A Professor of International Affairs Dane Rowlands believes that if President Trump is not re-elected, everyone will wait to see the extent to which a President Biden changes policy on Iran.
He says in an exclusive interview with ILNA news agency that most countries are not happy with the aggressive stance of the US administration, but do not want to risk punishment. The analyst adding “if nothing else changes, it may well be that there would be some erosion of the US sanctions by 2021.” Dane Rowlands received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Toronto and is currently the Paterson Professor of International Affairs at Carleton University. He teaches and conducts research on international development, the IMF, conflict management, and migration.
Here you can read his full interview with the former director of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs:
Q: Countries are blocking Iran's money under the pretext of unilateral US sanctions and are not even willing to provide food, medicine, and humanitarian aid. What do you think about this?
A: At the moment the US is threatening retaliation against countries that assist Iran. The US wields considerable power in carrying out reprisals due to its position as the key global financial center, and because it can easily punish countries by being uncooperative in other economic areas, and in security matters. Most countries are not happy with the aggressive stance of the US administration but do not want to risk punishment. Over the long term, there may be significant pushback to reduce sensitivity to US pressure, but systems do not change that quickly.
There are two additional complications. First, the US policies have just been put back in place, and countries are examining ways to circumvent the US sanctions without incurring too much damage. It takes time to learn the legal details of the US policy and to identify options. So if nothing else changes, it may well be that there would be some erosion of the US sanctions by 2021.
Second, most countries are probably just going to wait until they see the outcome of the US elections. If President Trump is not re-elected, everyone will wait to see the extent to which a President Biden changes policy on Iran.
It is always unfortunate, and unacceptable, that innocent civilians have to pay the price of international conflict. Normally humanitarian efforts are not as badly affected. I do not know the extent to which food and medicine have been cut off, or which countries or organizations are still providing some to Iran, but all of them will be very careful not to provoke the US.
Q: for example, South Korean authorities at all levels have made it clear that South Korea’s refusal to pay debts to Iran runs counter to the traditional and age-old relations between the two countries.
A: South Korea is in a difficult position, due again to their reliance on the US economically and in security terms. The US is applying pressure on them to not pay the money, and the benefits of fulfilling their legal and financial obligations to Iran do not seem worth the risks at the moment. It does not help the situation that their min security threat, North Korea, is seen as having a close security relationship with Iran. Without US pressure, though, I am sure payment would have been made.
Q: But Iran has had a hard time getting the medicines it needs because of US sanctions.
A: Yes, I would say that it is a violation of at least the spirit, if not the law, of humanitarianism. But human rights law and enforcement are extremely weak and are always subordinate to security matters.
Q: Currently, 4 million children have difficulty accessing education due to lack of access to mobile phones, and tablets or patients do not have access to medicine, while South Korea has blocked $ 7 billion of Iranian money and all this can be done this way. How can the Iranian authorities deal with these difficulties?
A: As above, South Korea would likely have paid without any issues arising had the US not chosen such an aggressive policy to isolate Iran. I expect this situation to continue as long as there is a Trump administration; it could end under Trump if he goes for a grand deal (very unlikely), and it could survive him if the anti-Iran perspective dominates another President’s administration. I suspect that many countries are waiting to see the US election results, and are hoping that the US changes direction on Iran, or at least scales back its retaliatory measures.
However, Iran has not been helping its own cause. Iran has made it easy for countries like South Korea, Canada, and even the Europeans to prefer placating the US to dealing with Iran. Iran is seen by many countries have destabilizing security in the region (and in Korea), suppressing human rights, and generally not being very cooperative. It would be far harder for third parties to punish Iran if it was playing a more positive role.
Q: What can European countries do in order to help de-escalate a conflict situation? If President Trump is re-elected, will we see these policies continue?
A: The European position seems fairly clear: it wants the JCPOA to continue and sees it as being reasonably successful. I do not think there is any chance that the US will win support for a formal snapback at the UN. Europe’s preference for JCPOA and opposition to snapback will continue irrespective of the US elections. What the elections in the US will helpfully resolve is the extent to which US pressure will force Korea, Europe, and others to try to balance their legal and humanitarian obligations to Iran with their economic and security self-interests arising out of US policy. As indicated above, Iran makes it easier for third countries to lean towards the US, however reluctantly.
Q: Can this unilateral US action lead to war?
A: War is unlikely. Iran will cease to be an election issue by mid-November. It is highly unlikely that a Biden administration would be interested in war, and even a re-elected Trump is unlikely to see much value in a war over tougher sanctions. A formal declaration of war or enabling legislation to permit the prosecution of war by the President would require Congressional approval, which would include a House of Representatives that is likely going to controlled by the Democratic Party. While this situation does not prevent war, it makes it much less likely. The only scenario I see for war would be one where there is a real or manufactured security crisis in which Iran is lured into engaging in an act seen as extremely detrimental to US interests, including the security of its regional allies. This sort of event is the most common way US President has managed to acquire enough popular and legislative support for military action. However, I think this scenario remains unlikely at the moment.
Q: Europe has not fulfilled its obligations of JCPOA. Why did this happen?
A: I suspect you are referring to their obligations to counteract the damage done by the US dropping out of the JCPOA and imposing sanctions. The answer is the same as above: the Europeans are vulnerable to US retaliation and are eager to avoid it. They will not revisit this matter with any degree of seriousness until after the US election, as they are hoping for a relaxation of US pressure. If US policy remains after November, then they will continue to try and balance the JCPOA against US pressure, and that balance will in part depend on Iranian policy directly relate to the JCPOAS terms, but also broader policies pursued by the Iranian government.
Q: The 2015 Iran nuclear agreement is breaking apart. How much longer will the Iran deal last under Trump?
A: Yes, but whether it is alive and functioning well depends on US policy after the elections. It may continue barely functioning and having little impact only because it would not likely be in anyone’s interest to end it. However if the Europeans are unable to get around at least elements of the US sanctions, then Iran might conclude that there is no point abiding by any of the JCPOA restrictions, and simply end the agreement. In that case a clear renewal of nuclear activity may put pressure on the US and Europe to renegotiate, or it could trigger a more serious conflict.