Sadegh Zibakalam: The Europeans won’t save the nuclear deal
- What can be possible impacts of latest sanctions of U.S. on interior policy of Iran in the context of the discussion between reformists and hardliners?
- Trump walked out of the nuclear deal last month. In a sense it has very much helped the hardliners. It has weakened Rouhani’s administration and reformists and strengthened hardliners because anything that shifts Iran away from the West, from the United States and the allies in the region is something that is welcomed by the hardliners. Obviously, they know that the end of the nuclear deal means beginning of new sanctions and a new round of confrontation with the U.S. They have been saying during the past few weeks that reformists were fools trusted the U.S. The hardliners say like: “We told you so, we told you that you cannot trust the U.S., we told you that you mustn’t trust the West, and you see for yourself now. You made all the concessions, you took all the steps, the U.S. didn’t do anything, and nearly after two years the U.S. simply walked out of the deal.”
- Do you think that Rouhani and his team still have the support of the current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei?
- Everyone knows that Rouhani’s government is not something that the Supreme Leader prefers. He obviously prefers a more hardliner administration that the administration which is represented by Rouhani.
- What are your expectations from the European policy towards Iran?
- It is not the political sentiment towards Trump that decides the future of relations but their economy. Many European firms, companies cannot risk freezing economic ties with the United States.
- So do you think that the Europeans won’t be able to save the deal?
- They won’t. Because last year, 2017, there was a billion dollar trade between the EU and the U.S. There was nearly 700 billion export of European companies to the U.S. And I don’t think that European firms are going to risk ruining that prospect for the sake of Iran. Although European leaders’ heart might be with Iran and not with Trump but their economy decides and forces them to be in a line with the U.S. and not with Iran.
- How did the Iranian society react on the whole story with sanctions? In 2014-2015, it was a great support for Rouhani and his Iranian deal, people went to the streets to celebrate the deal. How is it now?
- The majority of the Iranians felt very miserable when Trump decided to walk out of the deal. In the opposite, the hardliners, the more revolutionary, the more radical, the more anti-Western, the more anti-American Iranians felt happy. So you could say that the end of the nuclear deal and the fact that it didn’t get through has very much strengthened the hardliners and their views in Iran. And at the same time it has very much weakened and pushed to the corner reformists.
- Geopolitically it is also about Syria.Do you think that there is any possibility that Iran would step back from Syria under the pressure of the U.S. sanctions or would the confrontation grow?
- Along with the U.S., Russia is putting pressure on Iran indirectly. Bashar Assad is powerful. He has reinstalled into absolute power. And there is no immediate threat against Bashar Assad’s regime. So it appears that Moscow doesn’t need Iranian presence in Syria. Russia is telling the Iranians: “Thank you very much, the Russian and the Syrian regime would not forget your collaboration, your help, but you can go back to Iran because we don’t need you any longer. And if there is a situation that requires your services, we would call you back.” And this is exactly what Israel wants as well: “Alright you were present in Syria because Bashar Assad’s government was in danger because of Daesh, because of Sunni hardliners etc. Now they are finished, now they are no longer threatening Bashar Assad. What are you doing there?”
- Do you think that Russia and Israel have the same position toward Iran’s presence?
- I think the Russians would take the side of Israel not the side of Iran for the simple reason that the Russians realize that the Israeli are right – there’s no reason for Iran to be present in Syria. There’s no immediate danger for Bashar Assad’s stability. So why should Iran insist that it must be present in Syria? Russia is very politely showing the door to the Iranians.
- Do you think Iran will follow the recommendation?
- I think it will follow. Because recently there have been a lot of strikes by the Israeli against Iranian targets in Syria. As far as I know there hasn’t been any retaliation, any reaction from Iran. So it appears that the Iranians are increasingly finding the presence in Syria very costly, very difficult.