Why Dealing with Iran Is a Non-Starter

On Friday, April 2 all the signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal except the US – that is, the EU, Russia, China, the UK, France, Germany and Iran – met in Brussels and, with the knowledge and acquiescence of Washington, agreed to set up talks in Vienna in the week commencing April 6, in an effort to rescue the Iran nuclear deal that Donald Trump abandoned almost three years ago. The US agreed to attend the talks, and American representatives are at Vienna.

Officials from Washington and Tehran are meeting directly. The EU is acting as mediator in separate negotiations with each side. The talks are trying focus on how to achieve simultaneous action by the US and Iran, so that Trump-era sanctions can be removed at the same time as Tehran starts to re-comply with the limits imposed on its nuclear program.

Iran is a proven source of state-sponsored terrorism, a rogue state, so of course most of the civilised world wants to ensure that it does not acquire a nuclear arsenal – the consequences could be literally world-shattering. Iran itself could dominate the Middle East while, supplied by Iran with nuclear weapons, the extremist groups it is supporting – its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in Syria, the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza – could become an infinitely greater threat than they currently are.

Joe Biden, who was vice-president throughout the eight years of Barak Obama’s administration, identified with and helped administer his Iran strategy. Its architects – Biden among them – believed that Iran could be coaxed out of its desire to become a nuclear power and be brought back into the comity of nations. Hence the intensive negotiations that led in 2015 to the nuclear deal between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.

This Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is considered by many Obama’s most significant foreign policy achievement. Biden, like some of its architects who surround him, is imbued with its philosophy despite its deleterious consequences for the US. For the deal, with its partial curtailment of Iran’s nuclear program, the lifting of sanctions on the regime, the injection of a huge financial “sweetener”, and the opening up of Iran to global trade, had the effect of boosting Iran’s power, influence and aggression across the Middle East.

The inevitable consequence was that by the time Obama left office, the US had lost the confidence, and much of the respect, of its erstwhile allies such as Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Egypt, all of whom had good reason to regard Iran as their prime opponent. The prestige of the US in much of the Middle East had sunk to a new low. Yet cajoling the Iranian regime into signing a deal that paused Iran’s ambitions for less than twenty years was Obama’s chosen path.

In the event, taking every concession offered in the nuclear deal, and subsequently reneging in several vital respects on the final agreement, Iran’s leaders budged not one inch from their ultimate ambition – to become the dominant political and religious power in the Middle East, to sweep aside all Western-style democracies, and to impose their own Shi’ite version of Islam on the world.

   As president, Donald Trump had no time for the nuclear deal that was a keystone policy of Obama’s administration. He could not immediately “tear it up”, in his own words, since there were five other signatories in addition to the US. But finally, frustrated by Iran’s expansion of its missile capability, and by the evidence from Israel’s seizure of secret documents that demonstrated Iran’s continued adherence to its nuclear ambitions, Trump withdrew the US from the deal in May 2018.

During his presidential election campaign Biden promised to return to the nuclear deal provided Iran returned to full compliance with its provisions. But even if the Vienna initiative brings the US and Iran back to compliance with the original deal, it will do nothing to remedy Biden’s false assumption that appeasement of the Iranian regime is the correct policy and will yield results.

For 42 years world leaders have been unable, or perhaps unwilling, to perceive the quintessential purposes that motivated the leader of Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1979, or to appreciate that these same objectives have driven the regime ever since and continue to be its raison d’être.

The regime’s original Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, affirmed repeatedly that the foundation stone of his philosophy, the very purpose of his revolution, was to destroy Western-style democracy and its way of life, and to impose Shia Islam on the whole world. He identified the United States and Israel as his prime targets.

“We wish to cause the corrupt roots of Zionism, Capitalism and Communism to wither throughout the world,” said Khomeini. “We wish, as does God almighty, to destroy the systems which are based on these three foundations, and to promote the Islamic order of the Prophet.” By this he meant his strict Shia interpretation of Islam, for elsewhere he had declared that the holy city of Mecca, situated in the heart of Sunni Saudi Arabia, was in the hands of “a band of heretics”.

Ever since 1979 the world could have recognised, if it had had a mind to, that the Iranian regime has been engaged in a focused pursuit of these twin objectives, quite impervious to any other considerations. Instead wishful thinking has governed the approach of many of the world’s leaders to Iran, and continues to do so. The Biden administration maintains the tradition. It wants to believe in an accommodation with the regime. A clear-eyed look at the facts shows that this is simply not possible. This Iranian regime is not, and has no intention of ever becoming, one of the comity of civilised nations. To do so would be to negate the fundamental purposes underlying the revolution, purposes to which the ayatollahs remain unshakeably committed. In the words of the founder of the Iranian revolution:

“We shall export our revolution to the whole world. Until the cry ‘There is no god but Allah’ resounds over the whole world, there will be struggle.”

By Neville Teller

Neville Teller’s latest book is “"Trump and the Holy Land: 2016-2020". He has written about the Middle East for more than 30 years, has published five books on the subject, and blogs at www.a-mid-east-journal.blogspot.com. Born in London and a graduate of Oxford University, he is also a long-time dramatist, writer and abridger for BBC radio and for the UK audiobook industry. He was made an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours, 2006 "for services to broadcasting and to drama."