Drone downing imperils Trump’s Iran outreach
"I hope it will take place. I hope there will be diplomacy," Paul said, stressing that Trump wants to talk to the Iranians. "I'm fighting to try to prevent war, and I think that should be something that's commended, not excoriated."
Zarif told journalists on Thursday that Iran had made an offer to the United States on a way forward on nuclear negotiations.
According to a report in The Guardian, Zarif said Iran was willing to officially accept permanent, enhanced inspections of its nuclear program if Trump permanently lifted U.S. sanctions on Iran.
The offer isn’t likely to go anywhere. The Trump team has made a vast array of demands on Iran, including that it stop sponsoring terrorist groups and de-fang its ballistic missile program. The idea of the enhanced inspections also was already a clause in the 2015 nuclear deal that is set to take effect in a few years.
The Trump administration is unlikely to remove its sanctions for an offer to bring that aspect of the deal forward a few years. One administration official told POLITICO that it was “not a serious offer” and questioned how much authority Zarif really has in Islamist-led Iran, where a cleric makes the final decisions on matters of state.
Another senior administration official said in a statement that “If Iran wants to make a serious gesture, it should start by ending uranium enrichment immediately and having an actual decision maker attempt to negotiate a deal that includes a permanent end to Iran’s malign nuclear ambitions, including its development of nuclear-capable missiles.”
Iran recently announced that it had breached uranium enrichment limits set under the 2015 deal.
Still, the fact that Iran even put something on the table was notable given Iranian leaders’ hesitation to deal with Trump at all. In the past, they’ve said they won’t talk to him, and that the only scenario in which they would resume discussions was if he returned to the 2015 nuclear deal and lifted sanctions.
The person familiar with the issue told POLITICO that Zarif also has indicated this week that Iranian officials are considering a theatrical gesture to highlight Iran’s stated aversion to developing nuclear weapons in a bid to get Trump to ease up on his sanctions-heavy pressure campaign. But the odds that Iran’s leaders will meet with Trump are nil, Zarif indicated.
Iran’s economy is badly strained by the sanctions Trump has imposed. That could be fueling some of its recent diplomatic maneuvering, but it also could be behind some of the alleged military actions that have occurred in recent weeks.
The 2015 nuclear deal removed international sanctions on Iran in exchange for severe curbs on its nuclear program. After Trump withdrew from the deal in May 2018, Iran stuck to the agreement for a year, hoping European countries — as well as China and Russia — could make up for the economic pain of the reimposed American sanctions. But the relief hasn’t come.
So Iran has over the past two months taken steps to move away from the deal, including exceeding a limit on uranium stockpiles and the uranium enrichment restrictions. The country has promised to take even more steps every two months going forward unless world powers can offer it economic relief.
Last month, Tehran downed a U.S. drone that it claimed had entered Iranian airspace. The U.S. has vehemently denied those claims, asserting the drone was over international waters. But the U.S. came very close to staging retaliatory strikes in response to the incident. Trump called off that operation shortly before it was due to take place, saying he didn't think the potential loss of life — up to 150 people, he said — was proportionate.
Thursday’s news of the latest drone incident followed reports from Iranian state media that the country had seized a foreign oil tanker and its crew in the Strait of Hormuz. There were mixed reports on the seriousness of the incident.The U.S. has accused Iran of being behind a series of attacks on international oil tankers in recent weeks, as well, a claim Iran denies.
The U.S., meanwhile, is increasing its troop presence in the Persian Gulf and broader region. That includes recent preparations to dispatch U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia.
According to Trump, the Iranian drone on Thursday ignored “multiple calls to stand down and was threatening the safety of the ship and the ship’s crew.” As a result, he said, the U.S.S. Boxer's action against the drone left it “immediately destroyed,” he said.
“The United States reserves the right to defend our personnel, our facilities and interests and calls upon all nations to condemn Iran’s attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation and global commerce,” Trump said. “I also call on other nations to protect their ships as they go through the strait and to work with us in the future.”
Original content can be located at Politico