As Donald Trump's sanctions on Iran are ready to be imposed, Washington and Tehran have turned to mutually aggressive rhetoric. However, despite all the statements by Iranian politicians that the US-Iran- dialogue can only take place if the sanctions are completely lifted and the JCPOA is implemented in its entirety, we should bear in mind that pragmatism is one of the dominants of Iran’s foreign policy. Tehran can go to negotiations even in order to win some time.
As the sanctions on Iran imposed by US President Donald Trump on May 8* are ready to come into force, Washington and Tehran have turned to mutually aggressive rhetoric. Now it seems that the tensions between them could develop into open confrontation.
The leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and Ali Akbar Velayati, senior adviser to the Supreme Leader for international affairs, said that if Iran could not export its oil, then no one could. Obviously, Iran is ready to block the Strait of Hormuz.
Trump, in turn, said that if Tehran does not change its domestic and foreign course completely, the consequences will be harsh.
However, the overall logic of these events suggests that both sides will avoid military confrontation. Simultaneously with threats, Trump proposes to start negotiations with the Iranian president “without any preconditions”, and Hassan Rouhani stresses Iran’s commitment to the JCPOA and readiness to negotiate, if the US returns to it.
By his strong statements, Donald Trump supports his image of a powerful man, who determines whether there will be war or peace anywhere in the world, being forced to correct the foreign policy mistakes Barack Obama’s administration made while trying to soften the US-Iran relations. It is extremely important for him to discredit the previous White House administrations on the eve of the November 6 midterm elections . At the same time, Trump is hardly ready for sacrifices in blood and treasure in case a full-scale military operation against Iran will take place.
Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demonstrates, for his part, his “unbreakable will”, in line with Imam Khomeini’s legacy opposing the US and using American threats to unite diverse political forces and to strengthen his influence, sometimes very effectively. The position of Iran’s liberal circles , who were supporting the JCPOA, has weakened. Hassan Rouhani’s allies, who supported his rapprochement with the West in order to achieve economic benefits, began criticizing him. On August 1, parliamentarians demanded from the President to provide Majlis with a report on the economic situation in the country, which continues to deteriorate. However, the Iranian authorities understand that if a real clash with the US and its allies occurs, the difficulties it has experienced since the beginning of 2018 in connection with huge popular discontent with the rial’s collapse (the national currency has dropped by half since April 2018), rising prices and unemployment could get out of control, making the situation unmanageable.
Iran’s attempts to block the Strait of Hormuz could also serve Tehran badly. It will cause a rise in oil prices, but the strait will not be blocked. Even during the Iran-Iraq war, neither side was able to cut off this important route for its enemy’s oil exports. At the same time, the indignation of the international community could isolate Iran completely.
Recently, media reported that Oman is preparing the ground for Iran-US negotiations like those it mediated while considering the JCPOA terms . These talks cannot be completely excluded. Despite all the statements by Iranian politicians that the US-Iran dialogue could only take place if the sanctions are completely lifted and the JCPOA is implemented in its entirety, we should bear in mind that pragmatism is one of the dominants of Iran’s foreign policy. Tehran can go to negotiations even in order to win some time and see how the situation develops, not allowing it to aggravate.
The main vector of the Iranian foreign policy will most likely be strengthening relations with its economic and political partners in Europe and Asia to prevent the country’s isolation due to new “secondary” sanctions by the US against the companies doing business in Iran – in particular, those buying Iranian oil.
*The first round of the sanctions begins on August 6, while the second one on November 4.