(June 16, 2019 / MEMRI) In the past month, Iran has escalated its violent activity against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with the aim of bringing the United States into negotiations with it on Iran’s terms—indirect negotiations aimed at lifting the U.S. sanctions on it.
For the United States, the aim of the negotiations is completely different; it is demanding changes to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal and a halt to Iran’s expansion and subversive activity in the region, as well as limitations on Iran’s ballistic missile program.
The U.S. response to Iran’s military escalation has been twofold: it dispatched aircraft carriers to the region and decided to beef up its forces in the Gulf, while at the same time expressing willingness to conduct indirect negotiations with Iran and taking conciliatory measures to make this possible.
These measures included delaying the aircraft carriers’ entrance into the Persian Gulf, delaying the implementation of the sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical industry, and the June 2, 2019, announcement by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the United States was willing to negotiate with Iran without the preconditions that he had previously released.
Indirect Iran-U.S. negotiations via intermediaries are apparently already underway, but have led nowhere for either Iran or the United States due to the unbridgeable gap between the sides’ demands and goals.
Although the United States rejected Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s April 24, 2019, proposal for negotiations for a prisoner exchange deal, it apparently did negotiate, and U.S. permanent resident and Lebanese citizen Nazar Zaka, detained by Iran since November 2015 on accusations of espionage, was released on June 11. Additionally, indirect negotiations are underway in the matter of determining the marine border between Israel and Lebanon, with Israel’s and Hezbollah’s participation, requiring indirect American and Iranian involvement.
These conciliatory U.S. measures have been presented by Iran as shows of weakness. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a speech at an athletes’ conference in Tehran on June 1:
“The same enemy who up to a year ago declared ‘my aim is to destroy the regime of the Islamic Republic [of Iran]’ announced clearly today that it does not want to do a thing against the [Iranian] regime. The same enemy who up to a few months ago stated that it is the greatest military power in the world, and that if it wanted it could break Iran’s armed forces, announced today that it has no intention of fighting.
“Up to a few months ago, the Persian Gulf was a place where its aircraft carriers sailed freely, but today nothing is heard from its navy, and it has anchored in international waters, 300 and 400 miles [from the Persian Gulf]. During this time, we have shown that we are not submitting to the bullying and greedy superpowers. We are men of reason and negotiation, provided we sit around the negotiating table fully respected and in the framework of international law, not on orders to negotiate. If that is the case, we will not obey.”
The rest of this article is available at the MEMRI website.