Washington’s reimposed sanctions on Iran exacerbated deep divisions in the Trump administration, putting US top officials at loggerheads over how to minimize the damage to American allies that are thirsty for Iranian oil.
White House national security adviser, John Bolton, tricked Trump into trouble by emboldening him to withdraw from the JCPOA without having a back-up plan. When the US president terminated the deal unilaterally on May 8, the Trump cabinet was divided into two opposite camps: Trump-Bolton axis vs. the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and State Secretary Mike Pompeo. The two groups clashed over the consequences of breaking an international deal.
As a ringleader of Iran hawks, Bolton pushed for a tougher stance and stringent sanctions on Iran. But the Mnuchin-Pompeo axis sided with Europeans and chose not to instantly cut off Iran’s access to the financial service SWIFT and not cutting Iranian oil flow to world markets because they saw these ideas as missions impossible.
Last Friday, internal fissures within the Trump administration deepened when the Trump-Bolton axis finally bowed to the other camp, with Bolton not participating in the rollout of the White House plan to reimpose sanctions on Iran, lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal.
In an interview with the Washington Examiner, a senior Republican congressional aide called it a “fiasco” for Bolton and other hawks who were hoping to organize an international campaign against Iran. Frustrated desires and dashed hopes compelled Bolton to stay out of the picture.
Sanctions have come back but overblown claims of their impacts have primarily taken a toll on Americans, not Iranians. For the first time since the end of Cold War, the US is haplessly struggling to make an international consensus on Tehran.
The invasion of Iraq in 2003 revealed the first signs of global opposition to US bullying but this time foreign countries are openly voicing their frustration and proactively forging a different path on Iran. Tehran has remained committed to the nuclear deal and morally has the upper hand. So, there are no grounds to punish it. On the contrary, it is the Trump administration that has broken internationally established norms and laws.
While Asian buyers of Iran oil succeeded in securing US waivers, Europeans are setting up a special mechanism to continue trade with Iran, free from US sanctions. Embroiled in disputes with the United States, Asia and the EU have come to the conclusion that it is time to start telling America: Enough is enough!
Opposition from other parts of the world have put Trump in an embarrassing position on how to engineer a political and moral comeback on the international arena. By issuing waivers to eight countries to continue purchasing Iranian oil, it seems that the Trump administration has kicked the can down the road until it could find a way to fix its tarnished image and heal the divisions in the White House.
*Hormoz Baradaran is an Iranian journalist.