UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Kushner Makes Peace Overture to Iran as Trump Seeks Negotiations if Re-elected

By Michael Lipin August 19, 2020

Jared Kushner, the senior adviser to President Donald Trump, is calling on Iran to make peace with Washington as Trump predicts there will be a quick return to U.S.-Iran negotiations if he is re-elected in November.

In a Tuesday interview for VOA program Plugged In with Greta Van Susteren, Kushner appealed to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to engage with Washington.

"For President Rouhani, I would say it's time for the region to move forward. Let's stop being stuck in conflicts of the past. It's time for people to get together and to make peace," he said.

Decades-long U.S.-Iran tensions have intensified since Trump took office in 2017. The U.S. has toughened unilateral sanctions on Tehran since 2018 in an effort to stop Iranian activities deemed destabilizing. It has used military action in some cases, most notably killing top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in a January airstrike on Baghdad.

'Maximum pressure'

Trump has said a key goal of his "maximum pressure" campaign is to persuade Iran to end its perceived malign behaviors by negotiating a broad, new bilateral agreement. Such a deal would replace the 2015 multilateral deal in which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief from the U.S. and other world powers. Trump withdrew from that deal in 2018, criticizing it as not tough enough on Tehran, whom the West long has accused of seeking to build nuclear weapons. Iran has said its nuclear activities are peaceful.

Iran has vowed to resist U.S. sanctions, maintain its support for anti-U.S. regional militias and respond militarily to any attack, as it did by firing missiles at U.S. forces in Iraq days after the Soleimani killing. Dozens of U.S. troops suffered traumatic brain injuries from the Iranian strikes.

Tehran also has increasingly expanded its nuclear activities in the past year in violation of the 2015 deal, to try to pressure other world powers to compensate it for the U.S. sanctions. The Iranian economy has been in recession since 2018 because of the sanctions and government mismanagement.

Kushner said making peace with Iran would fix Tehran's economy and provide hope to the next generation.

"Peace is a noble thing. It's a good thing and it's a very important thing, if we want to have a world where everyone can have economic opportunity in order to live a better life than their parents," he said.

'Real deal'

"President Trump is willing to talk. He's willing to meet," Kushner told VOA, in reference to Iran's Islamist rulers. "But ... he's going to be tough."

"If there is a real deal where nuclear weapons are off the table, and we can make sure that it leads to a more prosperous Middle East, then I believe President Trump would sit and have discussions about it," he added.

Trump himself has acknowledged that he does not expect Iran to accept his negotiation offers until after the November 3 election, in which the Republican is competing for a second term against the Democratic Party nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Iran is "waiting to see the election," Trump said at an August 11 news briefing. "Their greatest dream in the world is that Joe Biden wins because they will own this country."

Biden has said he would rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal if Iran first returned to "strict compliance" with it. He also has pledged to work with U.S. allies to "strengthen and extend" the 2015 deal, but has not specified how.

Iran has not publicly expressed a preference between Trump and Biden. But in an August 7 statement, U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina said the U.S. intelligence community believed Tehran was trying to undermine Trump because of "a perception that [his] reelection would result in a continuation of U.S. pressure on Iran in an effort to foment regime change."

The Trump administration has insisted that it does not seek to overthrow Iran's ruling clerics, but rather to pressure them to behave like a "normal" nation.

In his August 11 briefing, Trump predicted that if he won reelection, Iran would agree to a new deal "within one month."

Speaking in a Tuesday webinar hosted by U.S. advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said the Trump administration's strategy has given the U.S. "enormous leverage" to get what it wants from Iran in a potential second term.

'Great difficulty'

Barbara Slavin, an Iran analyst at the Atlantic Council, told VOA Persian she had "great difficulty" believing the sincerity of Kushner's appeal for peace with Iran. She cited Trump's plan to ask the U.N. Security Council to reimpose or "snap back" all Iran sanctions that it lifted as part of Resolution 2231 endorsing the 2015 nuclear deal.

U.S. officials have said a snapback of all sanctions is necessary to prolong a U.N. arms embargo on Iran, which expires on October 18 under the terms of Resolution 2231. A U.S.-sponsored resolution that would have extended only the arms embargo failed to get enough support in the Security Council last week. Iran has warned that it could quit the 2015 nuclear deal completely if the arms embargo was extended or if all U.N. sanctions were reimposed.

"If the Trump administration was really interested in negotiations, it would start by acknowledging that it has no legal standing to snap back U.N. sanctions," Slavin said. "Then it could offer to return to the [2015 nuclear deal] if Iran also returns to full compliance."

The Trump administration has said it retains a legal ability to snap back U.N. sanctions under the terms of Security Council Resolution 2231.

Iran analyst Behnam Ben Taleblu of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies said he thought U.S. officials' expressed desire for a new deal with Iran was genuine.

"The tormented story of U.S.-Iran relations is proof that leaders and ideas matter," Taleblu said in a message to VOA Persian. "The Trump administration's demand for 12 changes in Iranian behavior [as part of a new deal] is perhaps the most succinct distillation of the divide between Iran and the international community when it comes to foreign and security policy."

Naysan Rafati, an Iran researcher for the International Crisis Group, told VOA Persian that regardless of who wins the U.S. presidential election in November, the prospects for a U.S.-Iran reconciliation remain unclear.

"The question is whether Washington and Tehran are willing to shift policies from their current diplomatic impasse to the point where the most one side is willing to offer meets the minimum the other can seriously entertain," he said

This article originated in VOA's Persian service.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list