May 25, 2018 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1397

Facing New U.S. Comprehensive Strategy Against It, Iranian Regime, Helpless, Clings To The JCPOA And Europe As A Defense Umbrella Against The U.S.

May 25, 2018 | By A. Savyon and Yigal Carmon*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1397


The U.S.'s withdrawal from the JCPOA is only one element in the Trump administration's new comprehensive strategy against Iran's Islamic Revolution, with all its elements – political, military, economic, and regional. The U.S.'s reinstatement of the economic sanctions on Iran following this withdrawal comprises the economic element in its fight against the regime of the Islamic revolution in Iran. This comes together with other elements of this new American strategy against Iran – the political, military, and regional elements. Iran is now facing a broad front, in which the leading the political and economic struggle against the Iranian regime, and Israel, with U.S. support, is leading the military struggle against Iran's regional expansion in Syria.  

The discourse in political and academic circles in the West that has focused solely on the question of the JCPOA and its future reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the new development in the relationship between the U.S. and Iran. The issue is no longer just the nuclear agreement; it has to do with dealing comprehensively with revolutionary Iran, and with the joint effort of the U.S. and its allies in the region, and any other international element that they can recruit to it, against the Iranian revolutionary regime.

Indeed, the U.S. also claims that it is not seeking regime change in Iran, but only a change in Iran's behavior. It also claims that it is ready for a new agreement with the Iranian regime – however, everyone understands that there is no possibility either of changing Iranian behavior or of any new agreement with Iran's Islamic regime. Therefore, there is a need for a new comprehensive strategy for dealing with this regime, as laid out by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in his May 21, 2018 statements. A central tenet of this new American strategy is delegitimizing Iran's behavior.

Reversal In The U.S.'s Iran Policy

This aspect of U.S. policy vis-à-vis Iran had been completely eradicated by the Obama administration, which granted the Iranian regime ideological and political legitimacy. President Obama transformed the Iranian regime from a rogue regime excluded from the international community since its Islamic revolution in 1979 into a legitimate regime, an equal partner, and a trustworthy negotiator accepted by the international community, whose word was credible and with whom agreements could be reached. Under pressure from President Obama, European countries adopted his approach to Iran, erasing its record as a terror state and human rights violator and as a threat to the surrounding countries.

In the new strategy outlined by Secretary of State Pompeo, the U.S. returns to a moral stance in its Middle East policy and strives to bring the European countries into it – but at this stage the latter are refusing to go along with it. It should be emphasized that this European refusal does not concern the cancellation of the JCPOA alone, but is a refusal to treat Iran like the U.S. treats it – that is, as a terror state that violates human rights, is violently expanding in the region, is threatening its neighbors with missiles and other means, and is striving to obtain nuclear weapons despite the JCPOA. Europe is now standing with the Iranian regime and the Islamic revolution together with other totalitarian states – Russia and China – against the U.S. and its allies in the region. This European policy has historic parallels in the last century.

The Iranian leadership, for its part, is clinging to the JCPOA because it serves its strategically,[1] and clinging to Europe whose response at this stage is to defend Iran and oppose the U.S. The Iranian leadership is hoping that clinging to Europe will buy it protection from the U.S.'s strategy of all-out confrontation with Iran.

Indeed, Europe has declared that it opposes Iran's development of its ballistic missile program as well as Iran's regional expansion, but these statements are toothless because Europe is not willing to pressure Iran to stop them. On the contrary – it is even attempting to draw up an aid plan for Iran against the American sanctions. This is despite the fact that Iran has publicly declared that in its current negotiations with Europe following Secretary of State Pompeo's statements, it will absolutely not discuss its missiles or its regional expansion, which it openly says that it needs for its strategic depth.

Iranian Regime Reactions To U.S. Withdrawal From The JCPOA: Negotiations With Europe As A Defense Umbrella For Iran

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's May 23, 2018 statements, and statements by other top regime officials, express Iran's helplessness in the face of the new American strategy. In setting out a series of outlandish conditions for Europe – conditions that Europe cannot possibly meet – Khamenei permitted Iranian President Hassan Rohani and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to launch open-ended negotiations with Europe on these conditions, without committing to explicit withdrawal from the JCPOA and without setting an end date.

Furthermore, also in the matter of renewing uranium enrichment, Khamenei has refrained from issuing any concrete guidelines to do so. He has left things in the air while at the same time referring to uranium enrichment as "Iran's right."

Moreover, in fact, in these days of rage against the U.S. because of its new Iran policy, the Iranian regime was forced, against its will, to approve the recommendations of FATF regulatory bills to fight money laundering and terrorism funding – which will harm Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). This was approved by Supreme Leader Khamenei and the Majlis.[2]

* A. Savyon is Director of the MEMRI Iran Media Project; Yigal Carmon is President of MEMRI.

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