US and Iran: Time to walk away from an abusive relationship

Obama Administration is already seeming like the battered wife who refuses to recognize the bitter reality of her situation...

Baria Alamuddin

Published: Updated:

We are only a few months into the new “reset” relationship between the US and Iran and the Obama Administration is already seeming like the battered wife who refuses to recognize the bitter reality of her situation.

We see the same patterns of denial: “Iran has turned over a new leaf”; “Iran has promised that it won’t do it again”; “Iran is really so sweet and gentle when you get to know him…”

With each fresh humiliation, Secretary of State John Kerry is forced to resort to ever more tortuous logic to explain away why repeated broken promises are just isolated incidents and why systematic patterns of aggressive behavior, threats and abuse do not reflect the norm.

We learned in recent days that a US diplomat, Chris Backemeyer, has been specifically delegated to go around US firms and convince them to engage with Iran. His “nuclear deal roadshow”, as one news agency called it, is tasked with assuring major companies that both sides are fully committed to the deal; that any future US president won’t reintroduce sanctions; and that Iran is a safe and lucrative market to invest in.

Backemeyer has been bullish about the determination of all parties to go ahead with the deal, saying: “While they may think they can get a better deal, or could have gotten a better deal, walking away from one that's working isn’t wise.”

Iran’s recent testing of ballistic missiles with a potential nuclear application, in clear contravention of the agreement, certainly raises questions about Backemeyer’s assertion of 100 percent commitment from both sides.

Meanwhile, other parts of the US administration have pointed the finger at Iran for a coordinated campaign of cyber¬ attacks over the past four years against US financial institutions and civil infrastructure. The Iranian individuals were working for the Revolutionary Guards and there is of course zero chance of them being held to account.

“We can tell the world that hackers affiliated with the Iranian government attacked US systems, and we seek to bring them to justice for their crimes,” Assistant Attorney General John Carlin said on 24 March.

Senator Charles Schumer said: “They were saying that we can damage, seriously damage, our critical infrastructure and put the lives and property of people at risk.”

The announcement of the formal implementation of the nuclear deal this January was considerably sweetened by the release of five US prisoners from Iranian jails – widely seen as hostages used to influence US policy.

Details are now emerging of a payment of nearly $2 billion that was transferred to Iran on the day these hostages were released, ostensibly in settlement of a long-standing legal dispute. However, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this amounted to a ransom payment.

This wouldn’t have been so hard to stomach if Iran hadn’t immediately rounded up and detained another batch of American hostages: Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his 80-year-old father, as well as Washington resident Nizar Zakka. So much for a new chapter of US-Iranian relations!

This of course brings to mind the manner in which US naval officers as recently as January were forcibly detained while on routine patrol in the Arabian Gulf before being paraded on state TV and coerced into making humiliating apologies.

All the while, Ayatollah Khamenei has kept up a non-stop onslaught of anti-American rhetoric; describing America as Iran’s “enemy par excellence”, accusing US banks and businesses of being insufficiently enthusiastic about doing business with Iran and charging his own nuclear negotiators with having caved in to US pressure.


Kerry and Obama’s response has been to bend over backwards in demonstrating their absolute commitment to the deal and encouraging American re-engagement with Iran. However, one suspects that even if every US citizen were persuaded to invest their life savings in the Iranian economy, Khamenei would not shift his rhetoric one iota. This arguably means that in the face of Iranian intransigence and hostility, American displays of good intentions simply make the whole enterprise hopelessly one-sided.

Obama’s belief that Iran is a state he can do business with is complicated by what has been described as Iran’s long-standing involvement in international terrorism. In 1996, Iran was said to be responsible for terrorist attacks which killed 19 US military personnel in Khobar towers in Saudi Arabia. CIA personnel have submitted testimonies about Iranian collaboration with Al-Qaeda on several prominent attacks against US interests.

The announcement of the formal implementation of the nuclear deal this January was considerably sweetened by the release of five US prisoners from Iranian jails – widely seen as hostages used to influence US policy

Baria Alamuddin

A New York court on 9 March ruled that Iran was liable to pay over $10 billion to US victims of al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks in a default judgment after Iran failed to submit a defense. Evidence included the findings of the 9/11 Commission that Iran had facilitated the passage of the hijackers through Iranian territory without stamping their passports in order to ensure that these mass murderers could be granted US visas. Iran likewise hosted Al-Qaeda fighters after they fled Afghanistan in 2002. More evidence is expected to emerge.

Documents recovered from Bin-Laden’s Pakistan compound reveal high levels of Iranian collusion with al-Qaeda; working together when their interests converged and agreeing not to obstruct each other’s operations. Should we be surprised that Obama’s Administration has been reluctant to disclose these documents in full?

Sanctions-relief dividend

Meanwhile, Iran is investing the sanctions-relief dividend in redoubling its onslaughts against long-standing US allies in the GCC region. Iranian support for terrorists in Bahrain has become increasingly brazen over past months, with numerous shipments of weapons and explosives originating from Iran being impounded. Most individuals linked to acts of terrorism were found to be trained by Iran and Hezbollah and many of them have sought refuge in Tehran.

This has gone as far as senior figures close to the supreme leader making false claims of sovereignty over Bahrain. As recently as 20 March, the senior Revolutionary Guards commander and Khamenei-ally, General Saeed Qassimi, said in a public speech: “Iran must exert efforts to restore Bahrain as Iranian territory and make it a part of Bushehr province.”

Whether arming Houthis in Yemen, supporting Assad in Syria, sponsoring sectarian cleansing in central Iraq, or using Hezbollah to undermine Lebanese sovereignty; Iran it doing its utmost to thwart US policy objectives in the Middle East, to the point of funding militias which just a few years ago were killing US troops in Iraq; yet Obama still choses to believe that the Islamic Republic is a regime that he can do business with.

Simply by signing the nuclear deal, Iran has not renounced its modus operandi of exploiting terrorism, threats and aggression against its neighbours and enemies to further its agenda. With this deal, the US has simply shackled itself to a state which will dishonor its commitments at every opportunity and which lashes out at those close to it.

Iran is not a bedfellow that will respond positively to America’s professions of faithfulness and good intentions. This is not a relationship which can have a Hollywood-style happy ending.
Baria Alamuddin is a journalist and commentator on Middle East current affairs.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.