Trump tends to see Iran as a many-splendoured thing
The signing of a $3 billion deal on Tuesday between Boeing Company and Iran’s Aseman Airlines on purchase by the latter of thirty 737 MAX aircraft has been possible only with the approval of the Donald Trump administration. An earlier agreement of last December – a whopping deal of $16.6 billion – on purchase by Iran Air of 80 passenger planes from Boeing, which was reached during the Obama administration, also stands unchallenged by Trump.
The 17th century Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet and cleric Jonathan Swift once wrote, “A wise person should have money in their head, but not in their heart.” President Donald Trump has no love lost for Iran, but then, money appeals to his head – even Iranian money. Trump won’t stand in the way of American companies doing lucrative business with Iran.
The fact of the matter is that there are churnings in the US-Iran engagement. Bloomberg reported this week that Senator John McCain, who has been a leading voice against the Iran nuclear deal, sees nothing wrong with Boeing’s deal. He says,
I have opposed the Iranian agreement and I am not interested in doing anything to help the Iranians but what they’ve done is completely legal. They’ve got the money and it’s not a weapons system, so it doesn’t require any involvement from the Congress.
Now, this was the politician who once famously said, “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran!” Again, Senator Ben Cardin, who is the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, says there is little Congress can do to block the plane sale as long as it meets the terms set out in the nuclear deal.
Evidently, the mood in the Congress is shifting, because the $3 billion deal on Tuesday is expected to create or sustain about 18000 jobs in America. According to Bloomberg, Boeing shares rose 0.8 percent to $178.07 at 2:02 p.m. in New York on Tuesday. “The gain was the third largest among the 30 members of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.”
Meanwhile, US Senate has postponed the bill to impose new sanctions against Iran. Republican Senator Bob Corker, who is currently the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said on Tuesday that the bill will not move forward for now. The proposed bill enjoys “bipartisan” support and aims at slapping tighter sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missiles. Corker has given a curious explanation:
We’ve got a Iran sanctions bill that has a number of co-sponsors that wasn’t able to mark up at present because of concerns about how the European Union might react and (Iranian) elections that are coming up.
Now, the stunning part of what Corker implied is that the US is fervently hoping that President Hassan Rouhani will get re-elected in the presidential election on May 19. Clearly, Iranian leadership’s platform to expand relations with western countries has caught the imagination of American elites and they don’t want new sanctions to hurt Rouhani’s chances of victory!
Indeed, what needs to be factored in here is also the testimony by the head of US Strategic Command Gen. John Hyten before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that Iran is not attempting to acquire nuclear weapons, and that it is abiding by the terms of the deal. The general effectively said that it is untimely to slap additional sanctions against Iran.
To my mind, Tehran senses that the tide is turning. Trump held back from endorsing the anti-Iran tirade by the visiting Saudi Deputy Crown Prince recently. (See my recent opinion piece US-Saudi reset is real but rather unpredictable.)
In an extraordinary interview on Monday with a Persian-language daily, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has disclosed that Tehran will exercise strategic patience vis-à-vis Trump administration. Zarif said,
The (Iranian) establishment in its entirety has reached the conclusion that we shouldn’t give them (the Americans) any excuse. This should not be taken to mean that we back away from our plans… but we don’t seek tension.
Importantly, Zarif implied that it is “some regional actors” (read Israel and Saudi Arabia) who are ratcheting up pressure on the Trump administration, “who want to steer the US into adopting policies which leave us with no choice but to contravene it (nuclear deal of 2015).” Any long-time observer of US-Iran relations will take note that such a remark by an Iranian FM would have been simply unthinkable not too long ago.
To be sure, the ground beneath the feet is shifting under the cloud cover of rhetoric. Historically, Iranians have got along far better with Republican presidencies. There is a story that refuses to go away that Tehran had deliberately delayed the release of the American hostages to January 20 1981 so as to time it perfectly with Ronald Reagan’s inaugural – and that this was also what Reagan’s team had preferred through back channels. At any rate, Reagan who had some of the most anti-Iranian rhetoric to his credit while on the campaign trail in 1980, is today remembered better for the infamous Iran-Contra Affair. Trump, by the way, has never hidden his admiration for Reagan as his role model.
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