A political science professor Michael Hollingsworth believes that the economic sanctions placed on Iran have had an effect on the economy and the standard of living in Iran.
In an interview with ILNA news agency, he said "Negotiations under sanctions are not ideal, but are going to be necessary; and adding that the best way for reducing tension is diplomacy and negotiation.
Here is ILNA's full interview with University of South Alabama Michael Hollingsworth about the future of the relation between Trump and Iran and the reasons for the rising tensions in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf:
Q: As a first question, what issues are causing the tension in the Middle East and the Gulf?
A: Tension in the Persian Gulf has existed for some time, and increases and decreases on a regular basis. While aggressive actions towards U.S. ships have decreased, alleged attacks on civilian ships in June of 2019 in the Gulf of Oman have caused some concern. Most of the current tension is over this particular area and is of course related to the oil supply and the importance of this passage to civilian traffic. There are military concerns with the capability of the Iranian navy, in particular the large number of small missile boats possessed by the Iranian navy. It is unlikely in my opinion that any military conflict would break out in the Persian Gulf unless there was some drastic escalation of hostilities by either Iran or the United States, but no country would benefit from that. Only something like an open attack on a civilian or U.S. military ship would lead to a serious response from the United States.
Q: In such circumstances, what will the future of the Trump administration's relations with Iran look like?
A: The future of the relationship between Trump and Iran is hard to predict. One complication is the failure of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding Iran’s nuclear program. The United States withdrew from this agreement in 2018 and of course conditions around this agreement have deteriorated since then. Most of the concerns the United States have with the Middle East now involve Iran to some extent, but this does not necessarily mean that Trump is opposed to more open diplomatic communications with Iran.
Trump has, however, shown a willingness to negotiate with countries and leaders that the United States has traditionally avoided, such as North Korea. There is no reason that he would not consider the same approach to Iran if he thinks it would be beneficial to the United States and international security.
Q: So, according to the US president, the policy of maximum pressure will work at the end?
A: Most of the pressure placed on Iran has been economic in nature with military pressure limited to shows of force in the area rather than any actual operations. The economic sanctions placed on Iran have had an effect on the economy and the standard of living in Iran.
While the sanctions are designed to hurt the country, affecting the quality of life for citizens is an unfortunate unintended consequence. Despite this pressure, Iran has been under economic sanctions for decades before some were lifted in 2015 and 2016. The economic sanctions can hurt the country, but are not debilitating. This is likely to continue, but the sanctions might push the Iranian government to be more open to negotiations. There has been a particularly harsh effect with the most recent round of sanctions but Trump is aware that the strategy of maximum pressure is not going to debilitate Iran.
Q: Tehran's efforts to reduce its commitments make the situation more complicated or not?
A: The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is, for any practical purpose, is over. Objectively it was a bad agreement to begin with. Some of the negotiators were surprised by Obama’s unprecedented willingness to agree to a treaty involving nuclear activity without consulting Congress and the Senate. The United States might be open to negotiating another treaty but it would probably be more restrictive than the initial plan of action.
Q: Europe can convince Donald Trump to change his policy against Tehran?
A: Europe has some influence on American foreign policy, and members of the European Union might be able to act as intermediaries for negotiations between Iran and Trump. It is unlikely that they will be able to convince Trump to take any action that he would not otherwise take. European concerns regarding Iran are different than U.S. concerns, and this limits the influence they might have.
Q: Can Trump finally meet with the Iranian president?
A: It is possible that Trump will meet with Hassan Rouhani. It is unlikely that he would first meet with Zarif. The Trump administration has said that they are willing to negotiate with Iran, but nothing has been done to actually facilitate that goal. The sanctions on Zarif have been criticized as hurting the chances of diplomacy with Iran, but the administration does not seem concerned with this problem and considers him as simply an individual who spreads propaganda for the Iranian government. I’m not sure the sanctions against Zarif really serve any substantive purpose. Currently, the administration is preoccupied with other matters so meetings with Iran might have to wait.
Q: Does negotiating with Trump lead to less tension in the region?
A: There is no reason to think that Iran could not negotiate with Trump. Trump’s policies to some extent follow a realist perspective which he continues to espouse at U.N. meetings. He will do what he thinks is in the country’s best interest. He does not seem to have the same reservations regarding negotiating with certain countries as past presidents. He has said that he is open to negotiations with Iran, but there are a lot of barriers to successful negotiations.
Negotiations under sanctions are not ideal, but are going to be necessary. There is no reason for the United States to lift these sanctions before negotiations take place and Iran should not expect them to do that. There is international pressure to negotiate and lift sanctions in return for various reasonable concessions from Iran.
Q: How serious is the possibility of another war in the region?
A: War is always possible, but I see this as a remote policy that would require significant escalation by Iran. Barring a direct attack on either Saudi Arabia or U.S. assets, I do not think there will be significant military action by the United States. They will continue with various displays of power, and a carrier battle group will be available if needed. Again, this is simply signaling and posturing by countries.
The best way for reducing tension is diplomacy and negotiation, but there will be little change without significant action from Iran including ceasing support for various sub-state actors in the region, and changing operations in Iraq. Without these changes there will always be significant tension between the U.S., allies in the Middle East, and Iran. Any reduction in tension will take a great deal of time to accomplish, but diplomacy is still very possible and can serve to avoid escalation of tensions in the Middle East which might lead to armed conflict.