With the main centres of power in Iran now firmly in the hands of the Revolutionary Guard, reconciliation with the US is near impossible.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) – now firmly in control all of Iran’s main power centres – is threatening to respond fiercely to US President Donald Trump and his attempts at extending the arms embargo against Iran in October.
The IRGC believes the US would do all in its power from now until the November presidential elections to force Iran out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and make good on its plan to use the snap-back mechanism to re-impose all previous sanctions on Iran.
Two important international decisions in condemnation of Washington over the last week have helped contain Iran’s frustration.
First, the report on Thursday by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, calling the killing of the Islamic Revolutionary Quds Force leader, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani in January as “unlawful”. Iran’s Press TV carried a full report of her press conference.
Second, the decision at the open virtual meeting on Tuesday when every member of the UN Security Council, except for the United States, supported the Iran nuclear deal condemning the US for leaving the accord.
The IRGC does not care much about the JCPOA. Nevertheless, it realises that the decision may make it more difficult for Trump to implement his plan come October.
At the same time, Iran is wary that Washington will lobby hard until October to reverse that decision.
The IRGC plans on five counter-measures to deter Trump from imposing further sanctions. These include increasing enrichment levels to 20 percent, leaving the Additional Protocol, the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the JCPOA.
None of these threats are new, but the danger of Iran following through is more likely now than ever before; greater even than in the pre-JCPOA era of the hardline former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The Revolutionary Guards no longer need to leave foreign policy to President Hassan Rouhani or Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif. In fact when Zarif tried in his first televised address to the new parliament to explain developments on the JCPOA he was heckled with shouts of “death to the liar” and “you are a traitor”.
The IRGC is now in command of the legislature, the judiciary, the intelligence and security apparatus as well as the economy and financial institutions.
The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has appointed hard core IRGC members as heads of each power centre and tasked them with the full implementation of 'Phase Two' of the Revolution.
The doctrine, compiled after the killing of Gen. Soleimani, calls for “a push towards defeating the enemy, the US,” and for “extensive sacrifice to preserve the ruling order.”
Arguing in several right-wing publications, IRGC strategists are asking for a more confrontational approach towards the US. They recommend shifting closer towards Russia and China and strengthening the 25-year Cooperation Agreement with China which extends military and economic cooperation. This has been in the making since September.
They are angered by the three European countries (E3) - France, Germany and UK - for reprimanding Iran in mid-June over blocking IAEA inspections. Parliamentary Speaker Ghalibaf referred to the IAEA as serving “espionage purposes”.
That is why the virtual conference on Tuesday when Europe joined China and Russia in disputing a Trump administration assertion that it holds the right to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran when it had quit the accord in 2018, helped soften that tone. “The enemies admit today that they have failed to achieve their anti-Iranian objectives,” said Ayatollah Khamenei on Sunday.
European states, share Washington’s concern about Iran’s arms trade, but they are rightly worried that extending the UN arms embargo, in clear violation of JCPOA, would drive Tehran to kick out nuclear inspectors and set the stage for an even quicker development of its nuclear program.
Yet, the suggestion about the E3 “renewing diplomatic efforts between the US and Iran” or indeed the passing gesture by Brian Hook, the US Special Representative for Iran, for “direct talks with Iran on all issues...” are unlikely to receive a positive response.
The IRGC sees talks as “a trap” for pushing Iran to accept what’s in the best interest of Western powers.
The Iranian establishment faces serious divisions within, a heavily sanctioned economy, rising unpopularity, and dissent at its doorstep - with increasing attacks on its borders and its nuclear and missile sites.
The IRGC may put on a brave face but it sees an existential threat both at home and coming from abroad. Trump’s October plan, if successful, will exasperate that anger pushing Iran to leave all international treaties.
Signatories to the JCPOA must equally continue to forcefully block any party from unilaterally using the accord for imposing its own plans, thereby putting the rest of the world in danger of war and destruction.
Presidential games should not be played on the international stage.
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