In an interview, Middle East expert and former White House adviser Vali Nasr warns of the danger of a new war in the region and calls on Europeans to oppose Washington’s Iran policy.
Interview Conducted By René Pfister
August 07, 2019
DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Nasr, are we on the verge of a new war in the Middle East between the United States and Iran?
Nasr: The risk is there, largely because there’s no communication between the two sides. There is a lot of room for misinterpretation. Unlike North Korea or China, Iran is a case where President Trump has taken what was a relatively stable situation and has now made it much worse and more dangerous, without either showing a way to success or a Plan B if his plans fail. There is political vulnerability for him, particularly going into an election year. But the case is also going to show exactly how weak and ineffective Europe is. There’s already a tremendous amount of damage to Europe
DER SPIEGEL: Why is that?
Nasr: The Europeans are showing that they are completely part of the American foreign policy establishment. In fact, in Iran, there is a view now, which has become quite prevalent, that Europe has played a sinister role by keeping Iran in the deal for two years while at the same time facilitating American pressure.
DER SPIEGEL: But the Europeans criticized Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal, and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas even flew to Tehran in June in to maintain contact with Iran.
Nasr: The Europeans spent great time and energy to negotiate the nuclear deal. And after the U.S. left the deal, the Europeans said they would at least try to save it. But with every push by the U.S. administration, the Europeans decided not to stand their ground and backed away. Recently, the United Kingdom captured a tanker carrying Iranian oil off the coast of Gibraltar under dubious legal justification. With that action, the British government showed what Iran had all along suspected, which is that Europe is an instrument of the American foreign policy and acting on Washington’s behalf even in escalating the crisis that was created by the U.S. leaving the nuclear deal.
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DER SPIEGEL: Do you think the new British prime minister, Boris Johnson, has flipped sides and will support Trump’s Iran policy?
Nasr: I don’t think Britain can support America’s Iran policy any more than it is doing right now. The only last step that is left is for the UK to also come out of the nuclear deal. But that would have broader implications because it also underlines Britain’s break with the EU. However, by asking the rest of Europe to support Britain in the tanker crisis (Eds: surrounding the seized British tanker Stena Impero) and jointly form a maritime security force to protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, Britain is trying to force the rest of Europe to join the U.S. foreign policy.
DER SPIEGEL: What should the Europeans do to save the deal?
Nasr: There are some options, and all have to do with the Europeans fulfilling their economic commitments under the Joint Plan of Comprehensive Action (JPCOA) nuclear deal. For instance, the governments of the European signatories to the deal, Germany, France and the UK, could buy Iranian oil, or they could give Iran a credit line equivalent to a certain amount of oil. Of course, that would risk a direct confrontation with Washington. Since this would be a government deal, it would challenge the U.S. to sanction European governments, although that’s not likely.
DER SPIEGEL: Do you think Trump has a strategy for dealing with Iran?
Nasr: Trump thinks that if he pressures people and they come to the table, they will give in to his demands. It seems to have been working, or at least he thinks so. He has bullied the Mexicans, the Canadians and the Europeans. Ultimately, at some point, they have all tried to accommodate him.
DER SPIEGEL: But it doesn’t seem to have worked with Iran yet.
Nasr: The Iranians don’t trust Trump. The president says he wants to talk to Iran, but his key national security people don’t actually want to implement his policy. National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are not in favor of negotiating with Iran. Prior to his assignment to the White House, Bolton said publicly that he wants regime change in Iran. The Iranians know that even if they showed up for a meeting with Trump, and even if they made some agreements, it could get nowhere because the level two and level three who actually have to implement things will undermine it. Bolton and Pompeo are not committed to getting to a new agreement with Iran. They want to escalate tensions with Iran and regime change.
read full interview here: