Trump puts squeeze on Iran, hoping for talks

The Associated Press

U.S. President Donald Trump

By Yuya Yokobori/Yomiuri Shimbun CorrespondentWASHINGTON — The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has imposed new economic sanctions on Iran’s metal exports, a move that piles pressure on Tehran and is aimed at dragging its leaders into holding dialogue with the United States.

Wednesday’s announcement of the new sanctions tightens the net encircling Iran. While Trump wants to forge an agreement with Iran that he could tout as a major achievement as he eyes the 2020 U.S. presidential election, the U.S. approach of applying out-and-out pressure on Iran also could create instability in the Middle East.

During a political rally with his supporters in Florida on Wednesday, Trump indicated his willingness to conclude a new framework to replace the Iran nuclear deal (see below). “I hope to be able at some point, maybe it won’t happen, possibly won’t, to sit down and work out a fair deal” with Iran, Trump said.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the nuclear deal last year was driven in large part by a motivation to crush the legacy of former President Barack Obama, his predecessor. Trump has frequently derided the deal agreed upon while Obama was in office as “horrible” and “one-sided.”

It also appears Trump’s maneuvers are being made with next year’s election in mind. Trump hopes inking a new historic agreement that replaces the nuclear deal will give him momentum as he chases reelection. In a statement issued Wednesday to announce the new sanctions, Trump said, “I look forward to someday meeting with the leaders of Iran in order to work out an agreement.”

Policy script

Trump appears to be following a script in which the United States continues applying pressure and Iran eventually comes around and agrees to hold negotiations. It seems the success this strategy had toward North Korea is firmly in Trump’s mind. In the North Korean case, Trump stuck to a policy of applying “maximum pressure” on Pyongyang, which had been conducting nuclear tests and launching intercontinental ballistic missiles. This approach ultimately resulted in Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meeting for historic summit talks.

However, tensions between the United States and Iran could escalate in the short term. In fact, the United States is increasingly vigilant because it believes there is a growing possibility of Iran mounting an attack against U.S. forces stationed in the Middle East.

The U.S. government announced earlier this month that it would deploy a carrier strike group, which is spearheaded by the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, and a bomber task force to the Middle East. On Wednesday, U.S. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee that “we received indications of this very, very credible intelligence” about a potential Iran threat.

Murky prospects

While Trump has displayed a bullish approach, it remains unclear just what kind of framework he hopes to agree on with Iran after placing such sustained pressure.

The Trump administration’s policy toward Iran has so far involved issuing a list of 12 demands, including stopping uranium enrichment and withdrawing all military forces under Iranian command in Syria. However, it seems unrealistic that Iran would accept all the demands, and it is difficult to see where both sides might find any middle ground.

Right from the start, there have been some concerns about the Trump administration’s Middle East policies.

“They only take a nearsighted view of things,” a diplomatic source said.

As the next presidential election draws closer, it is also possible Trump will ramp up what could already be considered excessively pro-Israel policies.

Iran has a considerable presence as the regional Shiite superpower. If Trump’s tactics fail and the nuclear accord collapses completely, the repercussions will be felt not only across the Middle East, but also the entire international community.

■Iran nuclear deal

A multilateral agreement concluded between Iran and the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China in July 2015. In exchange for limiting its nuclear development, Iran had some sanctions lifted, such as those on crude oil exports. In May 2018, the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, which had taken a hard-line stance toward Iran, announced it was withdrawing from the deal and later resumed the imposition of economic sanctions.Speech

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