Hindering return to JCPOA intention behind Fakhrizadeh assassination

2020-12-08 15:26:02
Hindering return to JCPOA intention behind Fakhrizadeh assassination

The assassination of prominent Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was first and foremost intended to prevent a return to the JCPOA (the 2015 nuclear deal) by the Biden administration, says a professor of political science and history at the university of Cornell.

“The assassination was deliberately intended to hinder a return to the JCPOA,” Matthew Anthony Evangelista believes.

The American professor also siad, “The assassination clearly weakens any advocates of improving relations with the United States and returning to compliance with the JCPOA.”

On November 27, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a prominent Iranian expert specialized in nuclear technology, was assassinated in a brutal terrorist attack in the Abe-Sard region of Damavand County, located about 40 kilometers northeast of Tehran.

Iran has stated that Israel is directly responsible for the assasination of the scientist. The New York Times also quoted three U.S. officials, including two intelligence officials, as stating that Israel was behind the attack.

Even so, considering the enormous U.S. military budget and the disproportionate role of military instruments in U.S. foreign policy, it would still be difficult to imagine a greatly reduced role for the United States in the region or one that depends more on diplomacy than force, including under a new presidential administration.Professor Evangelista also says, “President-elect Biden claims to want to return to the JCPOA, but conditions have changed so much that it won’t be easy to do so. One factor is Iran’s understandable lack of trust.”

The following is the entire text of the interview conducted by the Tehran Times:

“Q: Do you think the incoming Biden administration would make a fundamental shift in U.S. foreign policy? For example, can Biden neglect the benefits of arms deals with Saudi Arabia?

A: As a candidate, Biden criticized the Trump administration’s cozy relationship with Saudi Arabia and support for its devastating war in Yemen. He claimed to be appalled by Trump’s unconditional support for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, even as evidence of bin Salman's direct role in the grisly murder of Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi mounted. I would be surprised, however, if we see any fundamental changes in the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia. Even if Trump’s approach to arms sales was brazenly transactional, it was not so different from past policies: Saudi Arabia has been a major recipient of U.S. weapons, and the lobbyists who support those sales will remain active during the Biden administration. Moreover, Saudi Arabia is still considered important for its ability to affect world oil prices and for its apparent willingness not to threaten Israel. A lot depends on the new administration’s attitude toward Iran. If it remains hostile, then the logic of the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” will keep U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia reasonably friendly.

Q: How can Iran trust the U.S again while the Trump administration ditched the nuclear deal unilaterally? What is the guarantee that the incoming administration won’t behave like Trump’s?

A: President-elect Biden claims to want to return to the JCPOA, but conditions have changed so much that it won’t be easy to do so. One factor is Iran’s understandable lack of trust. If the U.S. can pull out of the agreement once, how could it be trusted not to do so again? Removing sanctions and restoring trade relations—if those are Iran’s conditions for reviving the agreement—will not be a straightforward process. We have seen how difficult it was already when the JCPOA was in effect during the Obama administration. The provisions of the original agreement entailed a gradual easing of sanctions over many years, depending on Iran’s adherence to the agreement. If Iran requires an immediate lifting of sanctions as a precondition of restoring the JCPOA, it won’t happen. By the same token, if the United States requires that Iran return to the status quo ante and reverse the process of nuclear enrichment before the Biden administration will return to the JCPOA that would also be unlikely.

As an ex-Sovietologist, when I think about what could really make an impact on the new administration, it would be something like what Mikhail Gorbachev did in order to erase the “enemy image” of the Soviet Union that was so entrenched in the United States: liberalizing domestic reforms (perestroika and glasnost’) and meaningful unilateral measures of restraint in foreign policy (“new thinking”).

Q: How has Israel been able to affect U.S. foreign policies for decades? While the U.S. blindly supports Israeli violation of Palestinian rights, there remains no doubt that Washington follows “Israel First” in its foreign policy. Please explain.

A: I agree that the United States has continued to support Israel even as the Israeli authorities have become increasingly repressive in its approach to the Palestinians. Ironically it is easier and more acceptable for Israeli Jews to criticize the Israeli government than it is for U.S. politicians or public figures. One interesting development is that younger Americans, including Jewish-Americans, are more likely to be critical of Israel’s policies and supportive of Palestinian rights than their representatives in Congress. Overall Jewish opinion in the United States is less blindly pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian than the U.S. government’s policy.

Q: How do you measure the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist? Can it prompt Iran to pull out of the JCPOA completely?

A: It seems that the assassination was deliberately intended to hinder a return to the JCPOA. Whether it succeeds or not depends on Iran’s reaction. If we can speak of “hawks” and “doves” in the Iranian context (and I am not an expert on Iranian politics), the assassination clearly weakens any advocates of improving relations with the United States and returning to compliance with the JCPOA. The doves risk a great deal by pushing for rapprochement with no guarantee that the U.S. side will reciprocate. That is why I point to the example of Gorbachev: he pursued a risky course, but it paid off with an end to the Cold War and the nuclear arms race and at least a temporary decrease in the risk of a major war.

Q: How do you assess the U.S and Israel's record in waging wars, especially in West Asia?

A: My own opinion is that neither the United States nor Israel gains from their highly militarized approach to relations in the Middle East (West Asia). But, again, as long as they can blame Iran for the region’s instability, they will be reluctant to change their own policies. Iran also appears to consider that its security benefits from trying to control the situation in neighboring countries.

If regional powers in the Middle East (West Asia) could all limit their military activities to their own territory, perhaps the United States would have less excuse to intervene. Even so, given the enormous U.S. military budget and the disproportionate role of military instruments in U.S. foreign policy, it would still be hard to imagine a greatly reduced role for the United States in the region or one that relies more on diplomacy than force, including under a new presidential administration.”

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