ODVV interview: Attempt to heighten tensions...
More than a year after the US pullout from the Iran nuclear deal, the ripple effects of President Donald Trump’s controversial decision continue to be felt across Iran and the Middle East. The Iran-US relations are cranked up to a point of unprecedented hostility and officials in both countries have been ramping up aggressive rhetoric towards the other side while a new military face-off in the region appears to be just around the corner.
The Trump administration has been waging a campaign of “maximum pressure” against Iran in a bid to convince the Islamic Republic authorities to come to a new agreement with the United States addressing a broader range of issues than just Tehran’s nuclear activities. After repealing the Iran deal, Trump reinstated the nuclear-related sanctions against Iran and also targeted the country with even broader sanctions. These punitive measures have been hard-hitting and unrelenting, but Iran has so far struck a defiant tone, refusing to negotiate with the United States under pressure.
The US sanctions have taken a heavy toll on the Iranian citizenry, depriving millions of people of direly needed medicine and medical equipment, triggering inflation, spurring unemployment and sending the national economy into a dismal tailspin. In a ruling in October 2018, the International Court of Justice ordered the United States to ease the sanctions it slapped on Iran after abandoning the nuclear deal. The United States ignored the UN court’s verdict.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran have been brewing since Trump walked away from the nuclear deal reached by Iran and six world powers in July 2015. In the latest escalation of hostilities between the two rivals, the US government imposed sanctions on Iran’s Foreign Minister and top nuclear negotiator Javad Zarif – a move which built up domestic support for Zarif and further stoked distrust in the United States among the Iranians.
Nasrin Rahimieh is a Howard Baskerville Professor of Humanities and Director of the Humanities Core Course at the University of California, Irvine. A former President of the International Society for Iranian Studies, she has written extensively on Iran’s culture, literature and politics. Prof. Rahimieh’s research interests include intercultural encounters between Iran and the West, modern Persian literature, literature of exile and displacement, women’s writing, and post-revolutionary Iranian cinema.
Organization for Defending Victims of Violence has done an interview with Prof. Nasrin Rahimieh on the ongoing tensions between Iran and the United States, the human toll of the US sanctions on Iran and the fate of the Iran deal. The following is the text of the interview.
Q: Washington’s allies were noticeably disappointed when President Trump announced the US pullout from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018. There were many other international agreements and treaties which the US president abrogated, too. What do you make of President Trump’s unilateralism and his disregard for international arrangements?
A: I find President Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear agreement, as well as other international agreements, worrisome. This unilateralism jeopardizes the fundamental trust necessary for any type of international and multinational agreement.
Q: What’s your take on the role of governments such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and Israel in the escalation of hostilities between Iran and the United States? Will they benefit from the failure of the two sides to settle their disputes and move towards détente?
A: I see any attempt heighten the tensions between the US and Iran short-sighted. The region is already destabilized and further hostilities will lead to even more catastrophic conflicts that will impact people across the Middle East.
Q: The UN special rapporteur on the impact of unilateral coercive measures Idriss Jazairy said a few months back that the imposition of unilateral economic sanctions on different countries for political goals violates the human rights of the peoples concerned and undermines international norms. While a high-ranking UN official talks about the destructive impacts of the US sanctions, doesn’t this organization have any responsibility to intervene in order to ameliorate the situation?
A: The UN does indeed have a responsibility to intervene, but it has limited power by its very dependence on its member nations to respect international norms. The very structure and makeup of the UN limits its power. The US right to veto impedes the possibility of enforcement of any UN resolution.
Q: The entire banking, energy, maritime transportation, aviation, technology, industrial and export sectors of Iran are targeted with hard-hitting US sanctions. These measures are taking a heavy toll on the ordinary Iranian citizens. Why do you think the human cost of the US sanctions are not adequately debated in the media and academia?
A: Reports from Iran appear to confirm the heavy cost of the sanctions on ordinary Iranian citizens. But the Iranian government also bears responsibility for not adequately addressing internal corruption and inaction. Any debate about the impact of the US sanctions will inevitably touch upon Iran’s own problems in instituting more equitable distribution of wealth and resources.
Q: Will the special purpose vehicle INSTEX launched by the European trio (France, Germany and the United Kingdom) be able to facilitate humanitarian trade with Iran and make the unimpeded export of foodstuff, medicine and other goods to Iran possible?
A: INSTEX has not proven to be easy to get off the ground and at the moment does not appear to be a viable mechanism to deliver badly needed humanitarian aid.
Q: What are the steps Iran and the United States should take to ease the tensions in the Middle East region? How is it possible to ensure the security of oil trade in the Persian Gulf, especially the critically-important and strategic Strait of Hormuz?
A: There will have to be goodwill and a desire on the part of Iran and the US to set aside historical disputes and enter into dialogue. Unfortunately, neither side appears to be interested in scaling down its rhetoric. As long as there are elements in both governments that favor hostility, there cannot be any meaningful change in the relations between the two nations.
Q: What do you think the anti-war groups, Iranian-American community and civil society can do to reduce tensions between Iran and the United States, decrease the likelihood of a military confrontation between the two sides and raise public awareness about the destructive impacts of the US sanctions on the Iranian people?
A: The pressure from anti-war groups in the US has been effective in curtailing the possibility of war. Countless organizations have been active in disseminating information and raising awareness. Their efforts would be far more effective if the Iranian government did not routinely accuse the very academics and public intellectuals who work to reduce tensions of acting as spies. Iran could play a crucial role in improving its own image by demonstrating real commitment to human rights.
By: Kourosh Ziabari
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the ODVV.