In light of US President Donald Trump’s decision to decertify Iran deal caused heated debate inside Iran about the Trump’s plan for the JCPOA and the best Iranian reaction to US disavowing the nuclear deal. Mojtaba Mousavi tried to discuss the issue with Barbara Slavin, an American expert on Iran and a President Trump critic who believes that the new US president is not a rational player.
Barbara Slavin is an American journalist and foreign policy expert. She is a Washington correspondent for Al Monitor and acting director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center. She is the author of a book about Iran–United States relations.
This interview originally appeared in the October 16, 2017 edition of Iranian Jamejam daily.
Q: How can Trump prevent the possible tension in US-EU relations while he increases pressure on Iran by introducing new sanctions and threatening to put an end to the nuclear deal?
Slavin: Trump cannot prevent tension in US-EU relations; on the contrary, his “decertification” of the Iran deal and threats to “terminate” the agreement if Congress does not act to address its flaws will increase US-EU tensions to a degree not seen since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Q: You talked about a possible dire US-EU tension. How can such tension influence the Middle East security and the West role in the region?
Slavin: Europeans will be less likely to work with the US on solutions to regional conflicts. This is a big opportunity for Iran to split Europe from the United States.
Q: Would you please elaborate more about the possible tension in US-EU relationship? Which aspects of the EU-US relationship are more vulnerable? Is that possible that such tension evolves into sort of a cold war between the two?
Slavin: I don’t see a ‘Cold War’ between the US and Europe; there are too many long-standing security, economic and people-to-people ties. I think Europeans will do their best to survive Trump and await more traditional and sensible US leadership after he’s gone.
Q: What would be the perfect role Iran can play in the above mentioned scenario?
Slavin: Iran, as I suggested, should avoid Trump’s trap and stay within the JCPOA. It should also work hard on internal reforms and make itself more attractive to foreign — and Iranian — investors by cleaning up corruption and getting rid of burdensome regulations. It should also stop jailing dual nationals on bogus charges as this chills the climate for investment and tourism. Forty years after the revolution, it is time for Iran to stop taking hostages.
Q: How likely is that the Congress would meet Trump’s expectations? How can the Congress (Maybe with the help of other JCPOA parties) address what Trump sees as the deal’s flaws?
Slavin: This is very hard to predict. Congress has struggled to deal with other issues, including health care, and any change in the current law on the Iran deal would require 60 votes in the Senate. Ultimately, this is Trump’s responsibility and he cannot foist it on Congress.
Q: Do you agree that Trump will not push the certain European states (France, Britain and Germany) to end their economic relations with Iran to keep them satisfied while the US is trying to force Iran to budge on non-nuclear issues?
Slavin: Europe is justly proud of its role in initiating negotiations with Iran on the nuclear issue – at a time when President Bush would not talk directly with Iran without preconditions. European businesses have just begun to return to Iran and they do not want to jeopardize those contracts.
This will be a real test of the willingness of the international community to stand up to Trump’s intimidation and of the independence of Western businesses. I hope that Iran continues to abide by the agreement and that Europe – and US allies in Asia – also continue to implement the JCPOA.
Q: Part of Iranian establishment believes that JCPOA would be meaningless for Iran if US withdraws or refuse to abide by the agreement. They believe that EU will choose to stand by the US if Trump raise the cost of working with Iran (through financial and banking instruments). A few minutes ago Mr. Zarif told the Iran state TV that “If they revive the sanctions, we will decide whether to continue staying in the JCPOA or terminating it.”
Do you think, the Europeans can economically endure the Trump’s pressure if US withdraws the deal and introduce through penalties for those who do business with Iran?
Slavin: This is the key question – what European businesses do, not what European leaders say. However, I believe that there is so much anger toward Trump in Europe that there is a good chance that European businesses will remain in the Iran market and that they will be defended by their political leadership. There is also no certainty that Congress – or Trump – will re-impose secondary sanctions, no matter what Trump said on Friday.
Q: I see a quote from President Trump in which he says he has talked with Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron about Iran. “Don’t do anything. Don’t worry about it. Take all the money you can get. They’re all friends of mine,” he has said.
Does that mean sort of coordination between Trump and Macron on Iran deal? Many were hopeful that Macron can play a role in containing Trump. Do you see any ground for Macron and Trump to compromise on a modified version of the JCPOA so all parties including Trump’s US can stay in the deal?
Slavin: As for the influence of May and Macron, I would not count on it. Trump loves it when foreign leaders beg him not to do various things and then he goes ahead and does them anyway. He is a cruel person and the most incompetent American president I have seen in my lifetime.
Q: JCPOA is a very important deal and has implications for the international security. From the other point of view, we are witnessing Saudi’s intensified efforts to develop a nuclear program which, given to the Saudi’s aggressive behavior, can increase the regional instability.
How can this deal, if preserved, shape the future power structure of the region and the world? Do you see it necessary for the US to limit Saudi’s ambitious nuclear program?
Slavin: I am not well informed about Saudi Arabia’s nuclear intentions. Frankly, given all the challenges the Saudis face these days, I would not be too concerned about this.
Q: In a piece for National Interest, Joseph Nye wrote that the real challenge that the US is facing could be called “the rise of the rest”. Some authors such as Fareed Zakaria in his “Post-Americanism World” are pointing to the same challenge. In view of such analysis, do you think the US can overcome those challenges stemming from its power and hegemony? Or is it the Trump’s US has no clear awareness of such challenge?
Slavin: Long before Trump, other countries such as China were increasing their economic and geostrategic power. Trump has accelerated this process with his defiance of international treaties and other agreements such as the Paris accords, the Trans Pacific Partnership and now the JCPOA. He is not making America “great again.” He is diminishing our international role and it will take a lot of work by his successors to restore American leadership.