US Flip-Flops and Iran’s Rejection of Talks

At the Group of Seven summit in the French resort town of Biarritz (from August 24 to August 26) US President Trump raised the prospect of meeting Iran’s President Rouhani, whom he called a “great negotiator.” His comments followed diplomatic efforts by French President Emmanuel Macron, who sought to mediate between Iran and the United States after Trump unilaterally withdrew from the Iran Nuclear deal on May 7, 2018.

Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement while long anticipated, left the 2015 agreement reached by seven countries after more than two years of grueling negotiations in tatters. Trump also reimposed the stringent sanctions it imposed on Iran before the deal and has since imposed new penalties on that country.

Iran said it would remain in the deal, which tightly restricted its nuclear ambitions for a decade or more, in return for ending the sanctions that had crippled its economy. So did France, Germany and Britain, raising the prospect of a trans-Atlantic clash as European companies face the return of American sanctions for doing business with Iran. China and Russia, also signatories to the deal, accused the United States of violating the accord.

However on August 24, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani dashed hopes of a potential meeting with his US counterpart in the near future, saying the US should lift all sanctions before Iran agrees to talks. President Rouhani’s rejection of talks with the US President did not surprise many, given Trump’s history of flip flops on the international stage and polarising words and actions in the US itself. For example, after increasing sanctions on North Korea and threatening to obliterate that country, referring to its ruler in crude language and bringing the world to the cusp of an outbreak of nuclear warfare in the far east, Trump took the world by surprise when he suddenly announced he would be holding direct talks with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at a summit meeting in Singapore.

The North Korean leader was looking to have the the US engineered UN Security Council resolution designed to impose sanctions on North Korea’s coal, iron and seafood exports lifted in return for ending its nuclear and missile tests. Trump show cased the talks as his ability to make or cut a deal, in even the most difficult circumstances and boasted he achieved what no other US President had been able to achieve. North Korea on its part halted its nuclear tests, destroyed an underground testing facility and halted missile tests.

However, there was no corresponding lifting of sanctions by the US. Only a call for fresh summit, this time in Vietnam. The second summit ended in a fiasco with the North Korean leader leaving midway.

North Korea has subsequently resumed testing missiles… Quite similarly Trump railed and ranted against China’s trading practices claiming it’s trade practices discriminated against US businesses. In July 2019, President Trump followed through on months of threats to impose sweeping tariffs on China. So far, the US has already slapped tariffs on US$550 billion worth of Chinese products, and has threatened more. China retaliated with tariffs of its own, thus starting off a trade war.

Two rounds of talks ensued to end the crisis, but no solution has emerged, only the imposition of further US tariffs on Chinese goods! And now, a fresh round of talks is expected… but nobody is holding their breath. However these have not been the only strange twists and turns in US international politics in recent years.

With the advent of the Trump administration in the US, its President has unilaterally torn up international agreements and unilaterally ended commitments, as for example – withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in 2017 (an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, dealing with greenhouse-gas-emissions mitigation).

Pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and threatened to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Withdrew from UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural organization, in 2018.

Withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council and in August 2018 ended America’s decades of funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency, which helps Palestinian refugees.

And in January 2019 Trump announced he was withdrawing the US from the Nuclear Arms control treaty with Russia.

Not surprisingly Iran has said there can be no talks until the US withdraws all of its sanctions. It also said it was not willing to give President Trump another opportunity for photo ops.

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