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Deal not dead
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 18 - 01 - 2018

US President Donald Trump last week set conditions for the US remaining committed to the Iran nuclear deal that must be met before May when he is set to recertify Iran's compliance with the accord.
However, his demands and the conditions asked of the US's European allies in working with the US on certifying the deal are difficult to achieve, and they will be hard, if not impossible, for the political leadership in Iran to accept.
Trump wants Iran to halt its missile programme beyond the 10-year timeframe of the nuclear deal, extending the agreement for good such that Iran will never again be permitted to enrich uranium or be trusted to resume its nuclear programme even if it can prove that it is peaceful.
It is now almost 40 years since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, and the US and Iran are still at loggerheads. In the past, each time the US approached the regime with an olive branch, the hardliners who dominating the power structure in Iran said no, refusing to normalise relations with the “Great Satan”. Each time the country's reformists pressed for normalisation, they ruined the opportunity.
The clerics that rule Iran see any relations with the West, particularly with the US, as a threat to the religious hierarchy and their power. If they open the door to the West, they will not be able to continue their dictatorship and human rights abuses against civilians.
As if holding the Iranians as hostages, Iran's ruling clerics have intimidated the region and given the international community an enormous headache because of their nuclear programme. Iran only finally agreed to negotiate with the Western powers on the nuclear file because the economic sanctions had broken the nation and emptied the ayatollahs' pockets.
The deal was made in July 2015, but since then neither people's living conditions nor the regime's regional behaviour has changed, and much of the nation's income continues to be spent on furthering the regime's ambitions and its members' well-being.
The Western powers believe that if Iran resumes its nuclear programme this may lead it to make nuclear weapons. As a result, most Western countries aside from the US think the deal is best left untouched but for talks about other issues to continue, including Iran's ballistic missiles programme and the regional involvements of Iranian militias.
Trump's waiving of the sanctions against Iran for the “last time” and giving the country a three-month ultimatum took place despite the US's European allies, many of which were part of the talks with Iran and support the agreement, putting enormous pressure on Trump to push him to remain committed to the agreement.
Trump has not killed the Iran nuclear deal, but he has crucially weakened it. He reluctantly recertified the deal, but also caused investors interested in entering the Iranian market from making any decisions for at least another three months.
The political leadership in Tehran, which has so much invested in terms of the country's economic improvement under the nuclear deal, understands the consequences the nation could face without the deal and if the oil embargo against Iran is re-imposed in May 2018 when Trump is supposed to recertify Iran's commitment to it.
In the meantime, the Iranian people have a dream of a better political and economic life as a result of the nuclear deal, and this dream of better relations with the outside world is now fading.
There is no doubt that Trump's diplomacy in the Middle East is about Israel's security first and foremost, and while Iran has not changed its behaviour in the region, Israel sees the main threat to it coming from Iran, where the regime has said it wants to destroy it.
With the support Iran has given to radical groups such as Hizbullah and Hamas and militias hostile to Israel, and with a new such militia being formed in Syria near the Israeli border, US tolerance of Iran is almost zero.
Trump can use Iran's missiles programme, the country's regional behaviour and Israel's security, plus the way it treats its own citizen, as reasons to refuse to recertify the nuclear deal. The situation is thus very different to what it was under former US president Barack Obama.

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