a lot of Tehran’s covert actions.
The crucial point must be made here that the deal binds Iran to a commitment to the terms it imposes for a maximum of 15 years. However, what will happen after the end of that timespan? How will Iran act once it has rid itself of the sanctions, become more relaxed and competent, and returned to all kinds of normal financial and economic dealings? Accordingly, the earliest result of this rush to return to the Vienna nuclear deal will be a procrastination of the problem solving, or as it is said “hiding the dirt beneath the carpet,” with no decisive action on the issue of Iran’s likely acquisition of nuclear weapons, but rather just a delay of the matter.
Regarding the objective of avoiding a regional war, the US and the European countries might be ignorant of how the entire world is already going through a third world war, albeit intermittently, as described by some, although this description might be relatively comic and exaggerated. The major reason for that war is the failure in handling the issues of extremism, and violent fundamentalism, along with Iran’s expansionist ambitions in the region, its methodology, and the proxy wars it launches in some affiliated countries. The immigration, forceful displacement, poverty, backwardness, and cultural and societal problems which emerged from that situation are results with repercussions that go beyond the region, unlike what many wish to think, particularly the decision makers in the White House.
The outcomes of US policy towards Iran regarding the region have started to crystallize, as evident when following the development of crises and conflicts that are raging across a number of states, entities, and components of that region.
In the same context, Syria remains high on the agenda. Its current situation brings to mind former US President Barrack Obama’s decision to back off from punishing the Syrian regime for its use of chemical weapons against civilians. Back then, this stance surprised Washington’s allies, particularly the French, and it turned out to have been motivated by Washington’s desire not to provoke Iran - which clings to that regime and is ready to do anything to defend it – and attempting to appease it within the efforts to reach a deal with it regarding its nuclear ambitions, and that deal was later signed and declared as a comprehensive mutual workplan.
Nowadays, this Obama scenario seems to be recurring despite some sides in the US that voice their rejection of it. The new scenario entails tolerating the sides that help the Assad regime survive, to the extent of turning a blind eye to assistance provided to that regime along with efforts to reconstruct Syria. This toleration is justified by pretexts that are unconvincing even to those who promote them, such as working on altering the Syrian regime’s conduct and turning it away from the Iranian grip, and another pretext is even aspiring to see Iran and its affiliated groups expelled from Syria.
The irony here is that the current US motivation for tolerating such stances towards Syria by Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, and some Arabs is, yet again, Washington’s desire to appease Tehran and persuade it to return to the negotiations on its nuclear file and to the old deal, while those who promote a normalization with the Syrian regime aim to make President Bashar al-Assad abandon Iran and move to the big Arab house.
All these sides are forgetting, or ignoring, that the Assad regime, and since the earliest days of former President Hafez al-Assad, has been keen on facilitating Iran’s access to Syria and Lebanon, and its expansion and strong presence there since the early stages of the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979. Even during the preparations for that revolution Syria has received cells and groups affiliated with Ayatollah Khomeini. Since then and up till the present, Iran has been enhancing and strengthening its presence, particularly in the south of Syria, transporting more accurate missiles there, and developing the existing loads of such missiles across Syria and Lebanon.
Hence, if Washington’s policy towards Syria remains unchanged and reluctant to condemn the Iranian destabilization of that country, the result will only be a revival of the tyrannical Assad regime and all the ordeals and agonies this will cast upon the Syrian people and the neighboring countries.
In the same vein, it will be no wonder to see this toleration of the Syrian regime recurring in Iraq and Lebanon, which will lead to the entire handover of the three countries to Iran and its agents. In Lebanon, the signs of this handover are already apparent in the construct of the new Lebanese Government which never violates the dominance of Hezbollah in form or context. This government was formed with a French and European blessing, and a US indifference or utter disregard. As for Yemen, Washington’s unclear stance on the Houthis and their massacres has only one red line; namely, preventing any trespassing of Saudi territory or border.
Beside all these clear facts, the indifferent position of US President Joe Biden’s administration on the issues of our region is deeply concerning, for it is an indication of its remarkable narrow mindedness and short sightedness, and that a great deal of US foreign policy is actually meant for domestic affairs. This entire situation pushes the regional countries to options they neither desire nor benefit from.
The rather dangerous phenomenon is the atmosphere of frustration and monotony that is overriding the society and politics in the US, as a large number of Americans, particularly among the democrats, think that their country’s status is diminishing and declining, and they do not like to hear what we have been saying; namely that if the US gets sick, the whole world will. What could be a clearer indication for that than the recent social media outage for a few hours, which resulted in the disruption of services across the world? Hence, what will happen if the US lost its path? Does Washington really know what it wishes to achieve via returning to the nuclear deal? It might make it easier to respond to such queries when knowing that the US is again convinced that it is the sole global superpower, and that the Middle East is crucial to its efforts to thwart the Chinese expansion.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.