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Laurent Cudkowicz
Laurent Cudkowicz

How to read between the lines of your enemy?

On the nuclear negotiations with Iran, what will be the America’s next step?

Last summer’s American disarray in Afghanistan has left the headlines. Yet, at the time, even the best supporters of the newly elected Joe Biden, did not hide their embarrassment facing this humiliation. As for myself, I suggested that maybe the American escape from Afghanistan was in favor of the Iranian interests and was, possibly, the result of a quid pro quo[1]. Four months later, all seems forgotten. It’s as if the whole world had accepted that the US is not concerned anymore to be ashamed.

To be convinced, you only need to have in mind the « talks » from the 7th round of Vienna negotiations which took place from November 29th to December 17th, 2021. These negotiations are the follow-up of Joe Biden’s February 2021 extended hand, designed to renew the JCPoA-Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action[2]. To this day, this hand is still extended, expecting that the Islamic Republic of Iran, to which it was intended, cares to grasp it.  Talks in Vienna took place during the spring of 2021, delivering no results at all. Iran discontinued them, pleading the presidential elections followed by the inauguration of the new Ebrahim Raïssi Government. As much as 4 months after this inauguration, did Iran accept to come back to Vienna, yet still without grasping Joe Biden’s extended hand. Even though some say that undefined direct communication took place between Americans and Iranians, the latter keep asserting officially that the representative of the Great Satan should be punished and will not be allowed in the room where negotiations take place. For how long will Joe Biden gather enough strength to extend his 79-year-old hand? True, Europeans, biblically inspired, strive to support this hand as much time as possible, hoping to arouse some Iranian indulgence. To no avail: up to the end of this 7th round of discussions at least, no Iranian hand shook any American one, sticking to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s instruction.

But that is not all. On the December 17th, 2021, a few hours after the end of this 7th negotiation round, a senior State Department official who remained unnamed, said seriously that if Iran keeps “accelerating nuclear development and dragging its feet at the diplomatic table, then that will be deeply regrettable I think for everyone[3].” To be noted that, oddly, Robert Malley’s Twitter feed, State Secretary Antony Blinken’s Special Envoy for Iran, has remained silent during these negotiations.

Here we are then: the Islamic Republic keeps threatening to destroy Israel, and to attack Europe and America. It confirms openly to enrich uranium to levels which can only contribute to manufacture a nuclear bomb. All this while dragging its feet diplomatically and the US rates this as “deeply regrettable for everyone”? If it wasn’t tragic, we could suggest that this senior American official mixed up his notes with the ones he needed to be excused at his grand-mother’s Christmas party. But no, it is impossible to suggest this because this is truly tragic. Iran leads the most powerful country by the nose: “We are coming on such and such day; be there!” “You can enter the room, and you. But no, not you, by the way, I don’t speak to you». «Go home and ask your parents what they think about our proposal. And then, come back quickly, we wait for you here.”[4]”That’s all. Everybody go home now.” Perfect example for the Western culture which can hardly fathom other ways of thinking, the US considered those as whims, whereas, they were real victories to the Iranian eyes.

So yes, on this Friday night December 17th, before any question from the press was asked, this senior official from the State Department, had one urgent matter to state right at the beginning: we are here because of Trump[5]. And later, the only reference to Israel was about the “grievous mistake that was made in 2018”, that is to say, at the moment when Israel had pressed the US to exit the JCPoA. The senior official concluded this matter by warning that we should “learn from it in terms of how we should approach the current period”[6]. There are two ways to understand these essential words. One is to avoid the lack of confidence shown by the US in 2018 as far as the Iranian compliance to the JCPoA is concerned. The second way is for the US to stop being influenced by Israel. As if the permanent pressure which Israel exerts on the US, aimed at showing the danger of the current situation, had lost the attention it aroused a few months or even weeks ago. Unfortunately, I consider this second way to be the right explanation, even though it is the worrying one, for following reasons.

To the question of what would happen if no agreement was reached, the senior State Department official does not answer anymore what we were used to hear: “all options are on the table” (i.e., the military option), or “we will know how to be listened to, including using force”. No, the US response now to the possibility that diplomacy does not work is…more diplomacy in the best case, fate in the worst one: “(…) there’s the other path, which is a path of a crisis, a nonproliferation crisis that Iran would have caused that would lead to more diplomatic pressure, more economic isolation, an inability for countries to engage with Iran the way Iran would want them to; (…) and of the threat to peace – international peace and security (…)”[7]. Clearly, this means that, if the JCPoA was not renewed, the US would walk away as if to say: “Will happen what will happen, but without us”. If you are not convinced, check the answer given by State Department Spokesperson Ned Price on December 20th, 2021, to the journalist asking what would happen if Iran kept dragging its feet: “(…) we’ll make a judgment based on that as to whether the JCPOA remains in our interest [8]. » This answer sounds like Joe Biden justifying the hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan. “It is not in our interest to remain in Afghanistan anymore”. American interests have become the driving force of the international US strategy, even at the cost of its credibility.

It is true that Joe Biden has promised that Iran would never get the nuclear bomb, but what is this promise worth? In less than 3 years, he will probably not be President anymore, in order not to start a second term aged 82. Moreover, it seems that he does not want to make things too easy for Israel, openly refusing to speed up the delivery of two refueling aircraft needed for a military intervention in Iran. And finally, as the US administration seems to think that a mutual return to the JCPoA compliance is the goal, it does not take into account that the JCPoA has an expiration date beyond which Iran will be completely free as far as its nuclear activity is concerned. This date is, at best, 2031, i.e., 15 years after the initial JCPoA implementation. Even if we think unrealistically that the JCPoA would come back to full mutual compliance, how does Joe Biden, who will be 89 by then and will probably not be in (any) office anymore, plan to keep his promise? Especially that his extended hand will probably be still waiting….

At this stage, it is essential to know how to read between the enemy lines, as the official Israeli stance of preventing any Iranian inspired activity beyond its borders, shows us. But being able to read between the friendly lines is not less essential. If the US have no interest anymore in Afghanistan or in the Iranian nuclear activity, Israel must know how to take it into account. We can count on the fact that the Americans will always be interested in the construction of apartments in a Jerusalem neighborhood, in the necessity to open a consulate in Jerusalem aimed at the Arab population, or by isolated acts of violence committed by young Jews within an ocean of Arab violence. The question is now: will Israel always be interested in the United States?

 

[1] See my piece in French here: https://frblogs.timesofisrael.com/deroute-occidentale-en-afghanistan-victoire-pour-liran/

[2] The JCPoA had been agreed upon in July 2015 between the US, China, Russia, France, the UK, Germany on one side, Iran on the other. In May 2018, Donald Trump made the US exit this agreement.

[3] https://www.state.gov/senior-state-department-official-on-the-jcpoa-talks-in-vienna/

[4] At the end of the first part of the 7th round, Javan, mouthpiece for the IRGC-Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, claimed that Western countries had to go home to their capital cities for advice. See  https://www.iranintl.com/en/20211204736536

[5] https://www.state.gov/senior-state-department-official-on-the-jcpoa-talks-in-vienna/

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] https://www.state.gov/briefings/department-press-briefing-december-20-2021/#post-302192-Iran

About the Author
Laurent is a French Jew who made Aliya in 2008. Before Israel, he lived in France, Germany, Belgium and the UK. He analyzes political, cultural, religious, and geopolitical phenomenons observing human behavior with a very broad perspective.
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