“Iran Does Not Seek A Nuclear Weapon.”

“Iran does not seek a nuclear weapon. If we wanted to build a nuclear weapon, we could have done it some time ago, but we decided that nuclear weapons would not augment our security and are in contradiction to our ideological views.” (Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif)

                          by David Parmer / Tokyo

America’s new Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Sunday, January 31, in an NBC news interview, that Iran could be “weeks” away from having enough fissile nuclear material to build an atomic weapon. Blinken’s assessment was soundly rebutted by Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in an interview with CNN’s Christian Amanpour the following day, February 1.

Zarif said that if Iran wanted a nuclear weapon, it would already have one, but this was not their intention. In the interview with Amanpour, Zarif was asked about Iran and the US negotiating their differences. Zarif said that the US must come back into compliance with the JCPOA “Iran Deal.”

Certain things were NOT agreed upon at the time of the negotiating and signing of the agreement; Iran has concerns about US arms sales to the region which were not on the table. Iran’s missile program which was of interest to the US was not on the table (Zarif did not mention the word “missiles.”)

The US and Iran are at a stalemate, and the foreign minister offered a possible solution. The top EU official, Josep Borrell, Chairman of the Joint Commission could broker an agreement by saying what each side must do. This would be a face-saving mechanism to eliminate such thinking as “before we negotiate, you must…” on both sides.

Zarif noted that time was running out for the US. The Iranian parliament has approved further drawing back by Iran from the 2015 JCPOA as is its right when the other side is not in compliance. As for existing nuclear material enriched to a higher percentage, it could be dealt with swiftly and eliminated if conditions were favorable and concessions on both sides were made.

From the two meetings with the press, it was clear that Iran was better prepared and knew what it wants and how to move things forward. Secretary Blinken simply repeated an old contention about nuclear weapons common under the Trump administration.

Blinken did not seem either well informed or well prepared to deal with one of America’s three vital foreign policy challenges. Even given the fact that Blinken must staff, coordinate and re-build a hollowed-out State department, his first appearance out of the gate was not very impressive. The problem is that US-Iran relations need the full attention of the US government, and as Mr. Zarif has said: time for the US to act is not unlimited.

Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mfarussia/50879955528/in/faves-117355407@N08/

“The Enemy of My Enemy…” China, the USA, and Europe in Late 2020.

                             by David Parmer / Tokyo

Introduction:

The often-repeated phrase in its entirety is: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

But in late 2020, when it comes to China-VS-USA and Europe in the middle, it seems that there are no friends to be found for any of the participants. Whatever way you draw the triangle, “friendship” is not one of the components.

In this article we will take a look at the relationship among the three countries and see how the dynamics as they now stand spell only disengagement in the short term and even conflict in the long term despite historical and long-standing mutual interests.

Finally, how is China losing the battle for mind-share, not only worldwide, but particularly in Europe?

 Europe Puts European Interests Over American Interests and Goes Its Own Way

  1. Huawei Situation

Background: Huawei, one of the top 3 mobile phone manufacturers has, since May 2019 been the subject of crippling US sanctions which have significantly impacted its business. More than just a sideshow to the ongoing US-China trade war, the US sanctions have impacted global procurement not only in consumer products but also negatively affected IT networking. The US complaint about Huawei focused on three issues:

  • Cyber security
  • Links to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)
  • State sponsorship of Huawei

After a series of extensions the Huawei ban has come into full effect in 2020. The company has admitted that the sanctions are taking a major bite out of its business, but at the same time has found some temporary work-arounds in its mobile phone business. Huawei uses the Android system, but Google is now prohibited from working with Huawei. Huawei ships Android phones without the Google applications, which makes the phones potentially less attractive. Huawei is trying to court developers to its platform in hopes of increasing its appeal to consumers. Recently the company has come out with the Harmony OS which it will start using with certain devices, but still use Android for phones. Some say it is all a matter of time before Huawei Harmony becomes their default OS for all devices. (2021?)

As for the business-to-business side (B to B) of Huawei, the company operates in 170 countries worldwide. As the rollout of 5G technology takes place worldwide, Huawei is at stage-center in the US-China trade disagreement and sanctions. And the US has/is putting enormous pressure on the Europeans to exclude Huawei from their 5G upgrades. So far, the UK has decided to exclude Huawei.

There has been no stampede among the Europeans to get behind the US and the UK on this issue. However, Sweden, Spain, Austria, and Hungary have not excluded Huawei. France has ruled out a total ban on Huawei and Germany is sitting on the fence. For many countries, excluding Huawei is not only a political issue, but a technical one as well: many countries have legacy Huawei equipment, and switching suppliers to non-Chinese suppliers or local suppliers is a real headache. German’s decision, when it does come, will probably clarify the issue for many Europeans. Which countries will finally line up with the US, UK and Australia on the Huawei ban remains to be seen, but many countries are certainly feeling the heat generated by the US-China rivalry.

  1. The JCPOA or “Iran Deal”

 The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) was an agreement between Iran and six other countries including China, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom as well as Germany and the European Union. The agreement called for Iran to curtail enrichment of uranium and permit on-site inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. In exchange for this Iran would have sanctions by the European Union, United Nations and the United States lifted. There was also the matter of some Iranian Ian funds being released.

The agreement went into effect in January 2016 and Iran was found to be in compliance with the agreement as a result of several subsequent on-site inspections. In May 2018 US President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the JCPOA citing hidden Iranian nuclear programs that were not reported in the past.

While the US withdrawal was not a fatal blow to the JCPOA, it did create serious problems. If the Trump administration assumed that the parties to the agreement would simply walk away, they were mistaken. The Europeans and the Chinese and the Russians did not walk away from the deal, but rather tried to keep it alive by all means possible.

The Europeans even came up with a barter scheme whereby Iran could exchange its oil for goods as well as other ways to assist Iran in the face of American sanctions. The Europeans have tried to keep the JCPOA on “life support” and keep the agreement intact, much to the annoyance of the Trump administration and the Netanyahu administration in Israel.

On September 21, 2020 Secretary Pompeo announced that the US was re-imposing sanctions on Iran under the “snapback” provisions of the JCPOA. Earlier in the summer, President Donald Trump had announced this action to the consternation of the remaining JCPOA participants including Iran. Since the US was no longer a member of the agreement, it could not possibly call for “snapback.” But that is what the Trump administration did. And proceeded to re-impose sanctions. However the parties to the agreement, particularly the Europeans soundly rejected the legality of the move and refused to support the re-imposed sanctions. China and Russia went along with the Europeans and Iran.

The lack of solidarity with the US on the JCPOA is another case where the Europeans have acted in their own way and their own interests in dealing with a traditional and long time ally. These days, many aspects of the “special relationship” seem to be water under the bridge in light of the nationalistic, “America First” policies of the Trump administration.

  1. Europe and NATO’s Article 5

In 1945 Nazi fascism has just been defeated and most of Europe was in ashes. No sooner had one threat been removed than another one sprang up. The Soviet Union and America faced off in what was to become known as the Cold War. Russia had imposed its own brand of communism on Eastern Europe and this block of states stood behind what Winston Churchill called an “iron curtain.”

To counter the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe and the threat of further Soviet expansion, 12 countries banded together in 1949 to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The purpose for their association was collective defense as outlined in Article 5 of the treaty signed in Washington. Simply put an attack on one country or its representatives or interests would be considered an attack on all, and all would have to respond. The Soviets came up with their own version of NATO six years later when they established the Warsaw Pact in 1955. Collective defense as outlined in Article 5 was not invoked until 2001 when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked by Saudi terrorists using hijacked airliners.

For more than 70 years the alliance has held firm. What is distressing is a shift in attitudes across Europe. A 2020 Pew Research Center found that 50% said that their country should not honor Article 5 if another member country were attacked by Russia. Only 38% said that their country should abide by their Article 5 commitment. Despite this, the report found that Europeans generally had a positive impression of NATO.

There has been talk of a European Army to replace NATO. Harsh criticism was leveled against NATO by French President Emmanuel Macron who, in 2019, called the organization “brain dead.”

Other leaders like Angela Merkel who stated that there is still value for the Europeans in NATO participation. This comes on the back of constant harping by US President Donald Trump for European allies to increase their defense spending.

After 70 years, Europeans have mixed feelings about the function and existence of NATO and about honoring their Article 5 obligations. How things would change in the face of some unambiguous Russian aggression in the near future remains to be seen.

Europe Sees Its Own Self Interest in Supporting America and its Allies.

 In at least two major ways areas, i.e. participation in in NATO and participation in the Indo-Pacific strategy, Europe has taken the pro-US, pro West strategy that would be expected of it.

Europe and NATO

The evaluation by NATO of its own performance over 70 years differs from the Pew Research Report in that NATO not only sees itself in favorable light, but also sees itself as having achievements of note during its first 70 years.

Seventy years ago, NATO’s founding treaty was signed in Washington D.C. Today, our Alliance is the strongest in history, guaranteeing the freedom of our almost one billion citizens, the security of our territory, and the protection of our values, including democracy, individual liberty, human rights, and the rule of law. We reaffirm the enduring transatlantic bond between Europe and North America, our adherence to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and our bedrock commitment enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty that an attack against one Ally should be considered an attack against us all. We are determined to improve the balance of sharing the costs and responsibilities of our indivisible security. 
(NATO Statement on the occasion of NATO’s 70th Anniversary).

The threat of Russian aggression for many NATO members is as real as it was in 1949. This has brought new members and new associations recently, particularly with the Nordic nations that live under the shadow of the Russian bear. The same goes for the Baltic republics of Latvia Lithuania and Estonia. Among themselves Nordic nations have banded together for military cooperation in logistics and procurement and inter-operability.

As noted in the last line of the NATO statement the countries involved are aware of their cost-sharing obligations even without the constant reminders, bordering on harassment, made by US President Donald Trump.

  1. Europeans and the Indo Pacific

As late there has been a pivot toward the US Indo-Pacific strategy by the Europeans and a distancing themselves from China. Both France and Germany have begun see their interests lying not just in their local area, but half a world away in the vast Indo-Pacific region.

In particular, Germany sets the example and aligns with the US and regional nations including Japan and Korea in calling for an open and free Indo-Pacific.

 Europe Sides With China

Europe has many common interests with China and has acted accordingly. Europeans and Chinese access each other’s markets, and Germany, for example, has had a long and profitable economic relationship with the PRC, particularly in the area of automobile manufacturing. Europe also stands to benefit by both the overland and maritime branches of China’s Belt and Road scheme.

As noted above, France, Germany, the UK, and the EU have stood firm with China and Russia regarding the JCPOA, or Iran nuclear deal. This has been even in the face of strong pressure from the Trump administration which unilaterally withdrew from the agreement in 2018.

On August 14, 2020, the UN Security Council failed to support the US move to extend the arms embargo against Iran. US traditional allies (the E3) Germany, France and the UK abstained. This was a stunning defeat for the US and its policy of maximum pressure against Iran. The Trump administration pursues a policy of “America First” and distains globalization and the value of international organizations.

As noted earlier, President Trump himself harasses the Europeans publicly about their financial obligations to NATO in addition to his expressed distain for diplomacy and international cooperation. So it should be no wonder that when the US wants the E3 to fall in line with its Iran policy at the United Nations that the Europeans sit on their hands. 

In fact, it might be in the best interest of the region and the world if the Iran arms embargo were continued, but a bullying form of leadership (that threatens sanctions even on its own allies) can only result in quiet resentment that shows itself in a lack of support and solidarity when support support and solidarity are called for.

Europe and China have acknowledged interests in both the global economy and in dealing with climate change. These common interests continue despite the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and its strident America First campaign. These common interests can be leveraged by China to maintain some of its “soft power appeal” seriously damaged by the Hong Kong and human rights issues.

Where Europe Does Not Side With China

Europe going its own way with regard to China is pretty much the top story of mid-to-late 2020. It seems that the romance with China, if there ever was one, is rapidly fading for the Europeans.

Many of the complaints that the Europeans have about China are the same complaints that the Americans have. However, as we have seen, this does not immediately make them allied in a common opposition to China.

Europe’s complaints with China leading to a disillusion with the PRC focus on human rights and China’s adoption of the national security law in Hong Kong and the situation with China’s Uyghur minority in Xinjiang. China has not made its case on the international stage to support its actions in Hong Kong, and has been branded as destroying or not living up to the promises it made regarding One Country Two Systems when Hong Kong returned to Chinese control in 1997.

China’s Massive Failure to Communicate

China has not responded to criticism of its actions to restore and maintain order in Hong Kong. China had a strong case for law and order and its experience with the Cultural Revolution to point to when it decided to crack down on protest in the former colony. China could have made a case for an end to anarchy, property damage, and injury of innocent citizens.

It could have emphasized that it relied on the government of the Hong Kong SAR to handle the crisis and did not send in the People’s Liberation Army. Instead it chose to focus on its opposition to any kind of independence or secession which was seen as the real threat by Beijing.

This lack of defense of its own position lead the PRC to be seen and labeled as an oppressor of Hong Kong democracy, and a destroyer of the 1997 agreement. The fact is that the Hong Kong government acted with patience and restraint in dealing with most radical elements of the Hong Kong protest movement and this was not reported.

The fact that local council elections were held at the time of the protests and that anti-Beijing candidates swept the election, and the election was let stand by the government has not been fully reported as an example of Hong Kong style democracy at work.

 This lack of a positive and affirmative explanation for its actions created a strong narrative worldwide and certainly contributed to the European’s decision to distance themselves from China.

Coupled with this is China’s handling of its Uyghur minority in Xinjiang. China has never really explained clearly what the situation is in Xinjiang and what course of action it is pursuing with this minority

People around the world have seen the horrible consequences of radical Islamic terrorism from the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001 to the cruelty and barbarity of the so- called Islamic State known as DAESH or ISIS.

However, China has not made any case for preventing the formation of such a radical Islamic movement within its borders or explained what exactly it is doing in regard to the Uyghur minority.

By treating both Hong Kong and the Uyghur situation as internal affairs it has let itself be portrayed as an oppressor and human rights violator worldwide. The narrative in the world press is that China IS a violator of human rights, and that China has gone back on the One Country-Two Systems scheme in Hong Kong by enacting the National Security Law. China’s lack of an effective and believable explanation has led these perceptions to be seen as indisputable fact.

This massive failure by the PRC to communicate its side of the story has surely been a contributing factor in European disillusionment with China after a long period of productive engagement.

A Lack of Level Playing Field and the Indo-Pacific

The second major point of contention with China among Europeans is the concept of the “level playing field.” The perception is that European companies have a tougher time competing with Chinese entities because of government support which gives the Chinese side an unfair advantage. Add to this the accusation of forced technology transfer and you have some disgruntled trading partners and investors.

The human rights issue coupled with the lack of level playing field adds to the European’s disillusionment with China.

China’s claims and actions in the South China Sea adds another layer to the mix. As a result the Europeans are beginning to take an interest in the Indo-Pacific region and the US policy in the Indo- Pacific. While the Europeans are not ready to join Australia and the US in an alliance, they are pivoting to the idea that an “open and free Indo-Pacific” is in their self-interest. France began this shift and now Germany, long aligned with China at least economically, has began its own pivot.

Conclusion: Opportunities for China in an Evolving Geopolitical Order

China rising should be welcomed around the world; the Sick Man of Asia has become the Prosperous Man of Asia and is in a position to share its vision of the new world order with competitors and friends alike. Yet China’s actions, whether domestically or internationally are viewed around the world with suspicion.

The Belt and Road initiative which has the potential to bring prosperity to an incredible number of people in many regions around the world is viewed with suspicion at best, and its achievements are ignored.

China has the right to pursue Xi Jinping’s vision of a moderately prosperous society by mid-century, but it also needs to win friends and influence people along the way. Certainly, in the case of Europe, China should have trading partners willing to participate in the New Silk Road and prosper therefrom.

China needs to do a serious “self criticism” and find out what it has done and is doing to alienate so many potential allies and friends around the world. Soft power that does not make friends and create a balance among nations is not any power at all.

The United States, The People’s Republic of China, and Europe should be able to find areas of cooperation and coordination while at the same time remaining competitors and pursuing their own self-interests. Friends? Enemies? Partners? Competitors? Each bloc must decide what is best for its people and best for the greater global community of nations.

Photo: Paul Hudson via flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

RG21’s Predictions for 2021

                        by David Parmer / Tokyo

Here are a few “predictions” from RG-21 for 2021. None of them are really new, but rather the ways that existing situations might develop in the New Year.

China-VS-US: We took a look at this topic before here at RG-21, and our conclusions have not changed much. The new Biden administration will not fundamentally change its relationship with the People’s Republic of China. Certainly the bellicose tone favored by President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be toned down. Diplomacy will be back in fashion and this includes relations with the PRC. The constant attacks on the CPC (Communist Party of China) will cease from the US government, but not from right-wing elements within the US.

As former Secretary of Defense James Mattis saw it, China is a “strategic competitor” but not an enemy. This may very well be the approach that the Biden administration takes. Also, the Trump administration has left the Biden people with several cards to play vis-a-vis China. While some sanctions may be lifted as a “good will” gesture, the others will be bargaining chips which the US will happily remove in return for concessions from the PRC.

As for the South China Sea issue, neither China nor the US will budge much if at all. As for the Indo-Pacific, the US will continue to do what it has been doing to form a coalition around the area to maintain a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” From the Chinese side this may very well be seen as an effort to contain or encircle China.

The US will continue to evaluate Huawei’s role in building and re-building infrastructure worldwide. The case of Meng Wanzhou might be re-evaluated and dropped or settled out of court as a “good will” gesture to the PRC.

 President Biden will get US allies on board with whatever China policy the US decides to adopt. This may be easier than might be imagined since, for now, China and Europe are not on the best of terms.

Finally, with better US-China dialogue, consular facilities that were closed on a tit-for-tat basis may be quickly re-opened.

Iran-VS-US: Relations between the US and the Islamic Republic are at such a low point that almost anything done in a positive manner would be seen as significant. After China, Iran is next on the list threats to the US as seen by the Trump administration.

To this end President Trump pulled the US out of the JCPOA or “Iran Deal” despite Iran’s independently verified full compliance with the terms of the agreement. As we have written previously, the Europeans  (together with China and Russia) have kept the agreement on “life support” after the US withdrawal.  The US and Israel have kept Iran in their sights, and have taken provocative actions that only strengthen the radical elements within Iran, and then use the results of those provocations to show how dangerous Iran is.

Here again, the Trump administration has left the US with some cards to play. Sanctions could be lifted in exchange for that which the US and its allies want. For example, a whole host of sanctions could be lifted for some movement on Iran’s limiting its missile program, one that causes much more threat to its neighborhood than a nuclear capability.

It was the US and Israel that wanted Iran to re-negotiate the JCPOA to include this program that caused the US to withdraw from the JCPOA. The strategy was that crippling sanctions would drive Iran back to the table to negotiate over its missile program. This did not happen. The Iranians, just like the Cubans bore the brunt of US sanctions and did not fold.

The Biden administration could begin immediately to re-weave the JCPOA. First by re-joining, and then when Iran is found in compliance, to release much-needed funds to the government of Iran.

The original strategy of the JCPOA was to strengthen the moderate elements in the Iran power structure, and it is likely that this strategy will again be used.

Taiwan-VS-China-VS-US: The bottom line is this–the US Taiwan policy will not fundamentally change, but the tone will. Support for Taiwan (as is) is rock solid in the US congress. Weapons sales will continue. What will happen first is the rhetoric regarding China will be toned-down.

Also, the drawing of Taiwan closer to US will probably stop. Despite the Taiwan Relations Act, high-level visits by US officials will be seen for what they are: provocative acts which could potentially de-stabilize a precarious situation. Acts that could be seen as re-recognizing Taiwan as “China” will be toned-down or eliminated. But the US will not budge on Taiwan or on the “freedom of navigation” within the Taiwan Strait.

In a sense, this takes the US out of the equation in the question of China-vs-Taiwan. In another sense, both parties are back to “square one.” And what is “square one?” China claims Taiwan as its territory and has promised to return the island to the PRC even using force if necessary. Taiwan sees itself as a de-facto independent country, and clings to the Republic of China name not as an anachronism but as a reality. Again and again the people of the island have reported that they see themselves as Taiwanese and not Chinese.

President Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party is called an “independence” party, but it knows that if it declares “independence” it will cross a redline that will probably lead to the PRC invading.

China may be thinking (and hoping) that if the DPP does not deliver to its constituents, then the pro-Beijing Kuomintang opposition party may take power and relations would again improve significantly.

The situation for now: stalemate. But from the PRC’s point of view, the clock is ticking. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

US-VS-Europe: Old friends meet again. Traditional allies close ranks. Relations between the US and Europe will take a monumental leap forward once Joe Biden raises his hand and takes the oath of office of the President of the United States. Trump’s distain for diplomacy and for long-standing relationships that do not benefit the US in his way of calculating will no longer be policy.

The Biden administration will again re-assert US world leadership and call on the Europeans to join. With its strong traditional allies the US will have a joint face regarding both China and Russia.

US-Turkey-NATO: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey is going his own way and is far along on making Turkey a viable regional power. There have been comments that he is creating a new Ottoman Empire with himself at the center. Turkey is the only Muslim member of NATO, and the US has for years had a base at Incirlik on Turkish soil. And yet, Turkey despite its NATO membership went ahead and bought the powerful and capable Russian Triumph S-400 missile system. In retaliation, the US removed Turkey from a lucrative and advanced program in fabricating the cutting-edge F35 fighter.

Erdogan also has brought force to bear on the Kurdish fighters in Syria whom it counts as terrorists. These same Kurds are seen as staunch US allies, or at least they were before the Trump administration pulled US advisors out, thereby signaling Erdogan that is OK to do what he wishes with the Kurds.

It is likely that the US will mend fences with the Kurds as well as soon as Donald Trump is gone. But the US will now have to face new challenges in the region. Both Iran and Turkey will be mid-level players who will be calling the shots in their neighborhood. It will be up to the Biden administration to formulate a strategy to deal with these two emerging and powerful regional powers.

Korea-VS-The World: There are no signs that the Kim dynasty will go away any time soon. Kim Jong-un will continue to rule and will continue to hone his nuclear powered military. He will probably try to upgrade his submarine fleet (if anyone will sell him the boats) and will continue to strengthen his special forces as well.

Kim’s strategy for the South in the event of war would be asymmetrical warfare to start with including the use of special forces to disrupt communications and transport in the South and then use his massive conventional forces to invade following a withering rain of artillery fire on Seoul and a missile attack on the largest US base in the country, Camp Humphreys, which is just 97km (60 miles) from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

Donald Trump’s attempt to get concessions from Kim failed. His meetings resulted in nothing taking place except the optics of a meeting. The Biden administration will have to deal with the Korea stalemate as well. Kim will probably use his nuclear arsenal to try to intimidate the US and Japan, and extract some kind of concessions from the South.

Perhaps the only negative to be found in the departure of Donald Trump from the office of US president will be the fact that Kim could never be sure of Trump’s mental state, and he could never be sure that Trump would not “press the button” on the DPRK.

With a more measured and professional Biden in office, it is likely that Kim, without the fear of immediate nuclear reprisal from Trump, will again begin to stir things up on the Korean peninsula.

There are a few more areas of interest that could heat up in 2021. Next time we will take a look at a few including Russia, Syria, Central Africa, and the Nordic countries.

Photo: Marshall Space Flight Center via flickr

Person of Interest: Tony Blinken, Biden Foreign Policy Advisor.

To get an idea of former Vice President Joe Biden’s foreign policy when he becomes president, the best person to listen to is his top advisor, Tony Blinken.

Blinken, a graduate of Harvard College and Columbia University has been around politics and policy since 1994 when he was on Bill Clinton’s National Security Council staff. From 2002-2008 he was Democratic Staff Director for the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Mr. Blinken was Deputy Secretary of State from 2015-2017 and Deputy National Security Advisor. It is possible that he will be chosen to be National Security Advisor in a Biden administration.

In two interviews (links below) he outlines a possible direction for Biden foreign policy. It should come as no surprise that one of the first priorities will be mending relations with US allies who have been alienated by the substance and manner of Donald Trump’s policies toward allies, toward Europe and toward NATO.

The big question is relations with China. In the interviews Blinken suggests that the US is operating from a position of weakness regarding China and the first task is to reestablish good relations with US allies before dealing with China. He suggests that the US and China share many common interests internationally and that these are areas for cooperation. However, he stresses that the US must do this from a position of strength.

As for Iran, the US withdrawal from the JCPOA or “Iran Deal” did not force Iran back to the bargaining table as the Trump administration had planned, nor did the crippling sanctions create regime change in Teheran. It is possible that the US might even return to the JCPOA under a Biden administration. The Europeans have been keeping the deal on life support, and it might well get new life.

While it is possible that a Biden administration would have to look inward to repair the damage done to all areas of American politics and daily life brought about by 4 years of the Trump policies, the US would still have both its international commitments and interests, and those would be addressed by people of a like mind to Tony Blinken.

Dialogue on American Foreign Policy and World Affairs: A Conversation with Former Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken (Hudson Institute)

Transcript: Joe Biden foreign policy adviser Anthony Blinken on COVID shortfalls, failures in Syria (CBS News)

Photo: US Department of State via flickr

The Iran Nuclear Deal: Remains of the Day.

After years of negotiation, on 15 July 2015 the JCPOA or “Iran Deal” was signed. The substance was that in exchange for curbing its nuclear program and allowing extensive inspection sanctions against the Islamic Republic would be lifted, funds released and trade normalized.

The parties to the agreement included:

  • Iran
  • EU
  • China
  • France
  • United Kingdom
  • Russia
  • Germany
  • United States

Things began well and Iran was found to be in compliance with the agreement. However US President Donald Trump had been against the agreement even before he had become US president, and in May 2018 he withdrew the US from the agreement–despite Iran’s full compliance with its obligations.

Trump’s problem with the agreement was that it did not cover Iran’s missile programs or its support of proxy actors in the region. Despite that that had never been part of the agreement, Trump balked at re-signing and withdrew the US from the JCPOA. Ironically, it was Iran hardliners who were happy with this since they didn’t like the deal any more that Trump and his closest allies.

Since the US withdrawal France, Germany and the UK have tried to keep the agreement afloat. The Europeans even created a barter system for food and medicine named INSTEX, but the US threatened to sanction anyone participating in the program.

In the face of continuing and crippling sanctions Iran returned to uranium enrichment. In early January 2020, the EU leaders held an emergency meeting to urge Iran to stick with the deal and cease enrichment. Iran has not complied, but neither have they ejected nuclear inspectors from the west.

US sanctions are heavy and crippling and are damaging an already ill Iranian economy. So far, it seems that sanctions have not done much to curb Iran’s support of its proxies in the region. One approach to diplomacy and life is if something is not working, do more of it. This seems to be the Trump administration’s policy with regard to Iran.

Even if the Europeans do not abandon the agreement, as Mr. Trump wants, the agreement might simply dissolve in the face of continued US pressure on Iran and the other signers. The Iranians see no need to re-negotiate, and would lose considerable face if they did so. And the US seems to see no need to get another deal anytime soon.

The 2015 agreement may have been flawed, and maybe not inclusive enough. But it was working and continued to work. Now what?

Can anything good come of this situation? Please let us know your thoughts.

Photo: US Dept. of State via flickr

 

 

Iran President’s Message on Lifting of Sanctions

The following is a written message from Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic to the people of Iran sent on January 17th, 2016 regarding the lifting of sanctions.

Here RG21 presents the original translated text published by the government of Iran. Whenever possible, it is our aim to provide you with source documents, rather than simply a report or analysis. This will enable you to use your own intelligence and instincts to arrive at an informed opinion about world affairs without the filter and bias of the big media organizations. (Reading Time: 6 minutes)

In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful

Brave and heroic people of Iran, today JCPOA concluded

I praise God for this great gift and show my utmost respect to you patient people

Happy to you all this glorious victory!

In the history of every nation there are moments which clearly shows the position and character of the nation; a time when the world’s eyes are stuck to the decision and the will/desire of the nation, while world peoples are concentrating on the subject and eagerly wait to hear from the nation.

Today, the officially announcement of the implementation of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) means that the Iranian nuclear program is “ever secured”, the tyrannical resolutions against the Iranian nation are canceled, the sanctions are removed, Iran’s nuclear rights has been accepted by all and the Iranian economy became a global one.

We have accomplished and won the professional and complex negotiations and reached an agreement with the world with dignity and authority based on the divine blessings, auspices of Imam Mahdi, according to the fatwa of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution about the prohibition of nuclear weapons and by relying on the vote of the people of Iran on 24 June 2013 and with the skills of Iranian diplomats and nuclear scientists, as well.

Now we have passed behind the dangerous winding road in the economy and still follow the strategy of resistance economy, the strategy which is not against world economy but in conjunction with it.

Implementation of JCPOA is not against any country. As friends are happy with it, the rivals also should have no concern about it; because Iran is not any threat to any state or nation. We are also fully prepared to protect the honor of Iran, to defend our country’s sovereignty, to be a messenger of peace, stability and security in the region and the world.

The victory in the nuclear negotiation is not a factional victory, but for all Iranians and the implementation of the JCPOA is not against any domestic faction or political group, because it is the ending result of all Iranian nation resistance, thoughtfulness, well management and will to show the world that it is a people against any war and violence who have chosen logic, negotiation and excellent debate.

Respected Iranians

I am well informed about what had happen to you during the years of sanctions and foreign pressures. But it is time to construct, reconstruct and flourish, because from now on there is no boycotting chain on the feet of national economy, as we are witnessing the dignity and independence of our country, as well.

Now is the time to build and flourish. You people have passed behind the sanctions with patience, dignity and pride. Today is a transitional period from sanctions to development which requires endeavors, hard working, initiative and investment, and it is a time for all Iranians especially for youth to seize the very opportunities of flourish.

I praise and appreciate the people of Iran, the Supreme Leader of Islamic Revolution, Grand Ayatollahs, the diplomatic system, the legislators and the previous governments, as well. I bow down and praise all-Mighty Allah and congratulate this historic moment in the life of the Iranian nation, to all the martyrs, especially the martyrs of the Iran nuclear technology who taught us the lesson of hard working, patience, dignity and honor.

I need to thank each and every one of our fellow citizens anywhere in the world, for their two and a half years of complicity with government and their round the clock efforts to cooperate with the government of prudence and hope to finally reach the very deal which has put an end to the sanctions.

With the laudation and greetings to the brave nation of Iran. Peace be upon you as you endured.

Hassan Rouhani/President of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Source: Website of the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran