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Iran pledges to honor the nuclear agreement in spite of US withdrawal; may cause US/European rift

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

On Tuesday, President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Iran nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA, as it’s commonly referred to. He did so without presenting a single shred of evidence that Iran had failed to uphold the agreement. In fact, his own military advisers have reported that Iran is actually in compliance, and yet Trump made assertions that Israeli intelligence and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had uncovered hidden evidence that Iran is continuing to develop a nuclear weapons program.

The presentation, titled “Iran Lied,” made by Prime Minister Netanyahu, projected across the world on social media, has been completely discredited by experts, including the award-winning, that’s the Nobel Prize-winning agency IAEA, who has responsibility for oversight of Iran’s compliance. A former weapons inspector that I spoke with last week, Robert Kelley, said that Netanyahu’s claims were baseless and childish. He used to work at the IAEA. Now, in carefully-worded assertions, Trump said that U.S., UK, Germany were all united in their belief. Let’s listen.

DONALD TRUMP: Last week, Israel published intelligence documents long concealed by Iran conclusively showing the Iranians’ regime and its history of pursuing nuclear weapons. Over the past few months we have engaged extensively with our allies and partners around the world, including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. We have also consulted with our friends from across the Middle East. We are unified in our understanding of the threat, and in our conviction that Iran must never acquire a nuclear weapon.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, shortly after Trump’s statement, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that Iran would remain committed to the multi-national nuclear deal despite Donald Trump’s decision to pull out.

HASSAN ROUHANI: If we come to the conclusion that with the collaboration of five countries it is just not feasible to attain what the Iranian people wish, despite the views of the US and the Zionist regime, and also, and also the impolite remarks by Trump, we should see whether it is possible to just keep up with JCPOA, and also take steps in line with regional peace and tranquility.

SHARMINI PERIES: Well, let’s discuss all of this with our next guest, James Dorsey. He’s a senior fellow at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, and he’s also a syndicated columnist and the author of the blog The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. Good to have you back on, James.

JAMES DORSEY: Pleasure to be with you again.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, James, let’s begin with getting your response to Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement.

JAMES DORSEY: I think what you’re seeing is a high-stakes poker game. So with other words, Trump was determined to take the United States out of the nuclear agreement, despite the fact that there was no evidence that Iran has violated the agreement. The reason he wants to do that is because what he’s, as are various U.S. allies in the Middle East, particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as the United Arab Emirates, what they are really concerned about , beyond the nuclear issue, is Iran’s ballistic missile program, as well as Iran’s regional role. Both issues on which there is almost no room for negotiation. Now, he is betting on the fact that the Europeans fundamentally, on the one hand, want to keep the agreement in place because they feel that it is stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and that whatever other issues there are, which they agree on in principle, need to be negotiated in addition to the nuclear agreement.

The poker game kicks in on two levels. One level is the Europeans. So with other words, the Iranians until now have shown restraint, and they’ve shown restraint on three different levels. One is they have abided by the nuclear agreement. The second is that you will have a number of Israeli attacks on Iranian military targets in Syria, and Iran, despite bombastic language, has not, in fact, retaliated. And the third level is that Iran, in response to the Trump announcement, has said for the time being, we are going to stay in the agreement. We remain committed to the agreement, and we are going to be talking to the other signatories to see whether or not this can be salvaged in a way that also benefits Iran’s interest.

What Trump has done is not only taken the United States out of the region, but he has announced that he will reinstitute secondary sanctions. Secondary sanctions meaning that the United States would sanction any non-American company that does business with Iran. And that is particularly sensitive to European country, companies, that have interests in the United States. For the Europeans to actually stick to the agreement, and make it worthwhile for the Iranians to stick to the agreement, the Europeans would actually have to introduce sanctions of their own.

So with other words, if the United States sanctions a European company, the Europeans would sanction an American company. And that they would have to do in an environment in which they are dealing with an administration that from the outset, from the moment that he came to office, has expressed doubt about the value of its relationship with Europe. So with other words, Europe will have to confront the United States and have a serious rift with the United States against the backdrop of much larger issues.

Now, what I really think this is about is not about the nuclear agreement, nor really fundamentally about the ballistic missiles issue or Iran’s role in the Middle East. I think this is about regime change. And if it is about regime change, there are essentially three options, none of them very promising. One is sanctions that are so severe that, in the hope of the Americans, the Iranians would have to buckle in, or there would be a move to change the regime from within Iran. And that would almost only come from hardliners. A second option would be that the Iranians withdraw from the agreement, ultimately, are perceived or painted to be engaging in a nuclear program with a military component to it, and that then there would be an external military intervention. And we’ve seen in the case of Iraq, of Afghanistan, of Libya, of Syria, of Yemen what external military intervention leads to. Or the third option would be to try and destabilize the regime by trying to stir unrest among ethnic minorities in Iran.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, James. There are many points in that initial answer we should take up. Let’s move to segment two, and please join us again.

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James Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, and co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and four forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa as well as The Gulf Crisis: Small States Battle It Out, Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.