U.S. must find pathways to easing tension with Iran over nuclear deal

The Yomiuri ShimbunWill the United States’ merely increasing sanctions pressure on Iran lead to the stability of the Middle East? The U.S. administration of President Donald Trump must respond prudently, so as not to cause any unexpected developments or turmoil in the world economy.

The United States has reimposed certain economic sanctions against Iran, prohibiting transactions with Iran’s automotive and related sectors — the country’s key industry — and in such areas as steel and aluminum. Companies in third-party countries that fail to comply with U.S. sanctions will be subject to such penalties as being expelled from the U.S. market or slapped with fines.

Trump issued a statement emphasizing that the United States will continue applying maximum economic pressure on Iran and that he will remain open to reaching a more comprehensive deal that addresses Iran’s activities, including its ballistic missile development and its support for terrorism.

He probably intends to pressure Iran to make concessions, as he did to realize the first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit, by intensifying pressure on Pyongyang. In July, he even proposed direct talks with Iran.

The problem is that Trump’s policy toward Iran is devoid of proper strategy and he clearly seems to be aiming to impress voters with his hard-line posture ahead of the midterm elections in November.

In the 2015 nuclear accord, the United States and European countries lifted their economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for limitations on Iran’s nuclear program. Trump decided to withdraw from the accord, which the previous administration viewed as one of its achievements, and he reimposed the sanctions following a 90-day grace period.

Protect Japanese companies

On Nov. 5, the United States plans to resume all remaining sanctions on Iran, including those targeting crude oil-related transactions and the financial sector. Should the crude oil supply stagnate from Iran, one of the world’s leading oil producers, it will inevitably have an adverse impact on the economy, such as steep rises in crude oil prices.

Britain, France and Germany have indicated their policy of protecting European companies that have expanded into Iran. China, Russia and India are also highly likely to continue their trading with Iran.

As long as the nuclear accord has been functioning effectively in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, the United States will not be able to win wide support from other countries for its measures.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani asserted that the United States should call for a dialogue only after the country suspends its sanctions on Tehran. His moderate policies aimed at reconciliation with other countries and attracting foreign investments will undoubtedly be imperiled further. Already the decline in the value of Iran’s rial currency and the rise in commodity prices have become serious.

It is worrisome that Iran recently held military drills near the Strait of Hormuz, the gateway to the Persian Gulf, while the country has hinted at blockading the strait.

Most of the crude oil produced in the Middle East passes through the Strait of Hormuz, and is then transported to foreign countries, including Japan. Both the United States and Iran have to avoid a head-on conflict and ease tensions.

The Japanese government has taken the stance that sanctions should not have an adverse impact on the activities of Japanese companies. While cooperating with countries concerned, Japan should continue calling on the United States to exempt it from the sanctions, so Japan can continue importing crude oil from Iran.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 8, 2018)Speech


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