A New US-Iran Diplomacy?
By all indications, we maybe on the cusp of a new chapter in US-Iran diplomacy, in light of the flurry of recent developments. The latter, including two meetings of Iran's foreign minister Zarif with the French President Emmanuel Macron, and Trump's explicit endorsement of the French invitation of Zarif to the sideline of the G-7 summit in Biarritz, bode well for the de-escalation of tensions and may well turn out to be the harbinger of more positive news in the near future, barring unforeseen developments.
In terms of Zarif's presence in Biarritz, it illustrated the diplomatic isolation of United States, which has added Zarif to its long sanctions list, hoping to de-legitimize not only Zarif but the entire Iranian diplomatic machinery. That effort has clearly backfired and Zarif, who is warmly received in various capital cities around the world, including Tokyo and Beijing, has in fact been strengthened by the unwise and hostile US move against him, which reflects more than anything an act of desperation to keep the ship of "maximum pressure" strategy afloat, despite the barrage of counter-trends aimed at sinking it.
In historical retrospective, much credit must go to Iran's strategy of resistance, bold hard power in Persian Gulf, and adept mix of hard and soft power, checkmating the American confrontational strategy, which emerged as a major concession to a basic misperception regarding Iran, that is, the false impression that Iran was a weak and or failing state that would bend as a result of the American pressure. That false narrative, pushed by the likes of John Bolton, the hawkish national security adviser, has been effectively debunked by now, leaving no doubt that the Trump administration has little chance of success with its unreconstructed hostile Iran policy and must revise its Iran approach sooner or later for the sake of US national interests.
Of course, as Zarif has rightly noted, the road ahead is bound to be difficult, yet "worth trying." No one, neither Iran nor US, benefits from an escalation of tensions, which can result in a "lose-lose" for both sides, and therefore it is incumbent on Tehran and Washington to explore the realistic venues for de-escalation and, eventually, a much-needed thaw. Trump, who has now admitted to having second thoughts "about everything," may have evolved in his thinking to the point of considering a self-reversal on the Iran nuclear accord, which is now on life-support as a result of his unwise decision to pull the US out of the agreement, which was in a moderately healthy state until last May. Known for his multiple 'flip-flops', Trump is apt to do this in part because by now all his efforts to get Europe on board his hostile Iran policy have failed and there is no longer even the facade of an attempt to convince Europe to follow the White House's footsteps on Iran. With interlocutors such as Macron, the road is now being prepared for a future US-Iran diplomacy, which may transpire on the sideline of UN gathering in September, assuming that sufficient preparatory work can be done between now and mid-September. In this connection, an important prerequisite is Trump's ability to insulate himself from the destructive influence of Israel, which has been aggressively seeking to poison the environment with its provocative moves in the region, as well as from his own hawkish advisers such as Bolton, who basically parrot Israel's line on Iran.
From Iran's vantage point, on the other hand, it is important to thread the water carefully so that Trump does not end up making tactical use of the Iran diplomacy to point the blame for any lack of progress on Iran in order to lure the Europeans and others to its anti-Iran camp. In other words, there are risks involved that must be taken into consideration in Iran's diplomatic counter-offensive against the American campaign against it. A new US-Iran diplomacy is realistically possible only if the Trump administration makes a strategic decision to make a 'paradigmatic shift' from its present compellence strategy toward an alternative approach that is not wedded to regime change and a win-lose zero-sum approach vis-a-vis Iran. A non zero-sum approach in Washington toward Iran is desperately needed, one that takes into consideration the areas of shared and or parallel interests -- in Iraq, Afghanistan, even Yemen, and against ISIS. The administration, which has amended its "maximum pressure" strategy by allowing sanctions exemptions for Iraq and India (in Chabahar), needs a cognitive evolution in the direction of a full appreciation of Iran's pivotal stability role in the region, and until this happens its gestures toward a meaningful diplomacy with Iran run the risk of being merely tactical and lacking a firm foundation.