The Iran 'Tug of War': An Interview with Imad Harb

Published July 18th, 2019 - 08:46 GMT
In Interview with Imad Harb /Al Bawaba
In Interview with Imad Harb /Al Bawaba

 

Tensions seem to be steadily rising between the U.S. and Iran with a compilation of endless sanctions and accusations of “nuclear extortion."

To gain further insight on the escalating predicament between the two rival countries, DC Insider spoke with Imad Harb, Director of Research and Analysis at the Arab Center in Washington, on the matter.


Why is the U.S. so enraged at the idea of the increase in uranium enrichment? Or more importantly, what would be the worst-case scenario if Iran was to succeed in doing so?

"The U.S. is being demagogic about Iran’s decision to increase the level of enrichment since it withdrew from the original agreement itself. Still, Iran is in violation of the JCPOA’s stipulation of 3.67% enrichment level (it is now at 4.5%), although it has not breached the lower 5% or the higher 20% levels.

The fear in the Trump administration is that Iran may push ahead towards the 20% which may mean that it really intends to produce weapons-grade uranium (although that will require 90% enrichment.)

I think the problem is that the administration will be under pressure to do something if Iran does go for the higher levels while President Trump does not want things to escalate and cause a direct U.S.-Iran confrontation."

The U.S. is being demagogic about Iran’s decision to increase the level of enrichment since it withdrew from the original agreement itself. Still, Iran is in violation of the JCPOA’s stipulation of 3.67% enrichment level (it is now at 4.5%), although it has not breached the lower 5% or the higher 20% levels.

Hence, it seems as though Iran has had enough of their never-ending tug of war with the Trump administration's antics and has decided to maintain its fiscal crisis by taking matters into its own hands by increasing the percentage of uranium enrichment by a mere .83%. Could this be the re-genesis of the JCPOA, even though the surge in percentage is at such a low?

“This has been Trump’s intention from the beginning- to re-negotiate the JCPOA and include those provisions that he says should have been included in the agreement in 2015 (missiles and Iran’s behavior in the region.)

The problem is that it is extremely difficult right now to convince Iran to go back to the drawing board because its leadership is now saying that there is no assurance that whatever new agreement may be reached will be respected by the United States as Trump abrogated the existing one. Additionally, the other signatories - Russia, China, France, United Kingdom, Germany - are unlikely to want to go back to the drawing board since they had already agreed to the previous one and it has become a part of international law when the United Nations Security Council codified it in Resolution 2231.”

the other signatories - Russia, China, France, United Kingdom, Germany - are unlikely to want to go back to the drawing board since they had already agreed to the previous one and it has become a part of international law when the United Nations Security Council codified it in Resolution 2231.

History has proven, time and time again, that Iran stands firm when it comes to their desire for a nuclear agreement with the U.S. Thus, what would it take for Iran to convince the Trump administration that a nuclear deal would be beneficial for both parties? Or is that even an option?

“I don’t think there is any possibility of this happening. The Trump Administration did not abrogate the JCPOA to go back to it and Iran is not willing to agree to another one that puts more restrictions on it.”

What of the Iranian proxy Shia militias in Iraq, which take their orders directly from the IRGC? Would they simply be ousted or actually take part at the negotiating table? Will Iran be willing to give up these militias and take them off their payroll, especially considering that most of their orders come from the IRGC’s Major General Qassem Soleimani?

“It is not likely that these militias will be sacrificed by Iran or its IRGC on any negotiating table. They are Iran’s vanguards in Iraq and force its will on the Iraqi government… Including all militias friendly with Iran in Lebanon and Syria. This is one hell of a good card for Iranian influence in the Levant. Iran may give them up only when it is accepted as a partner in security and strategic issues in the region; again, MAY.”
 

It is not likely that these militias will be sacrificed by Iran or its IRGC on any negotiating table. They are Iran’s vanguards in Iraq

Tensions are clearly at a boiling point… If the U.S. and Iran were to engage in a military confrontation, would Qatar allow the Americans to use their base to attack Iran, despite Sheikh Tamim’s recent visit to DC  and the wide-spread idea that the two countries are ‘allies’?

“First things first... It is important to be accurate in our terminology. Qatar is not an ‘ally’ of Iran or an ‘enemy’ of other states in the Gulf that have bad relations with Iran. Qatar looks at the Gulf as a region for all on an equal footing. American troops in Qatar are under American command and Qatar cannot govern their operations.

On the other hand, the United States is unlikely to expose Qatar to retaliation from Iran if the latter were to be attacked by the United States. In my opinion, Sheikh Tamim’s visit to Washington was to affirm the importance of US-Qatari strategic cooperation and Qatar’s readiness to act as mediator in the region.”

In my opinion, Sheikh Tamim’s visit to Washington was to affirm the importance of US-Qatari strategic cooperation and Qatar’s readiness to act as mediator in the region.

With all said and done, how does Harb see this current situational crisis between the U.S. and Iran ending?

“It is hard to tell… Neither the United States nor Iran are interested in a confrontation that may escalate into open warfare. Yet, the United States is likely to increase economic pressure through sanctions and other measures to prevent Iran from exporting its oil and gas, but this is going to remain with us for a long time, depending on whether Trump gets re-elected for a second term.”
 

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Imad Harb is Director of Research and Analysis at the Arab Center in Washington DC. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba News.


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