US-Iran tensions rise as Trump presidency looms
Tensions between Iran and the United States are rising as US President-elect Donald Trump puts together a cabinet of foreign policy hawks advocating more pressure on Tehran.
Following a unanimous decision by the US Senate to allow the president to reintroduce economic sanctions against Iran, the government in Tehran slammed Washington for a “lack of credibility” regarding the agreement between the international community and Iran about its nuclear programme.
Under the agreement, the United States and other powers lifted sanctions on Iraq but the Senate vote means the White House can react swiftly if it feels the need for renewed measures.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in November that Iran would react if new sanctions were imposed.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking December 8th during a visit to Japan, warned the United States that fresh sanctions could harm Iran “but won’t break us”. Zarif said that it was in the United States’ interest to make the agreement work but the Senate vote showed that the Americans could not be trusted.
During the presidential campaign, Trump vowed to tear up the nuclear agreement and said policies under US President Barack Obama had made Iran stronger. Several of Trump’s security advisers, among them former general James Mattis, the designated secretary of Defense, have said they see Iran as a major threat and source of instability in the Middle East.
“Mattis is obviously very tough on Iran,” Owen Daniels of the Atlantic Council in Washington said. The former general, however, is apparently not in favour of scrapping the nuclear accord. “He will continue to support the deal and argue for strict controls” over Iran’s behaviour, Daniels said.
Mattis said in April that other regional challenges, such as fighting the Islamic State (ISIS), the war in Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, pale in comparison to the threat posed by Iran.
Analysts in Washington say it is too soon to tell whether Trump will heed the advice of Mattis or whether he will use his election promises as the basis for his policies. Daniels said the first 100 days of the Trump administration, which takes office January 20th, would give a clearer indication of the policies Trump will pursue.