0851 GMT December 14, 2019
US President Donald Trump has put the West on a collision course with Iran.
Since he was elected to the White House in 2016, Trump has consistently pursued an ill-advised policy of "maximum pressure" against Tehran, on the assumption the high levels of economic and political pressure will bring Iran back to the negotiating tables on its knees.
It has been unsuccessful, to say the least.
Not only has Trump's approach increased hostility between the two countries, it has also provoked both sides into pursuing unprecedented belligerent policies and actions. It's no wonder the international community is seriously concerned about the possibility of military confrontation.
If Trump continues to pursue his current course of action, he is doomed to failure. There will be no room for diplomatic negotiations between the two countries — even if he is reelected in next year's presidential election. And the implications for the region could be disastrous.
If there's any hope of a constructive resolution, the US president must abandon his bullying tactics and his sanctions policy.
Only a fundamental change of approach can yield a resolution to the escalating tensions. And yet there are a number of key obstacles to a positive diplomatic solution.
The first, and perhaps the greatest, challenge to any real dialogue between the two countries is that the US does not appear to have a coherent position. The views of several key US policymakers directly contradict the president's own views and course of action. National security adviser John Bolton, for example, has advocated over the past 40 years for a military confrontation and regime change in Iran. In Tehran, a majority of state officials believe that Trump, by contrast, simply wanted to destroy the legacy of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and create his own.
The second challenge to an agreement is the unprecedented influence that Israel and Saudi Arabia, both US allies, have in shaping the Trump administration's foreign policy. Iranian officials blame both for intensifying hostilities between Tehran and Washington.
Thirdly, no one believes the Trump administration can come up with a "better deal" in the next year and a half of its term, given the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action brokered in 2015 was the product of 12 years of intensive negotiations. After all, the deal is an international agreement whose inspection system the late director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, branded the world's most robust nuclear inspection effort.
And then, even if Iran and the United States were indeed to sit down at the negotiating table in the next year and half, there are no guarantees the Trump administration, or its successor, would end up holding up its part of the bargain.
The fourth obstacle to a successful negotiation is Trump's insistence on following self-defeating strategies and going against the diplomatic grain. His decision to sanction Iran’s Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif essentially sank any chances of constructive diplomacy with Iran.
And finally, perhaps the most obvious impediment is that the Trump administration is deeply unfamiliar with the dynamics of Iran's politics, culture and society. Iran is a proud country that cherishes its history as a civilization stretching back millennia. It is allergic to any policy it perceives as undermining its achievements and will refuse to succumb to bullying or attempts to bring its administration to its knees.
Instead, in the face of Trump's hostility, Iran has adopted a policy of "resistance" and "reciprocation of hostilities" toward the United States. It is becoming increasingly convinced that a policy of "constructive engagement" with the West — which was President Hassan Rouhani's platform when he campaigned for the election in 2013 — does not yield positive outcomes for the country. Tensions with Washington have also become an incentive to boost its alliance with its Eastern allies, namely China and Russia, whose governments appear committed to combating US dominance in the global order.
If there's any hope of a constructive resolution, the US president must abandon his bullying tactics and his sanctions policy in order to provide space for diplomacy. The most urgent task for the US administration is now to establish credible communication channels and to appoint a new team that has a better understanding of the political realities in Iran and across the region.
* Seyed Hossein Mousavian is a Middle East security and nuclear policy specialist at the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University. The above article was first published on politico.eu on August 12, 2019.