It’s not about the nuclear deal

It’s not about the nuclear deal

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If — and that’s a big if — the leaders of the U.S., ChinaSouth Korea
 and North Korea succeed in concluding a deal on the denuclearization of
 the Korean peninsula as well as on a peace treaty formally ending the 
Korean War, they would be front runners for the Nobel Peace Prize. That 
deal could appropriately be called a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action 
(JCPOA) if it lays down a detailed blueprint for denuclearization, with 
provisions of intrusive inspections. The only thing that could stand in 
their way is Iran.

There should be little doubt that U.S. President Donald Trump’s
 real, but of necessity undeclared, objective in withdrawing from the 
Iran nuclear deal is a regime change in Tehran. This goal is even more 
ardently desired by Israel and Saudi Arabia.
 Ever since Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made particularly 
provocative statements about Israel, Israelis of all political 
persuasions have wanted to get rid of the regime in Iran. The Saudis 
have openly called for cutting off the head of the (Iranian) snake. 
Thus, three important and powerful states have a congruence of interests
 seldom seen in recent times.

Iranian discontent

There have been frequent and persistent 
reports in the Western media for several months about large-scale 
demonstrations and protests by Iranian people against the regime. Living
 conditions are difficult. Iran did not get the goodies that it expected
 after signing the JCPOA. Inflation is high. The Iranian rial is trading
 at 75,000 to the dollar. People are angry with the government. 
According to the well-researched work Democracy in Iran: Why It Failed 
and How It Might Succeed by American academic Misagh Parsa, disaffection
 among the people has manifested itself in several forms. Hundreds of 
mosques do not have imams and the attendance at Friday prayers has 
dwindled dramatically. Some are converting to Christianity and, 
according to Professor Parsa, even to the Baha’i faith, which is the 
largest non-Muslim community in Iran. Professor Parsa states that there 
is massive corruption
 as well as economic inequality in Iran. All in all, he suggests that it
 is quite likely that there might be a revolutionary upsurge, though he 
is careful not to indicate any timeline for it.

A different calculation

It is this discontent that Mr. Trump 
might be counting on tapping. His calculation seems to be that the 
reimposition of severe sanctions would render life very difficult, 
almost unbearable, for the populace who might, in the absence of other 
avenues, take to the streets, as they did in 1979 to overthrow the 
Shah’s regime which too, like the present one, had strong military and 
oppressive secret services such as the Savak but which could not defeat 
public anger, frustration and rage. For these reasons, Mr. Trump is 
unlikely to listen to voices of reason or to appeals from his Western 
allies. He is equally not likely to grant exemptions from sanctions to 
any country engaging in any form of trade and other transactions with 
Iran. His administration will follow strict interpretation of the 
guidelines regarding the sanctions regime.

Iranian restraint

Iran has shown restraint, forsaking 
knee-jerk reaction. It did not declare that the deal was dead, as it 
might well have done. It did not announce immediate resumption of 
uranium enrichment, which it emphasized will be at the industrial level.
 It has so far not called off International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 
inspections. Iran will consult with the other signatories to the JCPOA 
for several weeks before taking any further action. This shows the 
maturity of Iranian diplomacy. It remains to be seen how long France
 and others will stick to their position of continuing to adhere to the 
deal; they will eventually have to fall in line in some way with the 
Americans, if not for political then for economic considerations. For 
Mr. Trump, the Republicans are fully with him and the Democrats will be 
too eventually.

Will Iran live up to the American 
calculation? For the present, Mr. Trump’s decision has strengthened the 
hardliners. President Hassan Rouhani, regarded as a moderate, has no 
option but to take a defiant stance. The Iranian people, proud as they 
are of their heritage, will stand behind their regime. But there may 
come a time when their hardships reach a stage when they might feel 
compelled to take to the streets.

In the meanwhile, Iran will even more vigorously support the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus, in which it will be joined by Russia and Hezbollah, which has done very well in the parliamentary elections
 in Lebanon this month. The Houthi rebels in Yemen will feel more 
emboldened to take on the Saudi-led coalition; of course, the Yemeni 
people will continue to suffer, as will the Syrian people, for years to 
come. Iran will more directly intervene in Iraq and render the possibility of progress in the non-existent peace effort in Afghanistan even more difficult.

If the regime in Tehran does not 
collapse, the Washington-Jerusalem-Riyadh axis might look for an 
alternative course of action, not excluding military. In that case, the 
Nobel Peace Prize will elude Mr. Trump.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has established special relationship with Israel and its present Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
 He has also made efforts to forge intimate relations with the U.S. With
 both India has the upper hand, since it is they who want to sell 
expensive military hardware to India. Under the circumstances, India has
 made a well-drafted two-sentence statement on the Trump decision. The 
first strikes a balance between Iran’s right to develop nuclear energy 
for peaceful purposes as also the international community’s concern to 
ensure that its nuclear program remains strictly peaceful. The second 
sentence contains implicit disapproval of the American decision and 
warns, again implicitly, against any strong military action. For India, 
the question will also be: can it rely on the U.S. to honor even its 
written word embodied in international agreements? Mr. Trump wants to 
annul every single achievement of his predecessor — Obamacare,
 the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership,
 the Paris Agreement, and now JCPOA. India will have to remain vigilant 
in dealing with this administration; it would not be prudent to assume 
that it is a special case.


Fallout for India

The impact on India will be severe. The 
price of crude is already close to $80. Energy imports from Iran will 
become difficult and expensive. Fuel prices will go up. The Reserve Bank
 of India might have to increase interest rates to contain inflation and
 step in to check the fall in the rupee’s value. All this might have a 
direct bearing on politics, given the fact that the government was the 
beneficiary of low crude price for the first four years but may have to 
face consequences of inflation and attendant factors in its fifth.


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