Is the United States about to launch a war with Iran?

The mercurial U.S. President Donald Trump was livid after a meeting with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani turned out not to be productive. Trump declared that he had left no room for the negotiations he had “agreed to in my magnificent deal,” describing them as a “waste of time” and a “waste of paper.” But the White House may also face some daunting repercussions if a full-scale U.S. confrontation with Iran also fails to materialize.

Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary-general of NATO, warned the military alliance on Thursday that European unity was being challenged. Although Iran does not meet NATO’s standards for membership, “it is a state which is closer to our political criteria of having respect for human rights and the rule of law, and which is part of the wider region,” he told reporters in Brussels. “It therefore would therefore be essential for NATO to speak out clearly on the issue of Iran.” Trump is currently pressing European allies to begin ramping up sanctions on Iran, in coordination with the United States, or risk serious damage to transatlantic relations.

The White House believes that it can use its tough talk as leverage to force European nations to further narrow and limit their trade with Iran. Defense Secretary James Mattis said that he sees “no possibility of coming to a deal” with Tehran, while national security adviser John Bolton suggested that if any country was willing to talk about Iran, the United States “would be happy to talk with any willing partner.” That talk is unlikely to include EU-based entities that have already violated U.S. sanctions.

But US pressure on the European Union is already having a serious impact, according to EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier. “Today, the EU cannot save the Iran nuclear deal,” he told French diplomats in Paris. And if the European Union fails to quell a growing transatlantic trade war, it could backfire against the United States and Washington’s allies, as the withdrawal of many European firms from Iran’s energy market and crucial banking sector has effectively amounted to a unilateral U.S. ban.

The sanctions could be so damaging to economic growth that they could trigger a fiscal crisis for Iran that would strengthen the hand of its hard-liners in parliament. Although Trump’s criticisms about the deal’s weak inspections provisions could also lead to an endgame in which Iran finds itself subjected to inspections that are far less rigorous than what it once enjoyed, this is hardly likely. Tehran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, did not rule out joining the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2016, and Iran retains the capability to build a nuclear bomb under its landmark deal. But at the same time, the collapse of the agreement could lead to Tehran retaliating in other ways, including ratcheting up oil production, destabilizing international shipping routes and threatening to redraw its redrawn borders and take another country to war. And that is if the agreement goes awry entirely.

Trump left open the possibility of signing a letter to Congress in which he would ask for a one-year extension of U.S. sanctions waivers against Iran. But he is likely to exhaust his options before leaving an announcement that would rob America of any leverage in negotiations in the talks with Tehran. Meanwhile, the European Union, Israel and Saudi Arabia continue to seek a deal that would restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Another possibility that has been raised repeatedly is for Washington to launch a military attack. Many analysts have said that such a move could only potentially damage the U.S. military, limit its chances of victory in a fight against China or North Korea and inflict extensive collateral damage. And it would signal to Iran that the U.S. is prepared to risk war.

Read the full story at The Guardian.


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