Iran and Obama
President Obama began his term by trying to pursue a different path with Iran. Over sixty years, Washington, guided by various national security doctrines, has grown into the most important Middle East power. The US had been changing regimes, making key alliances, sponsoring diplomatic processes, intervening in internal state affairs, invading countries and deploying hundreds of thousands of soldiers in the name of US national security.
Obama's regional policy seemed to assume that the region's problems could not be solved by America, and that they would sort themselves out if left to stew in their own juices. The pivot to Asia entailed a pivot away from the Middle East. While America would sell Israel and the Gulf monarchies all the weapons they could pay for, Obama sought to triangulate these traditional allies with the traditional Iranian foe. Obama's Iran policy seemed to have landed America in a no-win situation. Obama de-emphasized the longtime pillars of American security policy in the Middle East securing energy resources and ensuring Israel's security. AIPAC had been pushing for "strangling” sanctions against Iran for years. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States felt betrayed by the Obama Adminstration, given US attempts to reduce dependence on Middle Eastern oil and to increase production at home.
The nuclear deal struck between Iran and six world powers in July 2015 ended decades of negotiations and setbacks, and has been hailed by U.S. President Barack Obama as one of the major achievements of the year. The deal stipulates U.S. and European sanctions against Iran will be lifted in return for a reduction of Tehran's nuclear facilities, to prevent it from developing atomic weapons.
The agreement transformed Iran's position on the world stage. It ended Iran's isolation. It created a forum whereby Iran can reintegrate itself into the international community. That reintegration shifted the regional power balance between Shia-led Iran and Sunni-led Saudi Arabia, who are backing different sides in civil conflicts in Syria and Yemen. The long and difficult diplomatic process to negotiate the Iran nuclear deal opened channels of communication for the first time in decades and new opportunities for the two nations to engage on other key matters.
In the Supreme Leader’s Speech to Participants of “Islamic Awakening and Youth Conference” on 30 January 2012, Ayatollah Khamenei said "For two hundred years, westerners ruled the Islamic Ummah by making use of their scientific advances. They occupied Islamic countries: some of them directly, some of them indirectly with the help of local dictatorships. England, France and finally America - which is the Great Satan - spread their hegemony over the Islamic Ummah. They humiliated the Islamic Ummah as much as they could. They planted the cancerous tumor of Zionism at the heart of the strategic Middle East region and they strengthened it in every way. They were sure that their interests and policies had been safeguarded in this critical part of the world. But the Islamic resolve of Muslim people and their presence wiped out all these impossible dreams and put an end to all these goals."
On December 31, 2011, President Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012. Under Section 1245 of the Act, foreign financial institutions that knowingly conduct or facilitate certain significant transactions with the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) or with Iranian financial institutions designated by the Treasury Department risk being cut off from direct access to the U.S. financial system. In January 2012, the European Union decided to ban imports of Iranian crude oil and petroleum products and freeze assets of the CBI.
Taken in combination with the many other sanctions on Iran that continue to be implemented by the United States and the international community, this pressure is part of a dual-track policy to compel Iran to engage seriously in discussions with the international community on its nuclear program.
The tentative framework on Iran's nuclear program agreed to in April 2015 seemed to some analysts to offer an opportunity for both Tehran and the West to tackle other burning issues in the region.
Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett argue that America should renounce thirty years of failed politics, diplomacy and strategy and engage with Iran — just as Nixon revolutionized U.S. foreign policy by going to Beijing and realigning relations with China. In Going to Tehran, the Leveretts argued that Iran's political order is not on the verge of collapse, that most Iranians still support the Islamic Republic, and that Iran's regional influence makes it critical to progress in the Middle East.
Robert D. Kaplan wrote in December 2014 "The idea that the interests of Israel, even with Saudi Arabia alongside it, can indefinitely or even permanently override some degree of reconciliation between the United States and Iran—the ancient world’s first superpower—is problematic.... The United States needs Shia Iran to fight the extremist Sunnis of the Islamic State... Should the unhelpful Islamic government in Turkey grow more intractable, Iran could also prove helpful in balancing against it. Iran and the United States could potentially work in tandem in Syria to preserve the political power of the country’s ruling Alawites... "
Robert Parry wrote 05 April 2015 "... the Iranians have emerged as the most effective resistance to Al-Qaeda... Though the Saudi royal family and other Sunni princes around the Persian Gulf deny that they support Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, few knowledgeable people believe them, since the jihadists follow Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabist fundamentalist teachings... the framework agreement with Iran offers a hope, albeit perhaps a thin one, that the United States can now separate itself from the endless war demands of Israel and Saudi Arabia.... "
Some analysts say such optimism over Iran’s intentions is dangerously misplaced — among them Davis Lewin of policy group The Henry Jackson Society. “It is a vicious regime that is very good at tactically exploiting a situation, creating those kinds of alliances, relationships and dynamics in the region that have allowed it to expand its nefarious influence significantly. And we must not be fooled into thinking that peace is about to break out,” he said.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said 17 July 2015 that the Imperialist front and the US as its head were the quintessence of the concept of the 'enemy.' "The US has no share of human ethics and morals; their tactics are to perpetrate crime through beautiful words encapsulated in simile and good gestures, which are then utilized to sow discord among the nations in topics as Shias and Sunnis, with the British as the major player, and the US serving as disciples," added the Leader.
Basij Commander Mahmad Reza Naqdi said 31 August 2015 "The White House always supports the world dictators, and our hostility towards the US is profound and may not be resolved through talks." Naqdi also underscored the US and Israel's growing failures and defeats on the regional and international scenes, and said, "The Zionist regime is now surrounded by resistance groups and all US bases in the regional states are within the range of the missiles of the Islamic Revolution forces."
Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force Major General Qassem Soleimani described ISIS as the US protégé, and cautioned that Washington is doing its best to keep the Takfiri [infidel] terrorist group alive and in power in a bid to use it as a pressure leverage against the Muslim community. "The US intends to protect the ISIS to make Muslims need the US and it has, in fact, turned it into a leverage (against the Muslims)," Major General Soleimani said, addressing the opening ceremony of the 18th meeting of the Assembly of Experts in Tehran. He said that ISIS is a US product and protégé, reiterating that the terrorist group was created by Washington.
A large majority of Iranian legislators said the Islamic republic is "not at all prepared" to abandon the slogan of "Death to America" despite a landmark nuclear deal signed with six world powers. In a statement carried by state news agency IRNA on 02 November 2015, a total of 192 members of the 290-member parliament described the slogan, chanted at the weekly Friday Prayers in mosques and at rallies, as "the symbol of the Islamic republic and all struggling nations."
A decade of UN, EU, and U.S. sanctions over Iran's nuclear program came to an end in 2016 with the implementation of Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers. Not all sanctions were lifted in January 2016 under the nuclear deal. The United States maintained a blacklist of Iranian firms and individuals -- including figures in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) -- who are sanctioned over human rights abuses and Tehran's ballistic-missile program.
The United States announced new sanctions on Iranian companies and individuals linked to Iran’s ballistic missile program. The move comes a day after Washington and the EU lifted sanctions related to Tehran's nuclear program. Sanctions were imposed against five Iranian nationals and a network of companies based in the United Arab Emirates and China, the US Treasury Department announced in a statement 17 January 2016. In remarks shortly before the US announcement, Iranian President Hassan Rohani said that any new American sanctions would be "met by an appropriate response."
Iran threatened to retaliate after the US Senate gave Congress’ final approval in December 2016 to an extension of the American sanctions against Iran that lawmakers of both parties said is crucial to enforcing the international nuclear accord with Tehran. “Iran has proved that it sticks to its international agreements, but it also has appropriate responses for all situations,” said Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi. “The extension of sanctions by the U.S. Congress is a violation of the deal.”
"The JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] specifically provides for the snap-back of sanctions in the event Iran violates the provisions of the agreement," said Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin. "In order to have snap-backs, you have to have the sanctions regime in place."
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