After the collapse of a potential peace deal between the United States and Taliban, the focus in Washington might be turning back to securing a new agreement with Iran. Since American President Donald Trump restored sanctions on the Middle Eastern nation last year, its economy has borne the brunt of the consequences, especially as its oil shipments have fallen to a fraction of their ordinary levels. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has appealed to the international community, in particular to European leaders, for an economic solution. Now, thanks to French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump is possibly considering a $15 billion stimulus package for Tehran.
The relief would be extend as a line of credit and would account for half of Iran’s year oil revenue prior to the sanctions. Additionally, the Trump administration would resume issuing waivers which would allow companies to do business once again with Iran without fear of retaliation by the U.S. government. Trump has reportedly been convinced to at least consider the option after several conversations with Macron. The French president has maintained one of the more-nuanced stances on the issue with his government often calling for both sides to reach a peaceful resolution. Together with his counterparts across Europe, Macron helped create INSTEX, a barter system allowing for goods to flow between the European Union and Iran that went online last month.
Tehran has made clear that its economy is top priority and it has expressed a continued willingness to discuss options. Even so, Hassan Rouhani has kept a dignified posture when speaking on the issue, refusing to beg for help.
“The enemy imposed ‘maximum pressure on us. Our response is to resist and confront this,” Rouhani told his advisors on Wednesday. “The Americans must understand that bellicosity and warmongering don’t work in their favor. Both … must be abandoned.”
Trump’s campaign to cripple the Iranian economy has led to the seizure of oil tankers and the cancellation of business deals from companies and nations spanning the globe. Even governments that were initially granted waivers sometimes refused to use them out of fear of Trump targeting them. ‘Maximum pressure’ has worked, to say the least.
With the firing of National Security Advisor John Bolton, the power dynamic within Trump’s inner circle could quite possibly shift. Bolton, an ardent war-hawk, once penned a New York Times opinion piece titled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” Accounts from diplomats who experienced working with Bolton in the past painted a picture of a stubborn man hell-bent on creating war with Iran.
Discussions between Trump and Macron have evolved over the past few weeks, a timespan in which Bolton was still lingering around the Oval Office. It is likely that Trump may have been leaning towards offering a concession to Rouhani, but Bolton’s guidance was preventing him from making that step. Now that he is gone, Trump is free to either follow his own instinct or listen to more diplomatic voices, such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who was widely-rumored to have disagreed with Bolton on foreign policy ranging from Iran to North Korea.
Bolton’s firing comes at a critical time: Rouhani announced Saturday that it would breach a third limit of the Iranian Nuclear Deal by start work on advanced centrifuges. Previously, Tehran exceeded both enrichment and stockpile caps which were set by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Crossing these redlines is not something Iranian leadership takes lightly, nor do they come unexpectedly. They are clear measures broadcast well in advance that Tehran takes in an effort to force European governments to provide relief and, hopefully, to bring America back to the JCPOA.
European leadership has repeatedly condemned the moves by Tehran, but has so far refused to activate measures within the 2015 deal to punish Iran. However, heads of state such as Macron have pleaded with Rouhani to return to compliance if he expects sanctions to be removed. Perhaps that will not be necessary as Trump weighs the option of providing $15 billion worth of relief and possibly even reducing some of the sanctions in order to convince Rouhani to return to the negotiating table. When asked about the possible shift in tactics, Trump shied away from confirming or denying reports and only replied, “We will see what happens.”