A top US official on Iran policy admitted on Monday that the US cannot force Iran to back down in the nuclear standoff, but said that it has succeeded in cornering the Islamic Republic.
US Assistant Secretary of State for Non-Proliferation Dr. Christopher Ford made his comments at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) conference in response to a question on whether the US has any tools to change Iranian nuclear and regional military behavior.
Ford opened his response by saying that Iran has three paths to address America’s “maximum pressure” campaign against it: “It can continue to live under these pressures indefinitely,” it can respond with more provocations – which he said in a not-so-veiled threat “is not in its interest” – or it can “come to the table to settle the issues.”
The US, he added, has “put as much constraints as we can on Iran’s behavior. There are more fundamental structural constraints on what they can do” than in the past.
Ford said that if “under the JCPOA… there were boastful media comments that Iranian proxies were assured to have all the money they want… under the burden of sanctions, there are not so boastful comments about how the Iranians are cutting back.”
The US official said that sanctions have made it “notably harder for Iran to do rampant destabilization. This does not mean it will behave smoothly. Perhaps it is feeling cornered... this means we are doing a pretty good job.”
Furthermore, Ford said that the US had put a major positive negotiation offer on the table to Iran, including “relief of all sanctions… restoration of diplomatic relations and cooperative relations with normal states… You have to behave as a normal state, but I hope it [Iran] will come around to that choice. We cannot make it make that choice, but we can make circumstances that will hopefully” lead Iran to return to being a normal state.
“Maybe it won’t, but I hope it will,” he said.
When Washington’s lack of a military response to the shooting down of one of its drones by Tehran was mentioned, and the option of the US using military force to change Iran’s behavior was noted, he discussed the maximum pressure campaign, and not whether the US might use military force against Iran’s nuclear program.
Later at the same conference, ex-national security council chief Maj.-Gen. Yaakov Amidror said that Israel will likely need to attack Iran directly to stop it from developing nuclear weapons and a “ring of fire” around Israel.
“There might come a situation where we will have to act directly in Iran to stop the Iranians,” Amidror said. “The world is not ready to act… not NATO, not the US… they prefer to close their eyes. It might be costly, it might be problematic, it’s not going to be easy” – but when it comes to ensuring Israel’s security, he said he did not see any alternative.
“There is a strong connection between a nuclear Iran and the ring of fire around Israel,” he explained. “With a nuclear umbrella, Iran would be free to build a ring of fire around Israel,” at which point it would be too late for Jerusalem to stop either the nuclear program or Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region.
The former national security council chief described the “ring of fire” as Iran’s mobilization of forces that can attack Israel in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran with a land bridge to move advanced weapons directly through those areas.
Amidror also warned that if the world did not stop Iran from going nuclear, then Saudi Arabia and Turkey would also go nuclear and that multiple Middle East countries would eventually have weapons that could potentially devastate Moscow, Berlin and Washington.
Also at the conference, German Ambassador to Israel Susanne Baumann seemed to reject reports that Berlin was finally ready to move closer toward snapping back sanctions on Iran.
Reuters reported earlier Monday that German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: “Iran must finally return to its commitments. Otherwise, we will reserve the right to use all mechanisms specified in the deal,” which appeared to be a clear reference to snapback sanctions.
Baumann responded that her understanding was that Maas had not yet threatened the snapback mechanism, and that even if Germany was treating Iran’s expanding violations of the 2015 nuclear deal more seriously, it was still committed to the path of negotiation.
The ambassador struck some other nuanced points, including extolling the 2015 deal, regretting the US having exited the deal, but also admitting there could be life after the JCPOA in the world of arms control.
Maas spoke to the media before entering a meeting with other EU members about handling the nuclear standoff with Iran.