0649 GMT January 18, 2020
'I think that Tehran has interest in improving closer ties and more trade with Baghdad, and pressure from Washington on Tehran is part of the reason but not the whole reason,' said Richard W. Murphy, who served as the United States Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs from 1983 to 1989.
During the President Rouhani's mid-March visit to Baghdad, which was made at the official invitation of the Iraqi President Barham Salih, the two countries released a final statement in which they had agreed on no-fee visas, construction of border railway connecting the two countries, establishing joint industrial parks, oil and gas cooperation, increasing trade to $20bn, as well as dredging a border river, IRNA reported.
Regarding president Rouhani's meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Murphy said, 'Ayatollah Sistani is a very important powerful figure in the Shiite leadership in Iraq. His position is not challenged by any other religious figures, so it’s important for President Rouhani to be in touch with him and get his opinion face to face.'
He added that there were negative reactions from the US against the visit which were not surprising, because the US hopes to isolate Tehran.
Saying that the reactions to Rouhani's visit to Iraq were not 'strong,' he said, 'Washington has recognized that a country such as Iraq have benefited from their access to Iranian oil and natural gas; it has, perhaps reluctantly, agreed to a period of time to allow a country like Iraq to find other sources. That’s the official position.
'[However,] Washington intends to keep maximum pressure to isolate Iran.'
Answering a question about the benefits Trump has gained from sanctioning Iran, he said that he is in touch with the current situation so his view is based on past experience.
However, he said that the sanctions are 'instead of war' to 'bring about change in the policy' of Iran and the US does not want to go on war with Iran, but the war has always been among the options on the table.
Accepting the fact that the pressures have not been as effective as expected, he said, 'The expectation is that intensifying the economic sanctions will be very painful on the Iranian economy and will bring about a new approach by the government of Iran.'
But with a look at the developments since 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, one can understand that there is 'no reason to assume dramatic changes in the Iranian policy that are a concern to Washington.'
Regarding Trump's withdrawal of US troops from Syria and sending them to Iraq 'to watch Iran', he said that that can be because the US intends to have influence on political decision of Iraq.
About the presence of US troops in Syria, he said that it sends the message to Iran and Turkey that the US has 'continuing interest in the future of Syria'.
He also said that Kurdish fighters had a role in fall of Daesh (ISIS) in Syria so the US cares about them and 'we value that.'
Commenting on the role of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps' (IRGC) in defeating Daesh (the ISIS), Murphy said that when it comes to Iran, 'we never seem to be able to express any appreciation of Iran's role.'
Richard Murphy retired after a 34-year career in the US Foreign Service. He was posted to Salisbury, in the former Southern Rhodesia; Beirut, Lebanon; Aleppo, Syria; Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; and Amman, Jordan.