Khamenei’s Hollow Riposte to Trump Card

Iran has never been known to respond to American pronouncements judiciously. Its politicians, presidents, mullahs and ayatollahs begin to behave like highly-strung and distraught entities with every move affecting them deemed menacing. Their tone and tenor towards Washington has not changed since the days of Ayatollah Khomeini.

It is not surprising therefore that the moment US President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal, to which Russia, France and the UK among others were also signatories, Iran flared up. After US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a string of conditions for Iran to comply with, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was bristling and came up with his own set of unfulfillable conditions.

“In the almost three years of the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the Iran nuclear deal], the Iranians marched across the Middle East,” Pompeo had said. He outlined 12 “demands” of Iran, including a complete end to its nuclear programme, its ballistic-missile work and its foreign policy across the Middle East, including its support for Bashar Al Assad’s regime in Syria, rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon. “We’re simply asking Iran to be a normal country,” he said.

In response, Khamenei turned to the US partners in the deal who are all deeply hurt and upset with Trump at his unilateral withdrawal from a treaty that had taken years to cobble together. He not only demanded that the other signatories promise they would not ask to renegotiate its ballistic missile programme and – here lies the problem – wouldn’t question its Middle East activities. Whereas the Trump move has been inspired largely by those very activities.

And Iran warned that if the other signatories failed on those counts it would resume its enrichment of uranium which had been stopped under the deal so as to ensure Tehran does not develop the means to build nuclear weapons.

So it boils down to Iran being allowed to ride roughshod across the Gulf and Middle East countries and politics and having unbridled authority to assert its hegemony through money, muscle power and terror outfits backed by it in return for promising to be nuclear weapons free.

The question is, was Iran ever serious about following the nuclear deal to the letter given that it could count at least two large countries as its all-weather friends – Russia, which is involved in Iran’s ‘peaceful’ nuclear programmes, and China? Or did it sign the deal just to get the West off its back and have the back-breaking sanctions lifted – which, by the way, also provided relief to European signatories in terms of oil, trade and contracts.

The results of the deal and the lifting of the sanctions are there for all to see. The deal had emboldened Iran to such extent that it conspired with Qatar to indirectly damage Bahrain [albeit unsuccessfully] which it could not do through its cells there, upgraded its nefarious activities in Yemen by backing the Houthi rebels, and managed to create a rift within the Gulf Cooperation Council by luring away Qatar.

But it did not count on regime change in the US. With Barack Obama gone, his successor was watching the Iranian moves far more closely, and what happened was inevitable.

Brij Sharma is an Indian journalist and editor based in Bahrain. Brij tells us the interesting stories we don’t usually hear from the middle east country.