What will Iran do now?
Foreign Correspondent Column
May 21, 2018
Foad Izadi, an assistant professor at the University of Tehran, predicts that President Donald Trump’s recent decision to pull the United States out of the Iran nuclear accord will have sobering consequences.
“If the Europeans are not able or not willing to oppose Trump,” Izadi told me in an interview, “then Iran will leave the JCPOA sooner or later.”
The JCPOA, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was signed in 2015 by seven countries. In return for lifting economic sanctions, Iran agreed to intrusive inspections of its nuclear power facilities. The United States, Iran, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China reached the accord after years of difficult negotiations. The JCPOA was then codified into international law by a unanimous vote of the U.N. Security Council.
After Trump’s May 9 announcement, including plans to unilaterally resume harsh economic sanctions in ninety to 180 days, set the stage for a major confrontation with Iran. Within the country, the reaction was immediate.
Thousands of Iranians demonstrated in Tehran chanting, “Death to America.” Thousands more attended Friday prayers in Tehran to hear hardline leaders denounce Trump’s actions.
Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, an influential Friday prayer leader in Tehran, warned against making deals with the West “since they cannot be trusted.”
Trump’s actions have rallied Iranians around their government. An Iran poll survey conducted in April showed that 67 percent of Iranians want their government to retaliate against the United States in response to any cancellation of the agreement. They want Iran to restart portions of the country’s nuclear program, suspended since the accord took effect.
And Iran’s leaders are preparing to do just that, although they differ sharply on how.
Some hardliners within Iran want to withdraw from both the JCPOA and the Non Proliferation Treaty, which prohibits signatories from developing nuclear weapons. If this happens, Tehran could block all international inspectors from entering the country.
Izadi, an expert on the JCPOA and advisor to Iran’s Foreign Ministry, said Iran may also step up the training of nuclear scientists. University-level programs have lapsed in recent years, and by encouraging graduate studies in nuclear engineering, the government could support future research into nuclear weapons technology.
Iran could also begin enriching uranium to 20 percent, which is allowed under terms of the nuclear pact for medical research. This is well above the 4 percent level needed for nuclear power but far less than what would be needed for a bomb.
Implementing high levels of enrichment sends “a sign to the other side that Iran is not happy with all these sanctions,” Izadi said.
According to Izadi, most Iranians believe the nuclear issue is only an excuse to attack ran. Many Iranians believe that even if Iran stopped its nuclear power program entirely, the United States would invent a new excuse, such as Iranian support for “terrorism,” to expand its hegemony in the Middle East.
Most Iranians believe the nuclear issue is only an excuse to attack Iran.
“One of the primary objectives that the U.S. has in this part of the world is to make sure that the oil that exists here is directly or indirectly controlled by the United States,” said Izadi.
After the 1979 Iranian revolution, U.S. oil companies lost a major source of profits, and according to Izadi, “the U.S. wants to restore economic, political and military control over Iran as it tried to do in Iraq.”
Earlier this month, Israel accused Iran of firing missiles into the Golan Heights and bombed what it said were Iranian military facilities in Syria. With the decision to withdraw from the nuclear pact, the prospects for military conflict have dramatically increased.
Clearly, if Iran were to attack Israel, the United States and Israel would launch a large-scale military counterattack. Meantime, Trump will use harsh sanctions to worsen economic conditions for ordinary Iranians in hopes that they overthrow their government and install a U.S.-friendly regime.
The Securities Study Group, a right-wing think tank close to National Security Advisor John Bolton, is circulating an Iran position paper calling for regime change.
“The Trump Administration has no desire to roll tanks in an effort to directly topple the Iranian regime,” said the group’s president, Jim Hanson. “But they would be much happier dealing with a post-Mullah government.”
Republican neocons tried such policies during President George W. Bush’s first term, and it failed miserably, notes Iran expert William Beeman, an anthropology professor at the University of Minnesota.
“The Trump Administration is only the latest Republican administration to advocate regime change,” Beeman told me. “Accusations that Iran was developing nuclear weapons was promulgated to convince the American public that this was desirable.”
Republican neoconservatives now play a prominent role in Trump’s cabinet as seen by the appointment of Bolton and Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State.
“The idea that creating harsh conditions would cause the population of that country to rise up and overthrow their rulers is a longstanding act of faith on the part of the U.S. government,” Beeman says. “Iran is only the latest nation to which this bankrupt strategy has been applied.”
Freelance journalist Reese Erlich has reported from Iran since 2000. His nationally distributed column, Foreign Correspondent, appears every two weeks. His book The Iran Agenda Today: the Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis (Routledge Books) will be published this Fall. Follow him on Twitter,; friend him on Facebook; and visit his webpage.