What’s Behind US Unconditional Talks Offer to Iran?
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What’s Behind US Unconditional Talks Offer to Iran?

The Secretary of State started his European trip on Friday by flying to Germany as his first stop. He then flew to Switzerland and from there to the Netherlands. His last station is Britain, where he is expected to join President Donald Trump who has started his London visit to talk to the officials there. The Pompeo trip was scheduled to be held a month ago but when he was in Brussels as the capital of the EU Trump escalated the tensions with Iran. So, he in a surprise visit went to Iraq, delaying his EU trip to this week. This visit comes while a spectrum of differences over international and bilateral issues is overshadowing the EU-US relations. Pressing for anti-Iranian alliance Since Donald Trump’s May 2018 pullout of the Iran nuclear deal, signed in 2015 between Tehran and the six world powers including Washington, the US president went to great lengths to foist a new deal on Tehran. He built his campaign on economic pressures and military action threats. Since then, the White House officials launched an attempt to work out a regional and international consensus against the Islamic Republic. However, they so far have failed to bring their anti-Tehran pressures to fruition by persuading the Europeans to stand by them. Just one proof to this failure is the anti-Iranian Warsaw conference, co-hosted by the US and Poland on 13 and 14 February and aimed to build an alliance against Iran but failed as many European leaders declined to attend it. Now with new happenings in the region, including the highly suspicious attack on the UAE oil tankers in Fujairah Port and the Yemeni drone attacks on the Saudi oil pipelines— in which Washington holds Iran accountable—the White House once again grew new hope of bringing the EU to its side to help force Iran into new negotiations. To this end, Pompeo just before his EU trip claimed that he saw the evidence held by National Security Advisor John Bolton about the Iranian involvement in the oil tankers attack that included also Saudi vessels and will be presented to the United Nations Security Council. “These were efforts by the Iranians to raise the price of crude oil throughout the world," Pompeo told reporters on May 30. The top US diplomat has asked the European countries to dismiss the Iranian nuclear ultimatum— which Tehran finds a legitimate pressure tool to realize what the nuclear agreement guarantees for it—, refrain from commitment to the nuclear deal terms, and halt working on the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), a special-purpose financial vehicle designed to enable trade with Tehran without the US reach. On Tuesday, Brian Hook, the head of the Iran Action Group at the Department of State, warned that any country buying oil from Iran will be sanctioned. Trump ended waivers from sanctions for a number of countries buying oil from Tehran on the anniversary of his withdrawal from the nuclear agreement. Pompeo’s visit to Germany, the economic leader of the EU and the country with the biggest role of objecting to the American interventionist and destabilizing policies in the world, obviously carries the same threat. Pompeo in Germany said the US does not take issue with the system known as INSTEX, so long as it deals with goods not subject to sanctions. “When we think about INSTEX, if it’s aimed at facilitating the movement of goods that are authorized to move, it’s unproblematic,” he said. Unconditioned talks: Retreat or word-play?      One attention-grabbing point in Pompeo’s EU visit was the announcement of the readiness to talk to the Islamic Republic of Iran unconditionally while keeping the maximum pressure against Tehran. He in May 2018 set 12 preconditions for Tehran before any negotiations between the two sides could take place. Now in an apparent shift told reporters at a news conference with his Swiss counterpart "we're prepared to engage in a conversation with no preconditions," adding: "We're ready to sit down with them, but the American effort to fundamentally reverse the malign activity of this Islamic republic, this revolutionary force, is going to continue." He made the remarks during his visit to Switzerland, a country that has played the role of a middle country between the two sides over the past four decades as after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 the US severed ties with the newly-established Islamic Republic which replaced a pro-Western monarchy. This shift is not observable only in Pompeo’s remarks. Over the past few days, Trump in his visit to Japan called on the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to mediate to facilitate negotiations between Iran and the US. Naturally, part of the reason for the US to soften its tone towards Iran is the fact that the American leaders have understood the non-viability of the tool of military and economic pressure in dealing with Tehran to force it to accept new talks on its nuclear program. While the US race of 2020 presidential election is officially launched, Trump’s inability to impose a new deal on Tehran, beside other foreign policy challenges, can effectively undermine his position in the upcoming vote. Trump’s performance has given rise to a consensus inside Iran about the fact that any negotiations with the current US administration are useless and detrimental, despite the variety of views among the Iranian political forces about the foreign policy. Now by talking about unconditional negotiations, the Trump administration is optimistic to sow division between the society and the government in Iran on the issue. Still, we should take into account the fact that Washington is seriously concerned about the way of Iranian reaction to the economic pressures to stop the oil sales. Part of the unconditional negotiations offer stems from an effort to de-escalate the tensions and so prevent Tehran from pursuing retaliatory moves. 

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