The Trump Pause

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The United States was primed and ready to begin attacks against the Iranian SAM (Surface to Air Missile) and radar sites responsible for shooting down an unarmed US Navy MQ-4 drone over the Strait of Hormuz. At the last moment, President Trump cancelled the strikes, citing the unacceptably high risk of Iranian casualties. In Trump’s view the Iranians had shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle. Responding with air and cruise missile strikes that could kill up to 150 Iranians was not a proportionate reply. It remains unknown whether the strike plans have been permanently cancelled, or placed on a temporary hold for the moment.

President Trump’s pause presents an opportunity for Iranian government to dial back its belligerent actions and turn off the crisis without losing face. Trump has demonstrated that the US is prepared to response militarily if a single US life is lost as a result of Iranian military action. By not retaliating due to concerns about casualties, Trump has seized the moral high ground and shown the world that the United States is not actively seeking a conflict with Iran. The ball is now in Teheran’s court. If Iran chooses to remain on the path it is currently on, it will inevitably lead to US military action, and even more economic sanctions.

The root cause of this crisis is the current state of Iran’s economy. US sanctions have placed a tremendous burden on the government, which now seems to be irreversibly tethered to the belief Washington will ease the sanctions as a result of the pressure Iran, and its proxies are applying in the region.

The next forty-eight hours could reveal much about Iran’s future intentions, and the direction this crisis will take.

The Interim Deal With Iran: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

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Iran and the White House are obviously on separate pages regarding the interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear program that was reached in Geneva. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif contends that the concessions agreed to by his side have been misunderstood by the US. During an interview on CNN, Zarif was adamant that his country is not dismantling any portion of its nuclear program. “We are not dismantling any centrifuges, we’re not dismantling any equipment, we’re simply not producing, not enriching over 5%.”

The US and Iran each regard the language of the agreement differently. This comes as no surprise. What is questionable, though, is the level of expectation that the White House had in mind for the interim agreement. Did the Obama administration expect Iran to begin dismantling its nuclear program at some point in the near future? It’s apparent that is not going be happening. Zarif, using diplospeak, just told the White House to go take a flying f**k.

Clearly, Tehran wants to strike a long term deal with the West and they want the terms to be as favorable to Iran as possible. Favorable in this instance means the removal of the economic sanctions that have strangled Iran’s economy, without having to agree to restrictions being placed on the nation’s nuclear program. From the Iranian perspective, a best-case scenario would be the lifting of sanctions coupled with the eventual acquisition of a nuclear device. On the other side of the equation, this result is a worst-case scenario for the United States and the other Western powers.

Iran’s leaders understand that time is on their side. The longer the negotiation process is drawn out without resolution, the closer Iran gets to a workable nuclear weapon. US Secretary of State John Kerry has stated that if an agreement cannot be reached, the military option remains on the table. His words are little more than tough talk. Kerry’s hawkish warning has not been backed up by decisive action by the Obama administration. After the US inactions in Egypt and Syria, Iranian leaders probably believe that they have little to fear from American cruise missiles and warplanes. The sad part is that they might be correct.

Israeli missiles and warplanes, on the other hand…….