.
O

n August 14, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) members rejected U.S. attempts to reinstate a UN arms embargo against Iran. U.S. attempts to indefinitely re-apply the embargo reflect the failure of its “maximum pressure” campaign in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) that has led to regional instability.

The current U.S. administration’s position on Iran has tested its unilateral abilities within the multilateral system, which has proven harmful to its standing in the UNSC. Only one nation, the Dominican Republic, sided with the U.S. delegation in support of the renewed embargo on Iran, while the United States’ closest allies in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom abstained.

Rather than respect processes of multilateralism, the United States attempted to activate “snapback” provisions from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on September 19, also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, which would require a return of the sanctions on Iran that were lifted in January 2016.

Members from both the UNSC and JCPOA have been critical of these attempts, as they question the decision’s validity given that the U.S. withdrew from the agreement in May of 2018. Ultimately, both the Indonesian and subsequent Nigerien UNSC presidents blocked the move in a striking rejection of the U.S. position.

The JCPOA is a deal between the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, known as the P5+1, the European Union, and Iran. It was designed to temper diplomatic tension between Iran and the rest of the world and exchanges sanction relief for Iranian nuclear program restrictions. It is also critical to assuring a common policy position amongst the P5+1 and Iran to ensure dialogue that ultimately improves regional peace.

However, the Trump administration frequently admonishes the JCPOA because it views the deal as a setback to regional security. This stance is reflective of a wider foreign policy strategy commonly referred to as its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. This policy employs a realpolitik approach that applies sweeping sanctions and diplomatic pressure on Iran to achieve capitulation on major issues related to its nuclear program, with the ultimate goal of limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

With Iran’s economy reeling from U.S. sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic—both of which have caused widespread protests—the United States has revealed the true intention of its maximum pressure campaign: regime change.

With the re-imposition of sanctions, alongside recent peace deals between Israel, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, the United States is working to expand its anti-Iran coalition in support of these interests. This is not reflective of an attempt to negotiate a better deal and reinforces Iranian hardliners disinterested in cooperating with the world. Ultimately, this will only promote a negative Iranian reaction that will continue to destabilize the region, as reflected by increased hostilities between the United States, Iran, and Shia proxy forces after the assassination of Qasem Soleimani in January.

Almost four years of failed policies out of Washington, alongside severe economic indicators in Iran, has yet to yield positive results. Iran is proving its resilience, as U.S. maximum pressure has been matched by Iranian maximum resistance. This is best represented by Iran’s repressive actions to suppress political dissent that fomented as a result of economic conditions and the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than achieve its objectives, the United States has contributed to a deterioration of relations with Iran, with serious consequences.

This has partially forced Iran to resort to covert measures through its proxy forces in order to resist U.S. influence as a way to improve its own regional standing. Although Iran cannot counter U.S. activities in the region directly or compete economically while facing sanctions, it can press its regional proxies to sustain conflict that harms U.S. capabilities. At the same time, this contributes to regional destabilization and ever-escalating dynamics that can lead to wider conflict.

Neither the United States nor Iran intend to ease hostilities without achieving unattainable capitulations from the other side. This will continue until a new U.S. administration takes on a constructive MENA policy that manages to rebuild the limited trust that developed between the two countries after the JCPOA.

If Joe Biden is elected in November, he should apply a peace-oriented plan that finally shifts the geopolitical realities of the region in a positive direction. Such a plan should be diplomacy-centered with a human rights focus, revolving around the JCPOA and its members with a focus on achieving a renewed degree of trust between the United States and the various signatories to the deal. This includes good-faith efforts to restore sanctions relief for nuclear program drawdowns that will almost certainly result in a worse deal for the United States. However, a renewal can be exchanged for promises from Iran to temper its nuclear ambitions to JCPOA-approved levels.

More importantly, it can be used to temper Iranian activities with proxies across the MENA region. With the JCPOA intact, the P5+1 can pressure Iran to compel its proxies towards peace in places like Yemen. Incorporating Iran in an inclusive framework that reduces hostilities and eases crippling sanctions in exchange for cooperation with the international community can lessen their need to resort to covert operations that ultimately harms stability in the MENA region.

U.S.-Iran relations lie at the crux of MENA peace prospects. Without improved relations, the region will continue to experience a belligerent Iran and its proxy forces that have created conflicts for decades. Both countries can and should work together to achieve wider regional peace but need to suspend hostilities and harmful policy strategies in order to make progress in this regard.

About
Alexander J. Langlois
:
Alexander Langlois has years of experience working for NGOs on policy analysis, research, and program management related to governance, conflict, and stabilization. Today, he works as a researcher in the U.S.-Sudan Initiative to promote peace in Sudan.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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The U.S. Needs a New Approach to Iran and the Middle East

The Security Council held an open videoconference to vote on a draft resolution on arms embargo on Iran. The vote was 2 in favour, 2 against, with 11 abstentions. The draft resolution was not adopted. 14 August 2020. New York, United States of America. UN Photo/Mark Garten.

September 17, 2020

O

n August 14, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) members rejected U.S. attempts to reinstate a UN arms embargo against Iran. U.S. attempts to indefinitely re-apply the embargo reflect the failure of its “maximum pressure” campaign in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) that has led to regional instability.

The current U.S. administration’s position on Iran has tested its unilateral abilities within the multilateral system, which has proven harmful to its standing in the UNSC. Only one nation, the Dominican Republic, sided with the U.S. delegation in support of the renewed embargo on Iran, while the United States’ closest allies in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom abstained.

Rather than respect processes of multilateralism, the United States attempted to activate “snapback” provisions from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on September 19, also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, which would require a return of the sanctions on Iran that were lifted in January 2016.

Members from both the UNSC and JCPOA have been critical of these attempts, as they question the decision’s validity given that the U.S. withdrew from the agreement in May of 2018. Ultimately, both the Indonesian and subsequent Nigerien UNSC presidents blocked the move in a striking rejection of the U.S. position.

The JCPOA is a deal between the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, known as the P5+1, the European Union, and Iran. It was designed to temper diplomatic tension between Iran and the rest of the world and exchanges sanction relief for Iranian nuclear program restrictions. It is also critical to assuring a common policy position amongst the P5+1 and Iran to ensure dialogue that ultimately improves regional peace.

However, the Trump administration frequently admonishes the JCPOA because it views the deal as a setback to regional security. This stance is reflective of a wider foreign policy strategy commonly referred to as its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. This policy employs a realpolitik approach that applies sweeping sanctions and diplomatic pressure on Iran to achieve capitulation on major issues related to its nuclear program, with the ultimate goal of limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

With Iran’s economy reeling from U.S. sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic—both of which have caused widespread protests—the United States has revealed the true intention of its maximum pressure campaign: regime change.

With the re-imposition of sanctions, alongside recent peace deals between Israel, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, the United States is working to expand its anti-Iran coalition in support of these interests. This is not reflective of an attempt to negotiate a better deal and reinforces Iranian hardliners disinterested in cooperating with the world. Ultimately, this will only promote a negative Iranian reaction that will continue to destabilize the region, as reflected by increased hostilities between the United States, Iran, and Shia proxy forces after the assassination of Qasem Soleimani in January.

Almost four years of failed policies out of Washington, alongside severe economic indicators in Iran, has yet to yield positive results. Iran is proving its resilience, as U.S. maximum pressure has been matched by Iranian maximum resistance. This is best represented by Iran’s repressive actions to suppress political dissent that fomented as a result of economic conditions and the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than achieve its objectives, the United States has contributed to a deterioration of relations with Iran, with serious consequences.

This has partially forced Iran to resort to covert measures through its proxy forces in order to resist U.S. influence as a way to improve its own regional standing. Although Iran cannot counter U.S. activities in the region directly or compete economically while facing sanctions, it can press its regional proxies to sustain conflict that harms U.S. capabilities. At the same time, this contributes to regional destabilization and ever-escalating dynamics that can lead to wider conflict.

Neither the United States nor Iran intend to ease hostilities without achieving unattainable capitulations from the other side. This will continue until a new U.S. administration takes on a constructive MENA policy that manages to rebuild the limited trust that developed between the two countries after the JCPOA.

If Joe Biden is elected in November, he should apply a peace-oriented plan that finally shifts the geopolitical realities of the region in a positive direction. Such a plan should be diplomacy-centered with a human rights focus, revolving around the JCPOA and its members with a focus on achieving a renewed degree of trust between the United States and the various signatories to the deal. This includes good-faith efforts to restore sanctions relief for nuclear program drawdowns that will almost certainly result in a worse deal for the United States. However, a renewal can be exchanged for promises from Iran to temper its nuclear ambitions to JCPOA-approved levels.

More importantly, it can be used to temper Iranian activities with proxies across the MENA region. With the JCPOA intact, the P5+1 can pressure Iran to compel its proxies towards peace in places like Yemen. Incorporating Iran in an inclusive framework that reduces hostilities and eases crippling sanctions in exchange for cooperation with the international community can lessen their need to resort to covert operations that ultimately harms stability in the MENA region.

U.S.-Iran relations lie at the crux of MENA peace prospects. Without improved relations, the region will continue to experience a belligerent Iran and its proxy forces that have created conflicts for decades. Both countries can and should work together to achieve wider regional peace but need to suspend hostilities and harmful policy strategies in order to make progress in this regard.

About
Alexander J. Langlois
:
Alexander Langlois has years of experience working for NGOs on policy analysis, research, and program management related to governance, conflict, and stabilization. Today, he works as a researcher in the U.S.-Sudan Initiative to promote peace in Sudan.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.