Trump’s move on Iran shows why he must be reined in

The New Zealand Herald - - Editorial -

Among the many rea­sons for Amer­ica’s al­lies to hope Don­ald Trump’s wings can be clipped a lit­tle by the re­sult of the Midterm elec­tions are the trade sanc­tions he im­posed on Iran this week. They are just one of sev­eral breaks with in­ter­na­tional at­tempts to make progress on long-stand­ing prob­lems but the sanc­tions he has ap­plied on Iran ex­tend to any com­pany do­ing pro­scribed busi­ness with Iran no mat­ter where it is domi­ciled. This is an out­ra­geous use of US eco­nomic power.

Trump clearly has no re­gard for the rights of coun­tries that dis­agreed with his uni­lat­eral de­ci­sion to re­nege on the nu­clear agree­ment with Iran, and even less re­gard for the rights of busi­ness in those coun­tries. If they con­tinue to trade with Iran they will be blocked from the US. Forced to choose, most will quit Iran for the much larger US mar­ket.

Among the coun­tries af­fected are those that ne­go­ti­ated the Iran deal along­side the US three years ago: Bri­tain, France, Rus­sia, China and Ger­many. Some of them have been do­ing their ut­most to main­tain the agree­ment with Iran since Trump an­nounced in May he would walk away from it. Trump has set back years of progress within Iran where hard-lin­ers had lost power after the deal was done and the econ­omy was re­cov­er­ing. Now the anti-Amer­i­can rhetoric is back on the streets of Tehran, the govern­ment can blame the US for all the de­pri­va­tions its peo­ple face, and it is now all too likely Iran will re­sume its pro­gramme to de­velop nu­clear weapons.

The sanc­tions name 700 Ira­nian in­di­vid­u­als, com­pa­nies and or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­clud­ing oil pro­duc­ers, banks and ship­ping com­pa­nies though not all of them. Some prom­i­nent banks and com­pa­nies are not on the list. He has also ex­empted some big oil customers, China, In­dia and Tur­key, so as not to send world oil prices even higher. The ex­emp­tions mean Trump has ad­di­tional weapons in re­serve if he needs them. That has been his mo­dus operandi with tar­iffs against China.

Trump be­lieves that if he ap­plies enough pres­sure Iran will ne­go­ti­ate a new nu­clear deal with him, this time agree­ing to cease sup­port­ing Shia mil­i­tant forces such as Hezbol­lah in Syria and Houthi in Ye­men. Hezbol­lah, based in Le­banon, has been a men­ace to Is­rael but hardly rep­re­sents a greater threat to that coun­try than a nu­clear armed Iran. The Houthi in­sur­gency in Ye­men is mainly of con­cern to Saudi Ara­bia, which ought to be no friend of a US Pres­i­dent after its mur­der of jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi last month.

Quite why Trump has sab­o­taged a multi-na­tional nu­clear con­tain­ment treaty with Iran for these pur­poses is not ap­par­ent. Many sus­pect he has done it for no bet­ter rea­son than the deal was done by Barack Obama and Trump had op­posed it, as did Repub­li­cans in Congress. The US House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives has lit­tle say in for­eign af­fairs but if it can put a check on this Pres­i­dent’s power, many out­side Amer­ica will be re­lieved.

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