Trump’s attack to the Iran Deal during his first speech at the UN contributes to create the Iranian enemy in the US, as much as it fosters the image of the Great Satan in Iran. This ideological polarization benefits the hawkish factions in both sides. Yet, Tehran is not prone to give in to the Deal’s economic advantages.

Crouched shoulders, joint hands, and eyes gazing straight ahead, while someone seems to stretch out an arm in front of his mouth as to hush him: this is how Iranian reformist newspaper Shargh pictures Donald Trump one day after the American president’s invective against Tehran and Pyongyang.

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 “The Iran nuclear deal is an embarrassment to the US,” Trump stated. These are the very words that “Shargh” uses to caption Trump’s picture on its first page. The tagline reminds the hashtag that immediately went viral on Twitter: #ShutupTrump. A mixture of disappointment, rage and scepticism was the Iranians’ main reaction to Trump’s philippic in front of the United Nations General Assembly. “We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program,” continued the White House occupant after accusing Tehran of “destabilizing activities” and “supporting terrorism.” According to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who became highly popular among his fellow countrymen thanks to his commitment to Iran’s international agreements, “Trump’s ignorant hate speech belongs to medieval times, not to the XXI century. Thus, it is unworthy of an answer.”

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A few hours before the American president’s tribute to souverainism, Iranian conservative newspaper "Kayhan" urged president Hassan Rouhani – renown to be pragmatic, engaged in economic reforms, and a strenuous supporter of the Iran Deal – not to return from his journey to New York just with mere promises. Rather, it exhorted the Iranian president to put “the Big Satan” on the spot. In the aftermath of Trump’s speech, the most extremist opponents of any agreement with the West in general and the US in particular, deemed the Islamic Republic’s arch enemy ever since the outbreak of the 1979 Revolution, kept pressuring the government. This rhetoric holds only one purpose: Iran’s nuclear program should be restored to pre-Deal times. Trump’s construction of the Iranian bogeyman only fuels this narrative.

Yet, for years Rouhani and Zarif have been following a thoroughly different blueprint of Iran’s foreign policy: dealing, opening, negotiating and protecting the Iran deal. Responding to Trump’s speech, Rouhani said the deal should not be “destroyed by rogue newcomers to the world of politics”, and criticized as “ignorant” US President’s points against the agreement.  Iran, he added, has been committed to the “path of moderation” but it will respond “decisively and resolutely” to any violation: “By violating its international commitments the new US administration only destroys its own credibility and undermines international confidence in negotiating with it or accepting its word or promise”.

For a country like Iran, that was intensely damaged by international economic sanctions, the nuclear Deal has represented hope and the chance of emerging from a longstanding crisis.

 “All the parties must protect the agreement,” declared a UN representative as reported, unsurprisingly, by governmental newspaper Iran. By the same token, the words (and images) of Rouhani – that appeared in all Iranian newspapers printed in front page – are neither unexpected nor irrelevant: “Iran is ready for any situation,” “Iran is not worried by any threat,” “Getting out of the agreement would entail a high toll for the United States.”

However, the situation on the ground is much more complex than it seems when read through a geopolitical interpretative lens. A closer look would reveal how Iran’s economic difficulties today stem from internal as well as external factors, and are tightly linked to the international dimension. In fact, on the one side Tehran is still paying the price of the internal and financial policies enacted by former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his two mandates. By cutting the state subsidies for fuel purchase, and increasing gas and electricity bills for domestic use, his mala gestio left the country with a 40% inflation rate and 12,3% unemployment quota. On the other side, the international economic sanctions prevented Iran from developing the financial sector, the interchange with Europe, as well as the export of energy resources, and trade relations in the fields of technology, gold and precious stones/metals. [here all the measures , ndr]. 

The latter context constitutes one of the main factors driving Donald Trump’s foreign policy.

Not Just Iran Deal in dispute

Washington’s verbal assault on Iran is officially targeting the so-called Iran Deal, i.e. the agreement between the P5 + 1 countries [the members of the UN Security Council plus Germany], the EU and Iran on the suspension of the sanctions imposed by the EU and the UN [following the American example] on the Islamic Republic. 2016 was Tehran’s year zero: despite not all the sanctions were lifted, the country has de facto returned in the international arena. However, immediately after he took office in the White House, “The Donald” has systematically and constantly attempted to undermine the credibility of the Deal promoted by the Obama administration.

The American president followed five different steps:

  • 1) In February 2017 he tweeted defining the agreement signed by the Obama administration “a terrible deal.”
  • 2) In May, while the Iranians were voting for their new president, he flew to Saudi Arabia where he exhorted the Muslim leaders to ” oin together, to work together, and to fight together – because united, we will not fail. (…) Iran has fuelled the fires of sectarian conflict and terrorism.”
  • 3) In July, he tried his best to prove that Tehran was not complying with the terms of the Deal.  Yet, he was technically obliged to admit the contrary.  
  • 4) A few weeks later, he imposed new sanctions on Iran.
  • 5) Nowadays, Donald Trump is playing the card of Iran equates North Korea in terms of danger and threat to international security.

Although the abovementioned ideological polarization exacerbates the Iran-US contrast, the Trump administration has not yet produced any concrete proof of violation from Tehran. Therefore, Trump’s animosity towards Iran does not originate from the Iran Deal per se. This is evident in the American discourse that often bypasses the nuclear question, and strategically gives preference to the construction of Iran as an enemy and source of “regional instability,” and to its threat to “international security.” Thus, Washington’s strategy is to combine/merge the Iran Deal violation to accusations of diverse nature to the Islamic Republic. Consequently, it is legitimate to think that the alliance between the USA and Ryadh (renown to be Tehran’s adversary in the struggle for regional hegemony) and the American interests in Iraq and Yemen play a decisive role in shaping Trump’s policy and rhetoric vis-à-vis Iran. 


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