PATRICK LAWRENCE: At UN, European Allies & Trump Clip Pompeo’s Hawk Wings

After the recent strikes on Saudi oil facilities, E-3 leaders offered a sop to the secretary of state but resisted key elements of his “maximum hostility” campaign towards Iran while  Trump also distanced himself. 

President Donald Trump speaking at UN press conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, at right. New York, Sept. 25, 2019. (White House/ Shealah Craighead)

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

This week’s General Assembly at the United Nations was supposed to be the hawkish Mike Pompeo’s big moment in his determined campaign against Iran. Having blamed the Islamic Republic with unseemly haste (and no evidence) after the mid–September attacks on two Saudi oil production sites, the secretary of state had hoped the 74th GA would leave Iran decisively isolated, facing still more punishing sanctions, and at risk of a U.S.–led military action.

It has not worked out this way. Netting out a week of frenetic activity among the world leaders assembled in New York, two truths are now clear.

First, President Donald Trump has effectively sidelined Pompeo’s weeks-long effort to generate support for a military response to the attacks in Saudi Arabia. To his credit, Trump remains convinced that the Iran crisis will be resolved — however long this takes — at the mahogany table. This marks a significant turn. From here on out, the hawks still hovering in the Trump White House stand to isolate only themselves if they continue their attempts to scuttle diplomatic dialogue (as they surely will).

Second, a level assessment of swift, back-to-back developments in New York this week suggests it is no longer feasible to isolate Iran as Pompeo and other Trump administration hawks advocate. The Europeans are simply not buying into Pompeo’s “act of war” rhetoric. The Dealmaker, with a re-election campaign in the offing, is eager to hit the hustings with a major foreign-policy success notched onto his holster. He is wrong to think he can coerce Tehran back to the bargaining table, but he is right to want them there. There is no military solution to the Iran crisis. 

Of greatest importance, Iran’s status in the global community, notably but not only among non–Western nations such as China and Russia, gradually leaves it immune when faced with U.S. efforts to sanction it out of existence. Yes, the sanctions regime imposed since Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord hurts. It also leaks. Given that the vast majority of nations disapproves of Washington’s coarse use of human suffering as leverage over Tehran, these leaks are likely to weaken the sanctions regime significantly over time.

Strategic Ambiguity Abounds   

It was all “strategic ambiguity” at the UN this week. On Monday the European signatories to the pact governing Iran’s nuclear programs — Britain, France and Germany; the E–3 — issued a joint statement blaming Iran for the Sept. 14 drone and missile attacks on Saudi oil facilities. But in acquiescing to Pompeo’s version of who was responsible in Saudi Arabia, the Europeans made no mention of imposing new sanctions on Iran or participating in joint patrols of the Persian Gulf, as Pompeo and other administration hawks have urged. The best reading of the E–3’s statement is the simplest: It was a sop of no consequence intended to mollify hawkish factions in the Trump administration.

Pompeo saw this year’s GA as his moment to pull the E–3 back to Washington’s side on Iran, using the Saudi attacks as the occasion they would join what amounts to his “maximum hostility” campaign. The secretary’s failure now lies beyond dispute. As of this week it is clear that the Saudi events in mid–September will not stand as the definitive turning point Pompeo plainly hoped they would be. The Europeans have instead used this GA session to redouble support for a diplomatic solution to the Iran crisis, this time by urging talks between Trump and Hassan Rouhani, his Iranian counterpart, with the purpose of producing a renegotiated accord.

President Donald Trump in bilateral meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at UN headquarters, Sept. 24, 2019. (White House/ Shealah Craighead)

In effect, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron have assumed the mediating role the latter has sought in other contexts recently. Johnson called for new talks between Washington and Tehran as soon as he arrived in New York.  “There’s one guy who can do a better deal,” he said Monday. “I hope there will be a Trump deal.” Irib News, a unit of Iran’s state broadcaster, subsequently carried a video clip of Macron and Johnson as they urged Rouhani to meet Trump on the GA’s sidelines.

Mr. Mixed Signals

Per usual, Trump was Mr. Mixed Signals in New York this week. On Wednesday afternoon the administration announced new sanctions against China for its continuing purchases of Iranian oil. Shortly afterward, the White House said it will bar senior Iranian officials from entering the U.S. When he addressed the GA Tuesday, Trump accused the Iranians of “bloodlust.”

All very good for the headlines. But once again, it is important to read these developments for what they are; gestures consistent with the pre-negotiation tactics Trump has repeatedly deployed with foreign leaders since taking office. None of these moves is likely to prove of any consequence. How many senior Iranian officials are showing up in the U.S. these days? As to the sanctions against China, they will probably serve as a bargaining chip when Sino–U.S. trade talks resume next month.

The Dealmaker’s true intent at the UN was evident in a move one must count imaginative regardless of what one may otherwise think of Trump. In a one-to-one meeting with Imran Khan, he authorized the Pakistani prime minister to mediate in his behalf with Rouhani. Khan, an outspoken critic of Islamophobia in the West, subsequently met the Iranian leader on the GA’s sidelines to discuss an “an amicable solution to the US–Iran standoff,” as Khan’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, put it in an official statement.

Rouhani’s Own Multiple Messages

Irib News clip of French President Emmanuel Macron, at left, and U.K. Prime Minster Boris Johnson with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, in center.

Rouhani also proved adept at sending multiple messages. “Our response to talks under pressure is no,” he said when he addressed the GA Wednesday. He then unfurled Tehran’s standing position: No talks on the nuclear pact unless the U.S. rejoins it as it is and lifts all sanctions. More or less simultaneously, Iranian officials made it clear there was no chance of a Trump–Rouhani handshake in New York this week, as had been anticipated.

But Rouhani stated more clearly than at any time previously that Iran is willing to reopen the nuclear deal. “This is the message of the Iranian nation,” he said at the conclusion of his speech. “Let’s invest in hope toward a better future rather than in war and violence. Let’s return to justice, to peace … and finally to the negotiating table.” The New York Times reported Friday that Rouhani later acknowledged that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the nuclear agreement is formally known, could be broadened to cover questions beyond Iran’s the nuclear program. “We can go beyond the JCPOA,” Rouhani said prior to his departure Thursday.

Where might “beyond” be? There are at least three questions on which Washington and Tehran can find common ground.

The nuclear question should not be a heavy lift. Trump has said many times that his No. 1 priority is making sure Iran does not develop nuclear weapons. Tehran has signaled many more times over many more years that it is ideologically opposed to nuclear weapons; it would not otherwise have signed the nuclear agreement. Iran’s overriding concern lies in adequate defenses. A new accord can nickel-plate its commitment to nonproliferation without much ado.

Iran’s missile programs are more complicated but nonetheless resolvable. Cautiously so as not to rile hardline factions in Tehran, Rouhani and his gifted foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, have also hinted that they are willing to negotiate on limits to missile development. But agreement on this question will require the U.S. to accept that Tehran’s desire to develop defensive missile systems is legitimate given the Islamic Republic’s hostile neighbors — Israel and Saudi Arabia chief among them. Washington has so far ignored this reality.

A third candidate for negotiation is Iran’s call for a regional security mechanism through which conflicts can be resolved without resort to military conflict, armed proxies, Western interventions and the like. Rouhani was expected to outline this concept in his GA speech but stopped short of doing so. Zarif, however, has advanced this proposal on numerous occasions.

The danger of war in the Persian Gulf region has just receded significantly. Trump has managed to push aside his belligerent secretary of state. These are the take-homes from the UN this week. And they are well worth taking home.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale). Follow him on Twitter @thefloutistHis web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site. 

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18 comments for “PATRICK LAWRENCE: At UN, European Allies & Trump Clip Pompeo’s Hawk Wings

  1. mike k
    September 30, 2019 at 11:32

    Pre-election maneuvers by Trump should not give us a false sense of hope that this leopard will somehow magically change his spots, and become a peace loving compromiser.

    • Sam F
      September 30, 2019 at 17:29

      Yes, the Rouhani positions are entirely reasonable and necessary in view of US Mideast conduct since Truman. Trump as well as the other Reps and Dems owe their careers to MIC/zionist/WallSt bribes and have destroyed the institutions of democracy in the US with economic power, a bipartisan coup of rich tyrants. Any policy variations reflect only marketing gambits and shifts among the tyrant gangs.

  2. September 29, 2019 at 08:52

    This is far too positive an assessment of the situation. Virtually unwarranted in my view.

    Again, a kind of implicit effort to boost Trump. The would-be giant held back by pygmies. It’s a popular theme with the Alt-right.

    Ugh! He is the one responsible for all of it.

    Appointing Pompeo. Appointing Bolton. Tearing up treaties like an angry child. Threatening Iran, even using the word “obliterate.” Serving Israel’s narrow interests to the extent of harming America’s genuine long-term interests.

    As far as Rouhani, he has always been reasonable. Always willing to talk, when there are no guns pointed to his head. No new development there.

    And Iran has done nothing but honor its obligations over recent years, something the US has been notably remiss in doing. It is a law-abiding country, but the US has literally lost all regard for the rule of law in the world.

    Boris Johnson? An dangerous imbecile. A version of Trump with an Eton accent.

    Macron? A polished incompetent. A talkative nincompoop with no serious accomplishments..

  3. Tim Jones
    September 28, 2019 at 22:54

    Yes, let’s hope Israel does not stupidly go it alone and bomb something.

  4. Nathan Mulcahy
    September 28, 2019 at 19:34

    Contrary to what the author says, Iran is very very unlikely to compromise on its two core issues: development of its missile program and support of its Middle East allies. As Elijah J. Magnier puts it eloquently, “Trump doesn’t want to understand is that Iran’s missile programme represents the right hand of the country; its allies are its left hand. The entire body cannot survive if they are amputated”. ….. “Iran won’t give him the satisfaction of taking pictures shaking President Hassan Rouhani’s hand for nothing. Iran will not give up its missile programme, nor its allies in whom Iran has heavily invested since 1982”

  5. vinnieoh
    September 28, 2019 at 11:05

    This is all very encouraging, and because of that very fact I expect the crazies in Tel Aviv to be cooking up some big surprise. That is their method and history, trying to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. Is Pompeo the next to exit the theatre of the macabre of the Trump administration? Stay tuned.

  6. Brockland
    September 27, 2019 at 23:57

    Pompeo’s geopolitical instincts are OK insofar as he recognizes its now or never for the U.S. to apply max pressure on Iran. Sort of like how Trump cancelling the JCPOA also wasn’t so bad if it meant Iran’s ballistic missile program could be addressed.

    Except, the scenario is not only maximum pressure but maximum pro-U.S./Saudi/Israel deal. There’s a huge blind spot in the neo-Axis plan as to how everyone else would benefit from a pro-Axis Iranian client regime or be blind to that possible outcome.

    The thin moral pretext to attack Iran had no takers lined up. Europe needs Iranian business. Russia needs Iranian business. China needs Iranian business. India needs Iranian business. Southeast Asia needs Iranian business. Africa needs Iranian business. Iran wants to do business back. Persia has been part of the Eurasian, African and Southeast Asian economies since before the U.S. even existed. Clandestine trade can’t keep enough people happy anymore.

    Gulf War II, careless as that was, had some Marshall Plan fictions about everyone rebuilding Iraq and getting their cut. The deal in 2003 was Saddam versus ending the sanctions siege and returning to normal trade relations, with the U.S. first in line. Saddam was easy to say goodbye to, but Iraq didn’t turn out very well.

    Now with Iran the deal is…?

    For most trade powers, an Iran deal sending them to the back of the line behind the U.S. and a couple of its Middle Eastern allies, whilst in the middle of a global downturn, isn’t worth Iran’s ballistic missile program.

    U.S. sanction threats are the only item standing between a much-needed Iranian payday. The trade dam is likely close to bursting its black market seams.

  7. Abby
    September 27, 2019 at 22:35

    Could this whole Ukraine debacle be coming out to push Trump into war with Iran? It sure seems like every time he balks on some type of military action that there is a new accusation against him. This sure seemed to come out of the blue didn’t it

    The whistleblower act just got changed a few days before this happened too. The rules now state that the whistleblower doesn’t have to have direct knowledge of the event. And how fortunate was it that a person from the CIA was at the WH so people could come to him with their concerns.

  8. Grady
    September 27, 2019 at 19:51

    Strong article by an optimistic and informed author. However, let’s please understand who Trump works for. Perhaps you all can tell me: cut all direct aid to Palestine, cut UN funding to Palestine refugees, cut the JCPOA, moved the embassy to Jerusalem, approved annexing the Golan – illegal, plus more, on public record.

    Now, if you can’t figure THAT out perhaps connecting the dots this way can assist. The zionist project requires the land from the Nile to the Euphrates, all that interfere must be eliminated, and all that support those that interfere must be eliminated. Should we start with who can carry out this project for the zionist entity? Enter the JUSA, fully co-opted, owned and operated; doubts are easily eliminated (see Mersheimer/Walt “The Israel Lobby”, Cynthia McKinney on yutube, “Occupation of the American Mind” on yutube, and googel Oded Yinon Strategy for Greater Israel – never debunked accurately).

    If you still can’t connect the dots then all who oppose the zionist project and support the resistance have been eliminated or are in process of being eliminated: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, then Iran. And, who supports Hezbollah and Hamas, legitimate resistance to illegal occupation? Syria, Iran, Russia (lesser = N Korea, China). So, who targets these countries for regime change and/or destruction – good ole’ JUSA.

    Target Russia, cut off its head and it can’t support Iran or Syria. War with China keeps them out of the ME – ongoing. Cut off Iran’s head it can’t support Syria, Hezbollah or Hamas. Cut off Syria’s head – already divided and close to eliminated, no support for Hezbollah or Hamas. Hezbollah will wipe out the coming israel assault and all know it, so Iran is the newest target even though Israhell directly supported them in the 80s-90s.

    Neocon zionist control of my (former) country drove me out and the other 330+ million still there you are owned by lying filthy scourge of the earth zionists – look at Pence and Pompeo for verification (with many many more).

    Trump was bailed out of bankruptcy by now secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross. Wilbur Ross was head of Rothschild N.A. at the time. Do your own math.

    • Nathan Mulcahy
      September 27, 2019 at 22:41

      Amen bro.

    • michael
      September 28, 2019 at 00:00

      “moved the embassy to Jerusalem”. The US embassy to Israel was moved to Jerusalem by law under Bill Clinton in 1995. Senate unanimously passed a resolution commemorating the 50th anniversary of reunification of Jerusalem by 90-0. The resolution reaffirmed the Jerusalem Embassy Act and called upon the President and all United States officials to abide by its provisions.” Trump abided.

      Hillary’s Libya Model, negotiating against nuclear weapons acquisition by countries to keep them vulnerable to attack at any time, is the ultimate goal of US dealing with Iran. When Israel or Saudi Arabia demands, America will strike Iran.

      It is not clear whether due to incompetence or lack of will, but Trump has disappointed most of the US Establishment in not increasing Obama’s wars from seven to at least eleven (Obama left National Emergencies for war in Venezuela, Ukraine, Central African Republic, and Burundi; setting the table for more war more slaughter). Trump clearly has to go!

    • September 28, 2019 at 10:11

      Grady, salty language but hard to refute any of the points you make. The elephant in the room is pretty hard to squeeze by while pretending he or she doesn’t exist. Trump is a little different in that he proudly boasts of his/her friendship and his commitment to feed it. As much as many despise Trump, very close to nothing is said about his behavior toward Israel and its neighbors.

  9. geeyp
    September 27, 2019 at 17:37

    It was quite interesting watching all of President Trump’s 43 minute press conference at the UN last night. Pompass and the Treasury Secretary Mnuchin stood up on the stage with the President and stayed mum almost the entire time until, towards the end, the President asked them to each say a few words, and that is all they did. Pompass spoke first, and seemed just a touch low key, almost downtrodden. Unusual for his too proud, normal way of acting. Patrick Lawrence explains here what had happened and I thank him for it!

    • robert e williamson jr
      September 27, 2019 at 22:50

      I don’t know how interesting it was. I went away feeling embarrassed for the country because of himself’s 3rd grade effort!

  10. Jeff Harrison
    September 27, 2019 at 17:30

    A very good peroration, Patrick. That said, from what I’ve read Rouhani has flatly said that Iran’s missile program is not up for discussion. Frankly, I don’t see why it would be.

    • vinnieoh
      September 28, 2019 at 11:15


      Perhaps, but I could easily see Iran offering some new articles of agreement guaranteeing that none of their missiles will be developed with an eye towards arming them with nukes. Again, an easy do for the Iranians since they seem to not need nor want nukes. That at least is my guess, at this turn.


    • John Wright
      September 28, 2019 at 17:00

      Jeff –

      At his recent press conference at the UN Rouhani was asked about the JCPOA and missiles.

      Mr. Rouhani takes a humorous approach to the subject of missiles. He’s actually quite willing to discuss limiting missiles in the region, but quite adeptly points out that the U.S. and others in the region would have to greatly reduce their arsenals for Iran to agree to anything in that area. I think it fair to say that this would be the case for any issue relating to demilitarizing the region, which is why the U.S., Israel and the Saudis can be seen to be very disingenuous in their dealings with Iran. They don’t want to give up their advantage and treat Iran equitably.

      The fact that Trump is trying to use Imran Khan as a side channel to reopen negotiations with Iran is clear evidence that Trump now realizes the complete failure of leaving the JCPOA and is trying to engineer some face-saving way of getting back to the table with Iran. ( If only they would simply rename the agreement after Trump!)

      The recent China Iran deal almost certainly precludes anyone but certain crazies in Israel from taking military action against Iran.

      U.S. actions in the region for the last 70+ years have given Iran no reason to trust the U.S.

    • Jeff Harrison
      September 29, 2019 at 12:26

      Vince & John Wright:
      I agree with both of you. What I find amusing is that the Russians are complaining that the US isn’t counting all of their nuclear vehicles as required by START. The US claims that these vehicles (some B-52s and some cruise missiles) “aren’t nuclear capable” and, therefore, don’t count but at the same time won’t allow the Russians to inspect these vehicles to verify US claims.

      No country on the planet has any reason to trust the US for anything, most especially Russia, China, India, and Iran. If you’re wondering why India, during the India/Pakistan wars in the past, Pakistan has had US support for the American weapons cut back during those wars (this from a Pakistani friend of mine from when I was in Tehran) whereas the Russians kept the Indians fully supported. The reasons why the other three would not trust whatever regime is running Washington are obvious. But the US has been steadily painting itself into a corner, as Patrick points out, by virtue of our previous behavior.

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