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Iran, JCPOA, Trump, Biden: History and prospects

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On January 20, 2021 the newly elected US President Joseph Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. It looks like none of the previous 45 presidents had to deal with such a huge burden of problems inherited from the predecessor, both in domestic and foreign policies.

On his first day in office President Biden signed about 15 decrees that annul a number of resolutions by the ex-President Donald Trump.However, it is hardly possible to wipe out all of Trump’s provocatively empathizing decrees with just one go even if at such a high level. This requires scrupulous work. And it is this kind of work that is needed with regards to the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI).

Many political analysts, including those in America, believe that foreign policy will not top the agenda of the Biden administration. Nevertheless, he will have to tackle many issues which resulted from Trump’s policy beyond the bounds of the US. One of the most pressing ones is the Middle East, which abounds in hot spots.

What makes the issue of the Middle East special is that no matter where the newly  elected president casts his reformist glance – on US-Arab and US-Israeli relations, on Palestinian-Israeli conflict, on the situation in Yemen and Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, Afghanistan and Kurdistan, in the  Persian Gulf – everywhere he faces Iran. Tehran has spread its influence to nearly the whole of the Middle East.

The main thing is to reactivate JCPOA

Given the situation, the administration of Joe Biden, who repeatedly called for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian issue, is doomed to a dialogue with IRI. Here, the new president is destined to encounter a variety of “stumbling blocks” which, in the opinion of Washington, incorporate human rights in Iran, Iran’s policies in the region and worldwide, its missile program, and its nuclear project. However, no one doubts that the nuclear program is of primary importance and of global value. A solution to the Iranian nuclear program would both stabilize the nuclear non-proliferation regime and would pave the way if not for a complete and final settlement of the other Iran- and region – related issues, then to a comprehensive discussion and to the arrival at mutual understanding on the positions of the opponents, which will, undoubtedly, reduce the existing tension.

For today, a key point in addressing the Iranian nuclear issue is re-activation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in which both Tehran (the US sanctions are stifling the Iranian economy), and Washington (the political ideologeme of Democrat Joe Biden) are equally interested in. All this makes a promising signal to getting down to work.

As is known, the JCPOA was adopted by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, as well as by Germany, the European Union and Iran in July 2015, was approved by the UN Security Council. Its purpose is to contain the IRI’s nuclear program, and to intensify the IAEA’s control of it with a view to prevent the possibility of creating nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of financial, economic and trade sanctions, imposed earlier by the IRI opponents. JCPOA provisions remain valid 5-25 years.

Iran’s commitments under the JCPOA Treaty somewhat differed from those of the counteragents. IRI was required to carry out a complicated technical restructuring of its nuclear infrastructure, take a wide range of measures to reduce, and in some areas, to curtail research and development projects, and to change nuclear research programs. Even taking into account the participation and assistance of the Iranian counteragents on the JCPOA and the IAEA, this means extensive but necessary for the nuclear non-proliferation, work.

Meanwhile, the United States (in the first place) and the European Union vowed to lift all anti-Iranian sanctions, introduced in connection with the Iranian  nuclear program.

The adoption of the JCPOA opened up new opportunities to settle the Iranian nuclear issue and create a precedent for resolving nuclear and other disputable issues that emerge worldwide using the experience and example of this treaty.

However, Donald Trump, who came to power in the US in January 2017, struck a deadly knockout blow at this reasonable nuclear agreement. On May 8, 2018 President Trump pulled the USA out of the JCPOA Treaty and slapped tough sanctions on the IRI. Tehran had to respond – on May 8, 2019 it launched a stage-by-stage process to stop implementing the requirements set by the nuclear deal.

JCPOA – collapse history and the present

USA. President Trump, on leaving the nuclear agreement, recalled American experts and scientists who under the Plan worked in Iran carrying out the restructuring of the IRI nuclear infrastructure, reformatting the nuclear facilities so as to make them unfit for being used to produce nuclear weapons. For instance, a working group consisting of representatives of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the Atomic Energy Agency of China and the US Energy Department was set up to work on the heavy water reactor IR-40 in Araks, with a capacity of producing up to 10 kg of weapons-grade plutonium a year, which is equivalent to the amount of fissionable material needed for about two-three nuclear warheads on the basis of plutonium. In 2017 the Americans left the facility. The same happened to the other US projects within the JCPOA. The US also stopped financing projects aimed at implementing the provisions of the nuclear agreement.

The Trump administration did not withdraw from the nuclear deal without pomp, pulling a PR trigger by bringing back the former sanctions and introducing the tougher ones (all in all, about 100 sanctions), and deliberately delaying the process of lifting anti-Iranian sanctions on the part of the EU.

European Union. Britain, France and Germany, as participants and co-authors of JCPOA, came up against President Trump’s policy on Iran. With the approval of Russia and China, European countries managed to work out, register and launch the Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchanges with Iran – INSTEX. Unfortunately, this Instrument proved ineffective under the pressure of US sanctions, which affected any legal and physical persons that had business ties with the IRI.

Moreover, Trump’s sanctions hit hard not only on the Iranian economy, but also on the reconstruction of Iranian nuclear facilities within the JCPOA. In May 2020 the United States annulled temporary exemptions from the earlier introduced regime of sanctions against the Iranian nuclear program. These exemptions made it possible for Tehran to obtain assistance from JCPOA signatories in acting on the Plan’s requirements to present guarantees of the peaceful nature of its nuclear program. They affected, in the first place, projects which were pursued (without Americans) by Russian, Chinese, European scientists and experts in compliance with the requirements of the JCPOA. This concerns operations on the Fordo works and on the Araks reactor.

European participants of the nuclear deal were unable to resist the American sanctions. By early 2021 the JCPOA de facto ceased to exist, under the attack of the US.

Russia and China. These countries – co-authors and active participants in negotiating, signing and implementing the JCPOA, which opposed any sanctions, – did their utmost to preserve the nuclear deal. That Iran has not de jure pulled out of it is to the credit of Moscow and Beijing.

Iran. Exactly a year after the US withdrawal from the JCPOA on May 8, 2019 Tehran announced a gradual pullout of its commitments under the nuclear deal. During this period Iranians returned their nuclear program to the 2015 level, and even exceeded this level on some points.

Iran breached the JCPOA (which was inevitable under the circumstances) practically on all points.

Tehran stopped the restructuring of the Fordo nuclear facility into a research center, so the plant will again become a uranium enrichment facility. The Natanz nuclear complex has expanded its capacity. The heavy water reactor in Araks is returning to its original state of a weapons-grade plutonium plant.

The number of active centrifuges is rising, as more and more cascades are formed of them. Being commissioned are the  cutting-edge maximum efficiency centrifuges IR-2m, IR-4, IR-6.

Uranium enrichment level is rising from the permissible 3,67% to 4,1 and 20%.

The volume of enriched uranium reserves allowed under the agreement has increased 12 times. Heavy water reserves are on the rise as well.

The production of yellow cake (a uranium concentrate produced from uranium ore) which is used as a foundation for further enrichment, has increased eightfold.

IRI has launched preparations for the production of uranium metal, which can be used in nuclear reactors and weapons. It has to be explained that even weapons-grade uranium which is enriched in centrifuges to 90 % is not an explosive but a gas, which is not enough to produce an atomic bomb. To make it a weapon gaseous uranium needs to undergo a specific technological treatment which includes at least four or five stages. As a result, gas turns into a metal, which is used for making a nuclear warhead. Until recently, experts had doubts that Iran possesses the high technology and chemically pure substances to complete the process of transforming uranium from gas into metal. Now, it appears, that there are no more such doubts.

On December 1, 2020 Majlis ratified the “Strategic Plan for Counteracting Sanctions” as law. On December 2 the law received the approval of the Supervisory Council. This document stipulates activization and intensification of IRI’s nuclear research, sets the uranium production limit at 120kg of 20% uranium per year, provides for accumulating uranium reserves, for using at least 1000 IR-2m centrifuges in underground facilities of the Natanz center, and for transferring all enrichment, research and development operations with the use of IR-6 centrifuges to a nuclear  plant in  Fordo.

Speaking in Majlis on December 1, deputy Abolfazl Amoui said that the Plan is designed to unlock the ban on the Iranian nuclear program and achieve the goals set by the “nuclear martyr” Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was killed by terrorists suspected of ties with Israel.

On January 4 IRI announced the start of uranium enrichment to 20%. The next day they obtained the first results. Soon afterwards Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) representative Behrouz Kamalvandi announced that Iran had made so much progress in the nuclear area that “we can easily enrich uranium to any level, even higher than 40, 60 and 90”. Mr.Kamalvandi specified that “in accordance with the new law (The Strategic Plan for Counteracting Sanctions) the AEOI is allowed to enrich uranium to more than 20% if it is necessary for other industries”, adding that “we are contemplating other industries as well”.He did not specify, however, which industries he meant exactly. Could they be the military ones?

Iran’s view on the solution of the JCPOA problem

The law stipulates that within two months after its adoption (February 2021), the Iranian government is to suspend the regulating access of IAEA inspectors, in accordance with the nuclear deal, along with the Additional Protocol to the Agreement on IAEA Guarantees . Three months after the adoption of the law, if Iran’s banking operations in Europe and the volume of oil purchases from Iran do not return to a satisfactory level, the government will have to discontinue the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol.

Majlis Deputy Ahmad Amirabadi pointed out on January 9 that if sanctions against IRI were not cancelled by February 21, particularly in banking, finance, and oil, “Iran will send IAEA experts out of the country and will surely discontinue the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol…<…>. The new administration of the US will get down to work on January 21. We have given the Americans one month to cancel sanctions, otherwise IRI will defend the interests of its people”. Saying that the main purpose of the JCPOA was  the lifting of sanctions, which did not happen, the deputy concluded: «We see no reasons for acting on our commitments until sanctions are lifted».

The above mentioned deputy Abolfazl Amoui confirmed on January 8: «Iran’s major goal in JCPOA is the cancellation of sanctions».

Speaking on television the same day, Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei said that the parliamentary decision (The Strategic Plan for Counteracting Sanctions), and the government’s measures to cut down on the commitments under the JCPOA are the right thing to do and are fully rational: «The Islamic Republic has been acting on its commitments, but in a situation when the other party is not acting on their commitments, we find it pointless to  act on ours (under the JCPOA)». He added: «Of course, if the other side returns to their commitments, we will return to ours as well».

Ayatollah Khamenei emphasized: «We do not insist on the US returning to the nuclear agreement. Whether they will do it or not is not our business. We demand the lifting of sanctions. This is a right, earned by the Iranian people». In his words, the United States and European countries must guarantee Iranians this right.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was in Moscow, told his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov at a joint press conference on January 26: «What we have heard from the new US administration is just words. We will react to actions». In his words, when the United States lifts the illegally imposed sanctions, which run counter to the JCPOA and Resolution 2231 of the UN Security Council, when they stop punishing law-abiding countries, Iran will be ready to react in an appropriate way. That is, it appears that Tehran will be prepared to return to a complete implementation of its commitments under the JCPOA as soon as the United States lifts the sanctions.

However, Iran’s opponents have little time, if at all, Iranian experts say. IRI government representative Ali Rabei has said that the United States and European countries of the JCPOA will not have a window of opportunities for acting on their commitments for ever. According to the schedule, the law approved by parliament, Mr.Rabei pointed out, the first steps to cut the number of inspectors working under the Additional Protocol will be taken in the first week of March. But inspectors working under the general Agreement on IAEA guarantees will continue their regular work as before.

Clarifying Russia’s position on the JCPOA, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said  during a visit of his Iranian counterpart: «We are worried that Iran has to depart from acting on its voluntary  commitments under the JCPOA. We understand that the problem stems from systematic years-long violation by the Trump administration of their commitments under Resolution 2231 of the UN Security Council, which approved the JCPOA». The Russian minister expressed hope for a favorable outcome: «We hope that the currently taken efforts will produce good results and will preserve the JCPOA, and that the United States will get back to implementing the above mentioned resolution. This, in turn, will create conditions for complying with all the requirements of the nuclear deal by the Islamic Republic of Iran».

However, the path towards a positive solution of the “Iranian issue” which would satisfy all parties, is thorny.

Even a perfunctory analysis of the work and statements by Iranian authorities suggest that Iran is ready to return to the scrupulous implementation of requirements under the JCPOA and cancel all the activities that go beyond the bounds of the Plan but ONLY AFTER the lifting of sanctions on the part of the United States and other countries. The deadline for decision taking (first of all, in Washington) is limited by the Iranians to two or three months. Next could come the withdrawal of IRI from the  JCPOA de jure and the  breakage of many agreements with the  IAEA with unpredictable, but, clearly catastrophic, consequences.

But, considering the critical social and economic situation at home, the Iranian leadership will have to start a dialogue with the USA. It might be because of this that Tehran is urgently intensifying its nuclear activity and toughening its rhetoric, so that it could accumulate enough bargaining power ahead of an inevitable dialogue with the USA and other participants in the JCPOA.

US glance on the solution of the JCPOA issue

New US President Joe Biden said during his election campaign that he was willing to return the United States in the JCPOA and act towards resolving a whole range of issues related to Iran. He presented his plan in one of his September interviews: “First, I will make an unshakable commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Second, I will offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy. If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations. With our allies, we will work to strengthen and extend the nuclear deal’s provisions, while also addressing other issues of concern.  <…>. Third, we will continue to push back against Iran’s destabilizing activities, which threaten our friends and partners in the region. <…> We will continue to use targeted sanctions against Iran’s human rights abuses, its support for terrorism and ballistic missile program”.

In brief, Biden’s idea is the following: negotiations – yes! (on the American conditions), but not only on the nuclear program, but on Iranian missiles, IRI’s activities in the  Middle East and on human rights.

Having estimated Joe Biden’s position on the Iranian issue, we can state with 100% confidence that to resolve the range of problems outlined by the president in the foreseeable future is impossible. Tehran has no intention of conducting a dialogue with Washington on issues other than the nuclear one, which is closely connected to the lifting of sanctions.

In the above mentioned televised address IRI’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei said that any future talks with the West should be confined to the nuclear problem. In his opinion, Washington is the one trying to destabilize the region, whereas Tehran is the stabilizing agent, which must strengthen its friends in the region. Consequently, he made it clear that Iran’s regional presence would continue.

In the same way, Khamenei described the missile program and other military efforts as defensive, saying that the West wanted Iran to be “defenseless” so that enemies “would not be afraid to bombard our cities”, as Saddam Hussein did in the past decades. He argued that by improving its missile arsenal and other systems, Iran would be able to contain its enemies and make them reckon with Iran.

As for the JCPOA, there are differences in principle between the positions of Ayatollah Khamenei and President Biden. Both put forward their conditions, insisting on the first move of the opponent. Biden requires IRI to return to the “nuclear condition” of 2015 before the US could lift sanctions, while Ayatollah Khamenei wants, in the first place, the lifting of American and other countries’ sanctions before it could return gradually to the JCPOA. Naturally, such positions lead to a deadlock.

In order to overcome this hypothetical deadlock (hypothetical because practical work on the reactivation of the JCPOA is yet to begin) the United States is considering several scenarios. Tough and mild. Dennis Ross, former special adviser to President Barrack Obama, now an employee of the Washington Institute of Middle East Policy, presents both.

The former option presupposes the use of the so-called “reserves” built by Trump. Dennis Ross, together with co-author Juan Zarate, writes: “The Trump administration’s wholesale withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement was a mistake and has given Iran an excuse to accelerate its nuclear program. Yet its “maximum pressure” campaign has certainly created leverage that should not be discounted. The supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, may be trying to force Iran onto the Biden administration’s agenda by, among other things, enriching uranium to 20% and showing that the Islamic Republic presents a problem that must be addressed. But, as his words in a recent speech indicate, the Iranian leader is doing so not because he wants the U.S. to rush to rejoin the nuclear deal but because he wants sanctions relief — which Iran should not get for free.”

In his other article on Iran and the JCPOA Dennis Ross suggests using temporary agreements on specific issues related to the nuclear problem. One option would be to allow Iran access to some frozen Iranian accounts in exchange for freezing or reducing the reserves of low-grade uranium, or allowing some countries to purchase Iranian oil in exchange for Iran’s demolishing cascades of present-day centrifuges.In essence, this is a «step by step» method, which, undoubtedly, makes the solution-finding process longer, but on the other hand, with every step it adds to mutual trust, which the two sides are lacking at the moment. Incidentally, the «step by step» method for solving the Iranian nuclear problem was suggested in 2011, by Sergei Lavrov, and this  method  has proved its efficiency for the JCPOA.

Conclusion

The International Crisis Group believes, and not without reason, that the arrival of the Biden administration in January 2021 may become instrumental in overcoming the nuclear and regional confrontation between the United States and the IRI. A revival of the American-Iranian diplomatic ties on the basis of the JCPOA could bring back this agreement’s considerable advantages in non-proliferation, revive contacts, which faded away overshadowed by the aggressive US maximalism towards Iran, and suggest the prospect of discussing issues beyond the nuclear dossier, in a constructive, rather than a confrontational manner. In the future, a nuclear agreement could pave the way to a dialogue between Iran and the Arab countries of the Gulf, supporting a diplomatic process backed by foreign and regional powers.

But a transition from confrontation to cooperation is bound to be a difficult process, which will require rising above the high level of mutual distrust and hard-going talks.

From our partner International Affairs

Senior research assistant at RAS Institute of Oriental Studies, candidate of historical sciences

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Hardened US and Iranian positions question efficacy of parties’ negotiating tactics

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The United States and Iran seem to be hardening their positions in advance of a resumption of negotiations to revive a 2015 international nuclear agreement once Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes office in early August.

Concern among supporters of the agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program which former US President Donald J. Trump abandoned in 2018 may be premature but do raise questions about the efficacy of the negotiating tactics of both parties.

These tactics include the Biden administration’s framing of the negotiations exclusively in terms of the concerns of the West and its Middle Eastern allies rather than also as they relate to Iranian fears, a failure by both the United States and Iran to acknowledge that lifting sanctions is a complex process that needs to be taken into account in negotiations, and an Iranian refusal to clarify on what terms the Islamic republic may be willing to discuss non-nuclear issues once the nuclear agreement has been revived.

The differences in the negotiations between the United States and Iran are likely to be accentuated if and when the talks resume, particularly concerning the mechanics of lifting sanctions.

“The challenges facing the JCPOA negotiations are a really important example of how a failed experience of sanctions relief, as we had in Iran between the Obama and Trump admins, can cast a shadow over diplomacy for years to come, making it harder to secure US interests,” said Iran analyst Esfandyar Batmanghelidj referring to the nuclear accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by its initials.

The Biden administration may be heeding Mr. Batmangheldij’s notion that crafting sanctions needs to take into account the fact that lifting them can be as difficult as imposing them as it considers more targeted additional punitive measures against Iran. Those measures would aim to hamper Iran’s evolving capabilities for precision strikes using drones and guided missiles by focusing on the providers of parts for those weapon systems, particularly engines and microelectronics.

To be sure, there is no discernable appetite in either Washington or Tehran to adjust negotiation tactics and amend their underlying assumptions. It would constitute a gargantuan, if not impossible challenge given the political environment in both capitals. That was reflected in recent days in Iranian and US statements.

Iranian Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested that agreement on the revival of the nuclear accord was stumbling over a US demand that it goes beyond the terms of the original accord by linking it to an Iranian willingness to discuss its ballistic missiles program and support for Arab proxies.

In a speech to the cabinet of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, he asserted that the West “will try to hit us everywhere they can and if they don’t hit us in some place, it’s because they can’t… On paper and in their promises, they say they’ll remove sanctions. But they haven’t lifted them and won’t lift them. They impose conditions…to say in future Iran violated the agreement and there is no agreement” if Iran refuses to discuss regional issues or ballistic missiles.

Iranian officials insist that nothing can be discussed at this stage but a return by both countries to the nuclear accord as is. Officials, distrustful of US intentions, have hinted that an unconditional and verified return to the status quo ante may help open the door to talks on missiles and proxies provided this would involve not only Iranian actions and programs but also those of America’s allies.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks seemed to bolster suggestions that once in office Mr. Raisi would seek to turn the table on the Biden administration by insisting on stricter verification and US implementation of its part of a revived agreement.

To achieve this, Iran is expected to demand the lifting of all rather than some sanctions imposed or extended by the Trump administration; verification of the lifting;  guarantees that the lifting of sanctions is irreversible, possibly by making any future American withdrawal from the deal contingent on approval by the United Nations Security Council; and iron-clad provisions to ensure that obstacles to Iranian trade are removed, including the country’s unfettered access to the international financial system and the country’s overseas accounts.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks and Mr. Raisi’s anticipated harder line was echoed in warnings by US officials that the ascendancy of the new president would not get Iran a better deal. The officials cautioned further that there could be a point soon at which it would no longer be worth returning to because Iran’s nuclear program would have advanced to the point where the limitations imposed by the agreement wouldn’t produce the intended minimum one year ‘breakout time’ to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb.

“We are committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely. At some point, the gains achieved by the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it’s undertaken with regard to its nuclear program…The ball remains in Iran’s court, and we will see if they’re prepared to make the decisions necessary to come back into compliance,” US Secretary Antony Blinken said this week on a visit to Kuwait.

Another US official suggested that the United States and Iran could descend into a tug-of-war on who has the longer breath and who blinks first. It’s a war that so far has not produced expected results for the United States and in which Iran has paid a heavy price for standing its ground.

The official said that a breakdown in talks could “look a lot like the dual-track strategy of the past—sanctions pressure, other forms of pressure, and a persistent offer of negotiations. It will be a question of how long it takes the Iranians to come to the idea they will not wait us out.”

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Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn

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Photo: Miller Center/ flickr

US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, had high hopes for the meeting in China. At first, the Chinese side did not agree to hold the meeting at all. The reaction had obvious reasons: Antony Blinken’s fiasco in Alaska left the Chinese disrespected and visibly irritated. This is not why they travelled all the way.

So then the State Department had the idea of sending Wendy Sherman instead. The US government actually needs China more than China needs the US. Sherman was in China to actually prepare the ground for Biden and a meeting between the two presidents, expecting a red carpet roll for Biden as if it’s still the 2000s — the time when it didn’t matter how the US behaved. Things did not go as expected.

Instead of red carpet talk, Sherman heard Dua Lipa’s “I got new rules”. 

That’s right — the Chinese side outlined three bottom lines warning the US to respect its system, development and sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, China wants to be left alone.

The bottom lines were not phrased as red lines. This was not a military conflict warning. This was China’s message that if any future dialogue was to take place, China needs to be left alone. China accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy”. I have written about it before — the US is looking for a new Cold War but it doesn’t know how to start and the problem is that the other side actually holds all the cards

That’s why the US relies on good old militarism with an expansion into the Indo-Pacific, while aligning everyone against China but expecting the red carpet and wanting all else in the financial and economic domains to stay the same. The problem is that the US can no longer sell this because there are no buyers. Europeans also don’t want to play along.

The headlines on the meeting in the US press are less flattering than usual. If the US is serious about China policy it has to be prepared to listen to much more of that in the future. And perhaps to, yes, sit down and be humble.

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Why Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer

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When Sarah Huckabee Sanders showed up on the scene as White House Press Secretary, the reaction was that of relief. Finally — someone civil, normal, friendly. Jen Psaki’s entry this year was something similar. People were ready for someone well-spoken, well-mannered, even friendly as a much welcome change from the string of liars, brutes or simply disoriented people that the Trump Administration seemed to be lining up the press and communications team with on a rolling basis. After all, if the face of the White House couldn’t keep it together for at least five minutes in public, what did that say about the overall state of the White House behind the scenes?

But Psaki’s style is not what the American media and public perceive it to be. Her style is almost undetectable to the general American public to the point that it could look friendly and honest to the untrained eye or ear. Diplomatic or international organization circles are perhaps better suited to catch what’s behind the general mannerism. Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer, but a Sean Spicer nevertheless. I actually think she will do much better than him in Dancing With The Stars. No, in fact, she will be fabulous at Dancing With The Stars once she gets replaced as White House Press Secretary.

So let’s take a closer look. I think what remains undetected by the general American media is veiled aggression and can easily pass as friendliness. Psaki recently asked a reporter who was inquiring about the Covid statistics at the White House why the reporter needed that information because Psaki simply didn’t have that. Behind the brisk tone was another undertone: the White House can’t be questioned, we are off limits. But it is not and that’s the point. 

Earlier, right at the beginning in January, Psaki initially gave a pass to a member of her team when the Politico stunner reporter story broke out. The reporter was questioning conflict of interest matters, while the White House “stud” was convinced it was because he just didn’t chose her, cursing her and threatening her. Psaki sent him on holidays. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

Psaki has a level of aggression that’s above average, yet she comes across as one of the most measured and reasonable White House Press Secretaries of the decade. And that’s under pressure. But being able to mask that level of deflection is actually not good for the media because the media wants answers. Style shouldn’t (excuse the pun) trump answers. And being able to get away smoothly with it doesn’t actually serve the public well. Like that time she just walked away like it’s not a big deal. It’s the style of “as long as I say thank you or excuse me politely anything goes”. But it doesn’t. And the American public will need answers to some questions very soon. Psaki won’t be able to deliver that and it would be a shame to give her a pass just because of style.

I think it’s time that we start seeing Psaki as a veiled Sean Spicer. And that Dancing with the Stars show — I hope that will still run despite Covid.

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