Path of engagement with Iran not yet closed says European foreign relations specialist

By bne IntelIiNews June 24, 2020

An Iranian specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations has said in a report that the path of engagement with Iran is not yet closed despite the ascendancy of hardliners in the face of the Trump administration’s hostility towards the Islamic Republic.

However, Ellie Geranmayeh also warned that without an imminent economic offer from the West, after the US elections in November, “the two more hardline Iranian power blocs—the conservative ‘Principlists’ and Islamic Revolutionary Guard-linked ‘securocrats’—will continue their recent ascendancy and press for a confrontational and ‘maximum resistance’ response”.

She cautions that the US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal in May 2018, and subsequent rapid decline in the Iranian economy battered by US santions, has put a range of hardliners often with subtly different ideologies into the ascendancy.

“The Principlists and the securocrats now control the judiciary, the legislature, the Guardian Council, powerful financial institutions, the state media networks, and most of the security apparatus,” she said. These groups, she warns, are increasingly arguing Iran’s future growth lies in greater self-reliance and not on trading with the west.

A quiet debate is said to be emerging among modernisers in Iran as to whether to leave the 2021 presidential election uncontested. That would force the hardliners to address the economic mess, potentially demonstrating the ineffectiveness of their strategy to the electorate.

The balance of opinion, according to the Guardian, is for the reformists to stand despite their trouncing in the 2020 parliamentary elections, but Geranmayeh argued that their probability of success would depend in part on Europe creating a diplomatic opening between the US and Iranian presidential elections, regardless of whether Donald Trump wins a second term in office or not. “Such an opening could even influence who enters the Iranian electoral race, and its outcome. Iran’s moderate power centres currently have a weak hand internally, but they are not completely in retreat.”

June 24 saw Iran’s pragmatic and moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, say that the Islamic Republic would be open to talks with the US if Washington apologises for exiting the nuclear accord and compensates Tehran, something which Rouhani knows would be a non-starter with Trump, especially amid his re-election campaign during which he will reiterate that he wants a tougher deal with Iran that would curtail its influence in Middle East affairs.

“We have no problem with talks with the US, but only if Washington fulfils its obligations under the nuclear deal, apologies and compensates Tehran for its withdrawal from the 2015 deal,” Rouhani said in a televised speech. “But we know these calls for talks with Tehran are just words and lies,” he added.

Later in the day, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US was hopeful the entire world would understand the need to extend a UN arms embargo on Iran that is due to expire in October and said Washington was willing to talk to Tehran when the time was right.

“I am hopeful that the whole world will accept the proposition that this arms embargo needs to be extended,” Pompeo told reporters, as reported by Reuters. “I think all but a couple of nations understand that this should not expire and there is going to be ca discussion about how it is that we extend it.”

Opposition to the US policy on the arms embargo is expected to come from Russia and China at the very least.

Pompeo, meanwhile, announced that the US has imposed sanctions on five Iranian ship captains who delivered fuel to gasoline-starved Venezuela.

Speaking at a press conference at the State Department, Pompeo said the ships delivered around 1.5mn barrels of Iranian gasoline and related components, and warned any mariners against doing business with the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whom Washington wants to see removed from power.

“As a result of today’s sanctions, these captains’ assets will be blocked. Their careers and prospects will suffer from this designation,” Pompeo said in a statement later. “Mariners who are considering work with Iran and Venezuela should understand that aiding these oppressive regimes is simply not worth the risk,” he added.

In a tweet, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi responded that Iran and Venezuela would not back down from countering American sanctions.

“US desperate moves against Iranian individuals—like the one announced by @SecPompeo aka the #SecretaryofHate—just signal the miserable failure of the so-called “max pressure”. Despite US pressure, #Iran & #Venezuela remain steadfast in countering unlawful American sanctions,” Mousavi tweeted.

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