The aim of US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal was not to provoke a military confrontation with Tehran. On the contrary, his main objective is to agree a new deal with Tehran, one that, unlike Mr Obama’s flawed arrangement, addresses all aspects of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, as well as its malign activities in the Middle East. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
There is one simple way for Iran to defuse the mounting tensions with the US and its allies in the Gulf: return to the negotiating table and agree to a new deal on Tehran’s nuclear programme.
Amid mounting concern that Washington’s recent military build-up in the Gulf region will lead to renewed conflict, many commentators appear to have lost sight of the Trump administration’s key objective when it withdrew from the 2015 deal negotiated, in large part, by former US President Barack Obama.
The aim of US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement was not, as his Democrat critics have alleged, to provoke a military confrontation with Tehran. On the contrary, as Mr Trump has made clear at his press conference in Japan, where he is currently on a state visit, his main objective is to agree a new deal with Tehran, one that, unlike Mr Obama’s flawed arrangement, addresses all aspects of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, as well as its malign activities in the Middle East.
And, despite all the talk of increased military tensions, with the US recently deploying an aircraft carrier battle group, a fleet of B-52 bombers and an extra 1,500 troops to the Gulf region, Mr Trump’s over-arching ambition remains to persuade the ayatollahs to return to the negotiating table.
“I really believe that Iran would like to make a deal,” Mr Trump remarked during a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Akasaka Palace state guest house in Tokyo this week. “I think that’s very smart of them, and I think that’s a possibility to happen. It has a chance to be a great country with the same leadership.”
The president’s optimism was certainly in contrast to the predictions, especially from European leaders, that his robust stand against Iran had increased the possibility of a major military confrontation in the Gulf.
But this view constitutes, as is so often is the case with Trump administration’s many critics, a fundamental misreading of the president’s approach, as I discovered during my recent exclusive interview with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in London.
Mr Pompeo told me that that Washington was not pushing for regime change in Tehran, but was instead seeking a revised agreement that satisfied all of Washington’s concerns about Iran’s conduct, and not just the narrow issue of uranium enrichment.
It would certainly be in Tehran’s interests to return to the negotiating table given the profound impact the US sanctions regime is having on Iran’s economic fortunes. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was, after all, elected specifically to get the sanctions lifted in order to revive the Iranian economy, which is the main reason he agreed to enter the negotiating process with the US and other world powers.
Now Mr Rouhani finds himself under renewed pressure at home as the latest round of sanctions takes its toll on the Iranian economy. The rial, the national currency, has fallen 60% in value in the past year, inflation is up by 40% and oil exports have been reduced to their lowest level in nearly a decade. Even Mr Rouhani has been forced to concede the enormity of the crisis his country faces, recently comparing Iran’s current economic crisis to the hardships the Iranian people endured during the eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s.
To date, the Iranians have responded to the Trump administration’s actions by threatening to intensify their policy of destabilization in the region. Iran is suspected of carrying out the recent attack on four oil tankers in the Gulf, while US National Security Advisor John Bolton says Washington has credible evidence that Iran is planning attacks against US forces and their allies in the region.
Given the overwhelming military firepower Washington has at its disposal, Iran needs to understand that this is a policy that is only going to make Tehran’s predicament worse, not better. Therefore, as Mr Trump has indicated, by far the best course of action for the ayatollahs to take is to return to the negotiating table and agree a deal that satisfies all the parties involved.
Con Coughlin is the Telegraph’s Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and author of “Khomeini’s Ghost”.