Tasnim – A political analyst based in London rejected Washington’s recent allegations against the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and said the security body is playing “a fundamental role” in combating terrorist groups in the Middle East region.
“…The IRGC has, on the contrary, played a fundamental role in defeating terrorism in the Middle East by combatting the true terrorist organizations of the region: Al-Qaeda and Daesh and their various affiliates,” Alexander Mercouris said in an exclusive interview with the Tasnim News Agency.
Alexander Mercouris is a writer on international affairs with a special interest in law. He has written extensively on the legal aspects of NSA spying and events in Ukraine in terms of human rights, constitutionality, and international law, being a frequent commentator on television and speaker at conferences. He worked for 12 years in the Royal Courts of Justice in London as a lawyer, specializing in human rights and constitutional law.
Following is the full text of the interview:
Tasnim: As you know, US President Donald Trump, who faced an Oct. 15 deadline to tell Congress whether it will continue to certify the 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), recently refused to certify the multilateral deal. Now, the US Congress will have to decide whether to re-impose sanctions against Iran. What would the US withdrawal from the deal signal to the international community?
Mercouris: In my opinion, the great loser from a US pullout from the JCPOA would be the US itself. The JCPOA is an international agreement negotiated over many years in which the entire international community has joined. Not just the US and Iran but major countries like China and Russia as well as the EU are part of it and support it. It is an agreement signed off by the US President (Barack Obama) and supported by the UN Security Council. If the US now withdraws or tears up the JCPOA – even though the US has failed to cite any evidence that Iran has breached it at least in any material way – then the US will be telling the world:
(1) that its word on a major international agreement cannot be trusted, because there is no guarantee that what one US President agrees to will continue to be agreed to by his successor;
(2) that US foreign policy in the Middle East is driven not by reason and calculation but by emotion and the disproportionate influence within the US of the US’s two big Middle East allies Israel and Saudi Arabia; and
(3) that the US when making policy is completely heedless of the opinions and interests not just of the rest of the international community but of its own most important allies – the NATO states of Europe – all of whom without exception support the JCPOA and none of whom were consulted about or support Trump’s decision to decertify Iran, which on the contrary they are all known to oppose.
The last 15 years have in fact witnessed a steep fall in US prestige and influence around the world and in the Middle East especially as more and more countries begin to doubt that the US is capable of acting rationally and responsibly. A unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA would only compound these fears and will accelerate the decline of the US’s prestige and influence both in the Middle East and internationally.
Tasnim: Trump’s stance against the JCPOA is in stark contrast to other parties to the deal. Envoys from the European Union, Germany, France and Britain have declared that the JCPOA is working and Iran is complying with the agreement. What is your assessment of the comments?
Mercouris: The Europeans are gradually becoming disenchanted by the US and their clear statements of disagreement with Trump’s stance on the JCPOA is a sign of this. There is, in my opinion, a very different attitude to Iran in Europe to the one which exists in the US.
In the US decades of hostility towards Iran taken together with the disproportionate influence in US public and political discourse of Iran’s two major Middle East enemies Israel and Saudi Arabia means that there is little internal opposition to the change of course towards Iran and the JCPOA which Trump is advocating.
By contrast in Europe Iran is recognized as a great nation with a long history which has a pivotal role in Central Asia and the Middle East. At the same time, Europeans simply do not take claims that they are being threatened by Iran seriously. The result is that where the US looks for confrontation with Iran the Europeans look for engagement, and are horrified that US policy appears to be going in the opposite direction.
When discussing European attitudes it is also important to say that Donald Trump is deeply unpopular in Europe. Standing up to him is in Europe a popular policy, and with European opinion favoring engagement with Iran one which on this issue is increasingly likely to be adopted.
I should say that I do not take seriously US threats to fine European companies that trade with Iran in violation of unilateral US sanctions. The legality of those sanctions is open to doubt and In August 2016 former US Secretary of State John Kerry actually said that for the US to begin imposing sanctions on European companies because they trade with Iran against US wishes would be both impractical and would if attempted weaken the international position of the US dollar.
Whilst I doubt that the Europeans are actively looking to pick a fight with the US over the JCPOA, if the US does threaten to pull out of the JCPOA I expect at the very least a significant push-back from the Europeans, with the Europeans making it publicly clear that they disagree with the US and will continue to develop their relations with Iran.
Tasnim: Trump also announced sanctions on the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC). He accused the security body of destabilizing the Middle East and threatening American interests in the region. However, it is evident to everyone that the IRGC is playing a leading role in the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, like Daesh (ISIS or ISIL). What is your opinion about the sanctions and what are the reasons behind Trump’s harsh remarks?
Mercouris: On the subject of the IRGC, it is important to say that it is (1) a wholly legal institution of the Iranian state and is absolutely not some sort of freelance militia let alone a terror organization; (2) that it is only present in other Middle East countries on the express invitation of their legal internationally recognised governments (which is not true of either the US or the Israeli militaries); and (3) that far from sponsoring or supporting terrorism the IRGC has, on the contrary, played a fundamental role in defeating terrorism in the Middle East by combatting the true terrorist organizations of the region: Al-Qaeda and Daesh and their various affiliates.
Indeed it is difficult to see how in either Syria or Iraq Al-Qaeda or Daesh could have been defeated without the help provided to these countries by Iran, primarily via the IRGC. As for the claim that the IRGC and indeed Iran support terrorism or terrorist organizations in the Middle East, this is so completely contrary to the actual facts – Al-Qaeda and Daesh and the various other Takfiri groups that form the terrorist movements of the Middle East are all without exception the mortal enemies of Iran – that I struggle to believe that even Trump truly believes it.
On the subject of the threatened sanctions on the IRGC, it is important to remember that the US has been applying sanctions on Iran in one form or another ever since the Revolution of 1979.
I scarcely think it likely that any more sanctions the US imposes on the IRGC will effect the functioning of that organization in any way. On the contrary, if anything I would guess that they would strengthen the IRGC’s morale rather than reduce its effectiveness.
As to the cause of the US’s hostility to the IRGC, this is partly because the IRGC is seen in the US as a key institution of the Islamic Republic of Iran – a state which the US has opposed ever since its inception in the Revolution of 1979 and which Trump has recently spoken of in the harshest terms – and also because the IRGC is seen as one of the most effective tools of Iranian foreign policy.
The fundamental reality of the modern Middle East is that Iran’s foreign policy since 2001 has been consistently and overwhelmingly successful so that Iran is now friends with Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan, the Central Asian states and Lebanon, whilst US foreign policy has been completely unsuccessful (the US now had difficult relations with all the above-named states).
Moreover the US’s grandiose plans for a “new Middle East” engineered through the imposition of pro-US governments in Iraq and Syria has been a total failure.
Not surprisingly in light of this the US is venting its anger on the country – Iran – which has stood in the way of these plans, and of the institution – the IRGC – which the US believes has played the key role in making them fail.
That explains the harsh rhetoric towards the IRGC, which like the rest of the US’s Middle East diplomacy is becoming increasingly based on emotion rather than proper calculation.