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US Maximum Pressure Campaign of sanctions, abject failure

Failed US sanction. File Image

The golden age of modernization and prosperity in Iran projected worldwide during the 1970’s, whether a farce or an aspiration in need of time to bear fruit, ended in a revolution and the severing of ties with a powerful ally, the United States of America.

Such a state of affairs came about to fulfill another aspiration; independence. Now how realistic that could be for a developing country such as Iran, the past 40+ years since the 1979 Islamic revolution are testament to its viability.

Iran has been under UN and US sanctions since the 1979 revolution, with an Islamic republic replacing a millennia-old monarchy which had been transformed into a pseudo-constitutional monarchy.

The economy went into recession a couple of years ago, with COVID-19 following the US’s maximum pressure campaign against this country, Yet there have been signs of growth. It would not be remiss, therefore, to declare that the maximum pressure campaign has failed, miserably.

Iran’s economy grew 2.4 percent in the fiscal year 2020-21, according to the World Bank, and it is forecast to grow 3.1 percent in 2021-22.

The economy of Iran is a lot more resilient than its boycotters had predicted, although to be fair, not all of the problems are a consequence of the sanctions.

The resilience of the economy is due to it being diversified as well as Iran having found allies beyond the US sphere of absolute influence. How sincere these new allies are, of course, time will tell.

Obviously, we have a yardstick here, called our national interests, based on which we decide in what areas and matters we can have overlapping interests with other actors, both strategically and tactically.

Certainly, we might have opposing views with Beijing and Moscow on some issues, but provided that the path is laid out based on our national interests, it seems to be a reasonable way to go.

Hanif Ghaffari, Jam-e-Jam daily

The resilience of Iran’s economy is not the only reason why the unlawful American Maximum Pressure campaign of sanctions against Tehran has failed according to American politicians themselves. Meanwhile the balance of power, or influence, in West Asia has tipped to the disadvantage of America.

Of course, Iran has been able to create a better situation economically due to its vast territories and its remarkable clout in the region.

There are 14 countries neighboring Iran in the region, a large portion of which have balanced and improved ties with Iran. This has led to an increase in Iran’s economic activity with its neighbors to acceptable levels.

As an example, the trade volume between Iran and Iraq has topped 10 billion dollars annually. Iran has established economic ties with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan Republic, Qatar, and even some of the Persian Gulf states, including Kuwait and the UAE.

This is Iran’s advantage and what has set Tehran apart from other countries that are under US sanctions.

Hossein Hanizadeh, Analyst, West Asia Affairs

The “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran was initiated by former US president, Donald Trump, when he unilaterally pulled out of the 2015 Nuclear Deal or JCPOA, to strike a better deal, which he hoped would restrict Iran’s ballistic missile program and its influence in West Asia; Iran’s own neighborhood and region.

Eventually his hopes and aspirations became more and more farfetched with each passing day. 

Now the Trump imposed sanctions regime has been “maintained” by the Biden administration, although they realize it has been an “abject failure.”

Could this be because they see no alternative course of action?

Some of them, including Mr. Antony Blinken, believe that the US must receive concessions from Iran in return for sanctions relief. This meant that they didn’t want to grant concessions to Tehran, but wanted to win some concessions too.

But Biden didn’t subscribe to the optimistic view of Antony Blinken from the beginning. Anyway, the US government, and Biden’s Foreign Policy team, is yet to reach a consensus on how to return to the JCPOA.

But the important point is that the Biden administration has realized that Trump’s so called maximum pressure campaign not only didn’t work but only helped strengthen the Islamic Republic of Iran in the international arena.

Hanif Ghaffari, International Columnist, Jam-e Jam and Resalat Dailies

The US State Department spokesman, Ned Price, said the previous administration left behind a “terrible set of options”, which in regard to Iran, everything the maximum pressure campaign  promised, the opposite ended up coming true.

The nuclear deal was intended to limit Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme, which the West suspect regardless, in return for lifting nuclear related economic UN imposed sanctions against Tehran, to get its foreign trade up and running.

Iran did comply for one whole year after Trump binned the deal in May 2018 and imposed the harshest ever US sanctions on Iran.

But when Iran got nothing of significance from the Western parties to the deal, it began reversibly inching away from its commitments and its capability has jumped from enriching uranium to 20 percent purity, to 60 percent purity.

Ned Price, Spokesperson for the United States Department of State, lamented: “We inherited an Iranian nuclear program that was galloping ahead, that has continued to gallop ahead …”

Now no one seems to want to let go of whatever is left of the deal, which was signed between Iran and the P5+1 and, after the US pullout, then held between Iran and the P4+1, comprising the UK, France, Russia, China and Germany.

To salvage what use remains for the nuclear deal, the sanctions removal and JCPOA revival talks have been ongoing for almost a year.

It doesn’t seem like a revival of the JCPOA would be the end of all sanctions against Iran. We need to wait and see what happens. But removing a considerable amount of sanctions could potentially be a prelude to, and lay the groundwork for, a departure from the current state of affairs between Iran and the United States.

Take Pakistan, for example, during the US invasion of Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan had been under US pressure and harsh economic sanctions.

The two sides didn’t have any ties at all, the same as Iran. But in a sudden change of policy, they decided to end the hostilities. The two sides established very close ties. This helped Pakistan get itself out of the restricted and isolated atmosphere imposed on it and experience a new political climate altogether.

The future is unpredictable (but) maybe such a change could take place in the ties between Iran and the US, although, as I said, considering the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, such a change is unlikely.

Kiumars Yazdanpanah, Analyst, National Security Affairs

But although US President Biden had vowed to re-enter the agreement, and although he dismisses Trump’s attempt as a “failed maximum pressure” he has both kept all the sanctions imposed under Trump, and has unleashed new ones!

Yet Iran stands. How so? Well Iran’s economy and partners are diversified with initiative as to how to find a way round US sanctions and currency.

Maximum pressure sanctions were meant to bring Iran’s crude oil exports down to zero. On the subject, Iranian Minister of Petroleum Javad Owji asserted: "We have changed contracts and diversified them to attract and encourage investors," further stating that “In the next eight years, we will allocate $15 billion to $20 billion in oil and gas resources to develop the [oil or gas] fields, and about the same amount will be invested by Chinese investors in a 25-year agreement, with banks and holdings contributing to the fields' profits. We will try to have similar contract with the Russians, like the Chinese.”

China has kept Iran’s oil sales flowing, in defiance of US sanctions, even if at a lower price. Now Russia is a very different case. Iran and Russia both being global energy giants, Russia must see our resources as competition, especially now that with the Ukraine conflict it has been boycotted by its fellow-Europeans for whom it was THE energy provider.

One of the issues in which we’re considered rivals is the oil and energy sector. This is something over which mistakes are made. I mean that long-term strategic commonalities are taken as absolute agreements in all respects.

This is surely a mistake. We have shared goals on some issues and we have differing views on others.

These distinctions must be observed in our calculations, behavior, and even our officials’ rhetoric.

Hanif Ghaffari, International Columnist, Jam-e Jam and Resalat Dailies

Yet, Owji insists that with Russia,  “We… have a comprehensive roadmap in the field of oil and gas industry in all upstream and downstream sectors.”

Now another neutralizer of America’s attempts to cripple Iran is Iran’s acceptance of technology as a hub of science in the ancient, pre and post-Islamic eras.

Another effective neutralizer of US hegemony and its influence in the Middle East is mainly Iran’s asymmetric tactics and forging of regional alliances.

Iran, having embraced high technology, became the second country in the Middle East to connect to the internet in 1993.

Iran successfully launched its first satellite into orbit in 2009, and has also done really well in the field of nanotechnology.  

The Islamic Republic’s first drone became operational in 1985.

During the Saad-Abad talks with the European sides, Mr. Jack Straw, Joschka Fischer, and Dominique de Villepin, the British, German, and French foreign ministers,

Iran once made a request to acquire some centrifuges for research and scientific purposes so the students and those who want to work in the field of nuclear energy could use them as educational tools.

But they didn’t allow that even at such a level.

But today, thanks to the efforts put in by (Iranian) scientists, some of whom were martyred, we have been able to manufacture thousands of centrifuges and use them for educational purposes and R&D.

The centrifuges have also created opportunities for the country, including in the field of medicine.

Hanif Ghaffari, International Columnist, Jam-e Jam and Resalat Dailies

It was on the scale of a country with a medium size economy that the Islamic revolution took place. But it has proven over time that it has the ability to impact the relations and plans that have been drawn for the region.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has been confronting the US and some of its allies, including Israel, over the past 4 decades. It has adopted different ways to confront the US’ anti-Iran efforts including relying on the inside, boosting the resistance economy, and creating alliances with its neighbors, including Iraq, Qatar, Azerbaijan, and Afghanistan.

These countries have established balanced ties with Iran in the past 4 decades, especially after the overthrow of Saddam’s regime in 2003, Iraq is considered to be aligned with Iran. Also, Qatar and some of the Arab states south of the Persian Gulf have created balanced political ties with Iran.

Hossein Hanizadeh, Analyst, West Asia Affairs

Iran’s regional rivals have spent billions of dollars on Western weaponry, much of it from the UK.

But, as the BBC observed in 2019, sanctions bound Iran has succeeded in embedding itself across the region into a position of strategic advantage, for a fraction of that cost.

Iran built up a network of non-state alliances right across West Asia, basically to keep danger afar from its borders, in aiding regional countries against Western interference or in response it’s a cry for help from fellow Shia populations across the region.

Although as a natural consequence of its presence as a regional state most capable of securing the region, Iran… may "continue to seize opportunities to expand its third-party capability”.

According to the US calculations, it expected to dominate the entire Syria and Iraq through Daesh. But we saw that didn’t happen.

The reason was that the network of resistance which comprises Hamas, Hezbollah, Ansarullah, Hash-al-Shaabi, and other groups, was shaped so the groups were able to work toward the same goal.

Today, after 43 years, we no longer witness scattered resistance groups in the region, but we’re seeing an archipelago of the groups who’re being considered unified in their principles and goals.

Hanif Ghaffari, International Columnist, Jam-e Jam and Resalat Dailies

IISS the London based International Institute for Strategic Studies puts it is: "The Islamic Republic of Iran has tipped the balance of effective force in the Middle East in its favour,…by countering superior conventional forces with influence operations and use of third-party forces".

"The policy of ignoring Iran did not work. Iran resisted. Iran has also successfully controlled damages of US economic terrorism.

So yes, it is a powerful nation and has a lot of relations with other nations with a lot of initiatives for regional co-operation."

The United States may have been in suspense but with an assuredness it would now re-programme ties with Iran, in an understanding and deals with leaders of the revolution.

But things didn’t quite go according to plan it would seem, and from the very first days of the revolution, the United States reacted angrily fighting tooth and nail to maintain its position. Sanctions aside, it played a material part in the 1980s Baathist Iraq war on Iran.

The United States has hatched numerous plots and schemes against the Islamic Republic of Iran since the victory of the Islamic Revolution, mobilizing terrorist groups inside Iran, provoking different ethnic groups’ attempts for staging a coup in Iran, and then the war between Iraq under the former Ba’ath regime of Saddam and Iran to undermine the foundations of the Islamic Revolution.

Over the past 4 decades, the US has also resorted to other tools namely imposing sanctions, creating an unbearable environment in the region, and fomenting disputes between Iran and its neighbors south of the Persian Gulf and south of the Caucasus.

These were among some of the steps Washington took, (most of) which are still ongoing.

Hossein Hanizadeh, Analyst, West Asia Affairs

Shortly after the revolution on November 4, 1979, a group recognized as revolutionary students occupied the American embassy, angered that the recently deposed Shah had been allowed into the United States.

After that, other incidents affected the bilateral ties, including the overtaking of the US embassy by Iranian students. That incident gave way to more hostilities between the US and Iran. Then came Operation Eagle Claw in Tabas and many other incidents. Afterward, the Iran-Iraq war started with the backing of the West headed by the US.

These all led to the United States’ targeting of an Iranian passenger airliner over the Persian Gulf and many other bitter incidents that have been happening up to this point where the Americans have blocked billions of dollars of funds belonging to the Iranian people.

Obviously, under such circumstances, they shouldn’t expect that the Iranian people are happy with them or that the Iranian government would forgive that. Considering the incidents that happened during the early years after the victory of the Islamic Revolution, the tensions were bound to escalate and get even worse at some points in time.

Kiumars Yazdanpanah, Analyst, National Security Affairs

Washington froze about $12 billion in Iranian assets, most of which were released in 1981 as part of the release deal.

Freezing assets even seizing assets paled compared to what came in 1980. That was an Iraq-Iran war that went on for 8 years with America and a world of allies throwing their weight behind Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, even supplying him with chemical weapons which he used on civilians in Iran.

It is doubtful Saddam would ever have dared attack Iran, whatever the cause, without a green light from the global superpowers of the era. 

The United States and the USSR both realized that they were dealing with a new phenomenon distinct from every other revolution. Therefore, they decided to destroy the Revolution by any means necessary.

The West and East’s full and extensive support for the Saddam Regime during the war with Iran has roots in such a realization.

After the downfall of the Pahlavi regime in Iran, they thought that Saddam could be the best catalyst to destroy the Islamic Revolution especially considering his thirst to replace the former Shah of Iran as the region’s gendarme.

Therefore, they showed Saddam the green light and the 8-year-long war broke out.

Hanif Ghaffari, International Columnist, Jam-e Jam and Resalat Dailies

Even after the JCPOA signing, and before Trump’s USA pulled out, Iranian citizens were all  labeled as potential terrorists, and were banned from entering the United States.

This was due to the implementation of Donald Trump’s executive order titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”. Yes, it's the same America we’re talking of; the one that admittedly created or supported terror groups in this region, Daesh included.

The Iranian Revolution is different from those that took place in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. It’s safe to say that it was the last revolution that changed a political system entirely and replaced it with a brand new one.

The replaced system was driven by its own ideology. This revolution’s basic principles were characterized by the revolution, religion, and ideology. On that basis, the ideologies didn’t align with the geopolitics of the colonialists, headed by the US; therefore, such tensions were only natural to arise.

Kiumars Yazdanpanah, Analyst, National Security Affairs

Iran is not alone in taking credit for America’s loss of ground and the greenest grass. Part of the credit goes to America's departure from its core values ​​and its move toward a global dictatorship would mean that this country, which was seen as a refuge and savior in the early 20th century, would now be viewed as a supporter of a racist (Israel) and occupying country of Afghanistan, Iraq and dozens of other countries at the end of the 20th century and early 21st century.

Cato did a piece in 2004, almost 20 years before the US finally pulled out of Afghanistan, When Liberators Become Occupiers. Among innumerable examples of American wars it lists, beginning in 1912; it recalls the Philippines in 1898, when a handful of Americans died to liberate the Philippines from the Spanish, but over 4,000 died in the struggle to stamp out Filipino independence. The Filipino death toll was placed at more than 200,000, going by some estimates.

As for Iraq when first occupied by America, it reads: … “In 2003, a foreign army did not occupy Iraq….Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, but he was an Iraqi. The goal of US policy should be to hand over real, full, and genuine sovereignty to the Iraqi people.”

Thus, “…maximum resistance has triumphed over the maximum pressure," as Iran’s President Raeisi put it.

There is still room for agreement “If the parties are ready to lift the cruel sanctions against the Iranian people” he said, stressing the importance of neutralizing sanctions if they will not be removed, for the Vienna talks to bear fruit.

Anyway, the US still recognizes itself as the leader of the New World Order. It has the indices and necessary tools to do so. Although The US power of widespread interference and aggression, the way we’ve seen over the past decades, has subsided, which could be a tactic or the US really is incapable of doing it anymore.

This doesn’t mean that Washington has lost all its power or has been disappeared from the face of the earth.

If anything, if it’s on the wane, we gain nothing from it because we need to stand on our own feet.

Kiumars Yazdanpanah, Analyst, National Security Affairs


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