Reprinted from Consortium News
President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, announcing the signing of the Iran-nuclear agreement on July 14, 2015.
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A former Obama administration official has asserted that the Iranian nuclear deal marks a radical break with past U.S. policy, contradicting the official White House stance that the agreement is not leading to a new U.S.-Iran relationship.
John Limbert, a Farsi-speaking veteran diplomat who was among the hostages from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and later Professor of Middle Eastern studies at the U.S. Naval Academy, served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran policy during Obama's first term.
Limbert writes, "Although officials will never admit it, there has been a drastic change in relations, and we are seeing interactions that a few [years] ago were unthinkable." Limbert recalls that the United States rarely spoke to an Iranian official for 34 years, and that minor incidents between the two states were blown out of proportion, sometimes into crises.
Now, he observes, Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are "in constant communication" and "are meeting regularly" on issues that go beyond the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Furthermore, the Obama administration has described those contacts as "positive and productive," he writes.
Limbert argues that the attempts by both Washington and Tehran to portray JCPOA as "only a one-off event [that] has no larger implications for U.S.-Iranian relations" are misleading.
"As both governments continue to issue statements that the nuclear agreement has changed nothing and the two sides remain sworn enemies," he writes, "it is clear that much has changed."
Limbert is correct in identifying the state of relations with Iran as a real shift in U.S. policy toward Iran. But the shift is not a "breakthrough" in ending the U.S. policy of treating Iran as an adversary, as he implies.
In fact, it is an adjustment of policy necessitated by the changing U.S.-Iran power relationship. That power relationship is still unequal, but it is now clear that it no longer allows Washington to demand any major policy change by Iran.
Coercion as Policy
For more than three decades, the presumption underlying U.S. policy was that the United States could force Iran to accept a U.S.-dominated regional order, either through regime change or by using coercive diplomacy to get Iran to change its policies to conform to U.S. interests.
The Reagan administration hoped the Iraqi invasion of Iran would lead to the overthrow of the Islamic Republic and tried to force Iran to give up its peaceful nuclear program. The Bill Clinton administration not only sought to isolate Iran from the capitalist world but also supported an Israeli effort to prevent Iran from acquiring a conventional missile capability as a minimum deterrent.
Secretary of State John Kerry meets with his diplomatic team and their French counterparts during negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program in Switzerland on March 28, 2015.
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President George W. Bush's neoconservative core group planned to use U.S. military force to overthrow the Islamic Republic once U.S. troops had gained control over Iraq, and was angry when the Olmert government in Israel failed to use force to take down Iran's only foreign ally, the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, in 2006.
But those policies were based on the neocons' absurdly exaggerated notions about their ability to use U.S. military power to carry out "regime change" in the Middle East.
The Obama administration came to power without such illusions, but President Obama nevertheless adopted an elaborate strategy of coercive diplomacy aimed at getting Iran to accept the U.S. demand for an end to uranium enrichment.