Iran and the U.S. are Deeply Suspicious of Each Other: Q&A with General Arlen Jameson
On May 8, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that Washington will de-certify the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, popularly known as the Iran deal.
The withdrawal of the United States from the agreement and President Trump’s promise to impose harsh sanctions on Iran has further complicated Iran-U.S. relations, resulted in more stress on Iran’s economy and as a result, caused public discontent in Iran with the government of President Hassan Rouhani who had promised improvements in the economy and a resolution to the nuclear dispute.
Retired Lt. General Arlen D. Jameson, the former Deputy Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Strategic Command, says the decision by President Trump to impose new sanctions on Iran and pull out of the Iran deal adds “major risk of instability and conflict in the region.”
In an interview, General Jameson said he is personally disappointed with President Trump’s action and believes that the remaining parties to the agreement may be able to salvage it but there are major obstacles.
General Arlen Dirk Jameson is a member of the advisory board of the Council on Strategic Risks, and Vice Chairman of the Air Force Academy’s Board of Visitors. He commanded the 20th Air Force and was responsible for U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile forces.
I talked with General Jameson about the consequences of U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal, its impacts on the future of Iran-U.S. relations and the parallels that can be drawn with North Korea’s nuclear program.
What do you make of President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal? What do you think was the main motivation behind his decision?
The decision by President Trump to re-impose sanctions on Iran’s oil sector and end U.S. compliance under the agreement adds major risk of instability and conflict in the region. The animosity and distrust between the U.S. and Iran has a long and complicated history that I will not recount but say only that suspicions, actions, and fears on both sides are deep and unrelenting. The decision by President Trump was motivated by words and actions of the Iranian government which during his campaign and after he entered office led to political judgments that he could make a better deal. This is what his supporters wanted and major allies including Israel and Saudi Arabia pushed for the move.
The Iran nuclear deal was working effectively. It was ensuring that Iran would not build nuclear weapons or even inch close to such an end, and in return, was benefiting Iran’s ailing economy. Don’t you consider President Trump’s de-certification of the agreement a disrespect to a major non-proliferation accord that had stifled arms race and guaranteed stability in the Middle East?
I personally am disappointed with President Trump’s action and am deeply concerned about the risk and instability added because of his decision. Parties to the agreement may be able to salvage it but there are major obstacles. There are decisions Iran can make including suspension of missile testing and support to terrorist entities that can put the agreement back on firm footing.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has accused the United States of unilateralism and failure to comply with the terms of the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which had endorsed the nuclear deal. What’s your take on that?
Agreements such as the JCPOA endure based on the willingness and self-interest calculations of the parties to the agreement. In the United States, government support of the JCPOA has a great deal to do with the political party in power which changed with President Trump’s election. Major opponents in the U.S. Congress immediately emerged to support the President’s determined effort to pull out of the JCPOA. President Rouhani’s concerns are understandable.
While the European Union, China and Russia have reaffirmed their commitment to the Iran deal and made it clear that they will support it, do you think the United States will face difficulties in its relations with these countries over President Trump’s decision? Do you foresee any rift in the U.S.-EU relations over Iran?
Yes, President Trump is quite different from previous U.S. presidents of the modern era and continues to challenge international relationships in ways that require all countries to take care seeking peaceful resolution to issues that can lead to conflict. Of course, the political power can shift swiftly in a democracy and elections coming up in the United States can dampen or accentuate tensions.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed satisfaction over President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran deal. What do you think is the main reason that Israel and even Saudi Arabia are happy that the JCPOA was scrapped by the United States?
Competition and conflict between Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Israel are a constant in the Middle East as every school child is taught since birth. Israel and Saudi Arabia are among the United States closest allies. The reaction and, indeed, involvement of their governments in the decision President Trump made to withdraw is no surprise. There is great urgency in getting the United States and Iran back to the table to negotiate away from increasing tension.
President Trump has just concluded his summit with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore. He hailed the meeting as a victory and was apparently very satisfied with the outcome of his meeting with the North Korean dictator. What is the difference between Iran’s nuclear programme, which has so far been in compliance with the requirements of the UN’s atomic watchdog, and North Korea’s large stockpile of atomic weapons? Why did Trump say no to one country and embraced reconciliation with the other one?
The nuclear ambitions and programs of Iran and North Korea have been seen as dangerous and provocative to the United States for many, many years. Efforts to curtail and eliminate nuclear weapon development remains of highest priority and a vital interest of the United States. I personally believe that continuing to comply with the JCPOA is a better path for our country and that the period of the agreement should be used by all parties to negotiate confidence building measures and integration of Iran into the global economy. Although the process of denuclearization in North Korea is an equally high priority, the status and circumstances are quite different and the parties at this early stage of negotiation seem more aware of the great mutual advantages of rapid progress toward the common objective. Why President Trump settled on the approach he has chosen are most likely imbedded in his domestic political support, his experience as a businessman, and his desire not to follow the strategies of his predecessor.
What do you think about the human cost of new sanctions imposed by President Trump on Iran? Won’t they harm the lives of ordinary Iranian citizens and millions of Iranian youths who want better lives?
Sanctions that snap back into place on August 6, 2018 and on November 4, 2018 and further actions on November 5, 2018 will have significant impact on the Iranian economy and on Iranian people. Sanctions have proven effective in influencing the actions of people and governments and Iran’s experience before the JCPOA entered into effect is not a distant memory. This lends real urgency to the parties returning to the negotiating table.
Finally, do you think the future of Iran-U.S. relations will be more promising with the two countries sitting together maturely to solve their differences instead of exchanging verbal aggression and using propaganda tactics against each other in their media?
I have long believed that negotiating mutually beneficial solutions is far better than greater risks of conflict and unintended consequences of miscalculation. Great leadership is required on both sides to overcome the major obstacles caused by the troubled history of United States-Iran relationships.
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