Jonathan Power
Jonathan Power is a Foreign affairs
columnist, film-maker and author


Iranian lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, was this week sentenced to 38 years in jail and 148 lashes. Amnesty International reported. Nasrin is a dedicated human rights campaigner. The persecution of human rights activists in Iran is getting worse.

It makes it hard to feel sorry for Iran. Even when President Trump is wielding his bully stick against it. Even when Trump has sabotaged the International agreement on Iran freezing its weapons tests and uranium enrichment program. Carefully negotiated by, the EU, Russia, China, and the US.

However, Realpolitik demands us to stand up for the International Agreement. But who can be happy stepping in the ring to defend a regime like Iran? Iran executes more people each year than any other country bar China. If Iran wants more enthusiastic outside help it must put its own house in order.

Is the US moving towards war against Iran? Pushing back against America’s now clearly illegal sanctions, Iran has suggested it might soon start work on its nuclear programs again.

This seems to maddened Trump. The White House keeps repeating that Iran is secretly set on making a nuclear bomb.

There are only a few in Europe who believe this was or is the case now. Apart from anything, Iranians have short-range rockets. Iranians have no knowledge of how to miniaturize a bomb to fit on the head of a small rocket, to practice with.

Trump’s militancy on the issue seems to contradict his campaign promise not to involve America in any more Asian wars, all of which have ended disastrously. Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. In all of them he’s pushed for reducing American troops. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for hard lobbying by the Pentagon there would no American troops deployed.

But Iran in Trump’s mind seems to be a different case. The deployment of an aircraft carrier in the Straits of Hormutz near to Iranian waters is a war threat. This is much more serious than the sanctions. There’s no point in having it there unless he is prepared to use its firepower.

Of course, the US would need far more than one aircraft carrier to overcome Iran’s defense forces. It would mean using long-range bombers. Many of them are based in British-controlled territory. But in 2012 on the last occasion the US thought about a war with Iran, at the time of President George W. Bush, the UK government’s attorney general advised Prime Minister Tony Blair that a preemptive military strike on Iran could violate international law. The existence of this secret document suggests that the government believed then that Iran didn’t meet the legal threshold for a “clear and present danger” that would merit such an attack- and that was before the big power Agreement with Iran.

The Guardian newspaper’s investigation which was reported on prominently in the Washington Post concluded that the US was asking for access to British airbases that are strategically located on remote islands, but that the UK refused to cooperate. London is unlikely to be helpful today when, like its European partners, it seriously objects to Trump’s unilateral decision to abrogate the International Agreement with Iran.

One strange footnotes in the run up to the Agreement: the CIA for years said, it found no proof that Iran was developing a bomb, in its annual review.

Iran’s powerful religious leaders have all said loudly that to have a nuclear weapon would go against the teaching of Mohammed. The Iranian public has heard this message time and are unlikely to give their support to a bomb-making effort now. But they will support the right to develop an independent nuclear program to enable it to build civilian power stations. They will support the right for Iran to be self-sufficient in energy in a hostile world.

Iran has made enemies, especially Israel, whose hard line leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, eggs Trump on. It’s true that Iran supports anti-Israeli militias and meddles in other Middle Eastern countries, in particular Syria and Iraq. But Obama’s plan was always to build on the Agreement and then, using the trust that that would create, to go on and negotiate with Iran to be more responsible in its foreign policy.

Trump has got it all back to front.

Before the situation escalates to the real danger zone the matter must be put before the Security Council and with a unanimous vote the US be told to stop its confrontation, and honor the Agreement.