President Donald Trump, in today’s televised address to the nation said that Iran appears to be backing away from conflict with the U.S. He also indicated that there will no further U.S. military strikes, after an Iranian missile barrage on U.S. bases that seemed calibrated to avoid further escalation. “Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.”
What struck me the most in Trump’s discourse is what he said at the very beginning: “As long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.” While I hope that I am wrong, I have a gut feeling that Iran already possesses such power. Whether the Iranian regime does or not, it is not going to brag about it as North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un has been doing. My personal experience with Persians for these past ten years has been something along the line, “if Iranians say they seek to accomplish something, they already have.” That being said, if the Trump administration is so apt to keep nuclear technology away from rogue regimes, why is it helping Saudi Arabia achieve this?
In early March of this year, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry approved six secret authorizations by companies to sell nuclear power technology and assistance to Saudi Arabia. The apparent goal is to construct at least two nuclear power plants in the Kingdom.
Concern in both houses of Congress about sharing nuclear technology and knowledge with the Saudis arose after the American-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed and dismembered last October in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
After Saudi Arabia belatedly confessed to its role in the murder, it has insisted that the crown prince (and effective ruler), Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud (MBS) was oblivious to the plot carried out by a 15-man team, which included members of his security detail. Many American lawmakers object to this “unconditional” military support to Saudi Arabia citing humanitarian and other concerns. Last August, a Saudi-led coalition warplane bombed a school bus in northern Yemen, killing 51 people, 40 of them children. The four-year-campaign has killed an estimated 50,000 civilians; in addition, nearly 12 million are reported to be on the verge of starvation.
While officially, Saudi Arabia will be required to forgo enriching or reprocessing spent uranium if it wants to secure a nuclear-technology-sharing deal with the U.S., the Trump administration has been in negotiations with the Saudis for an agreement that could benefit Westinghouse Electric Co. and other American companies that want to construct or sell nuclear reactor technology to the kingdom. This too has has been met with increasing alarm by Congress and others concerned that the Saudis could enrich nuclear fuel into weapons grade material. Those concerns were heightened after the Trump administration said it might not insist on the so-called “Gold Standard” barring such activities.
To think that the Saudis, after all of their human rights violations, which includes public beheadings and crucifixions and suppression of freedom of speech and religion, would be faithful to any accord that would limit their goals is as good as relying on the Iranian regime staying faithful to the nuclear deal it agreed to in 2015 with the United Kingdom, Russia, France, and China and Germany. The very fact Iran recently pulled out as a result of the conflict with the U.S.—as if the deal were exclusively contingent on America—shows it had no consideration for the other countries that were part of the agreement. This will only incentivize Saudi Arabia to get nukes of its own.
It serves us to know that the present Iranian crisis is fixated on the American military presence in Iraq. Iran want the U.S. out so that it could expand its hegemony over the predominant Shi’ite population; the U.S. wants to stay for the same reason it invaded the country in 2003: exploitation of oil and natural resources.
For anyone who has had direct contact with people in the Middle East, he or she understands that the indigenous people do not distinguish one American president from the other, i.e., regardless of the policies of individual U.S. presidents, it is still the same United States of America. Hence, Iraqi Shi’ites and even Christians view the U.S. with great suspicion. And there is reason for this.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, instead of using the opportunity to widen the circle of U.S. allies or at least non-enemies in the Middle East, the Bush administration declared war on “all terrorism of global reach,” not just on the Sunni terrorists responsible. That meant not seeking some sort of détente with Shiite Iran—despite its assistance in overturning the Taliban in Afghanistan and forming a replacement government—but putting Tehran in an “Axis of Evil” with North Korea and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
The Bush administration also reneged on its promise never to trade leaders of the Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK)—a militant Iranian group nurtured by Saddam that fought on Iraq’s side during the Iran-Iraq war—for members of al-Qaeda detained in Iran. Instead the U.S. gave the group protection arguing that the MEK could be deployed against Iran.
In any case, Trump, while rightfully pressing Iran to change its inhumane behavior, cannot look the other way when it comes to other draconian regimes, such as the ruling-Saud family in Saudi Arabia or Turkish President Recep Erdogan—they appear to be the victors in all this. He has gone our of his way to sell arms to the Saudis, let alone providing the means to develop nuclear power; he has called Erdogan a “hell of a leader” and a “friend.” Trump can still and should change his behavior toward them, lest he gives credence to what his critiques say: “Donald Trump seems to dislike all Muslims, except those who buy American arms or host Trump properties.”