The United States and Iran are exchanging open threats and are balancing on the verge of a direct confrontation. Trump’s new sanctions are escalating the tensions between the two geopolitical rivals. The Iranian leaders have even warned the Americans that they may quit the nuclear deal.
"If America wants to go back to the experience (of imposing sanctions), Iran would certainly return in a short time - not a week or a month but within hours - to conditions more advanced than before the start of negotiations," Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told a session of parliament broadcast live on state television. By “conditions” he means the situation before July 2015, when the nuclear deal was signed.
"The world has clearly seen that under Trump, America has ignored international agreements and, in addition to undermining the (nuclear deal), has broken its word on the Paris agreement and the Cuba accord ... and that the United States is not a good partner or a reliable negotiator," Rouhani added.
In response to the new sanctions ratified by Donald Trump on Aug 2, the Iranian Majlis enlarged the budgets for Iran’s missile program and foreign military operations. Now they will get additional $520mn. According to the speaker of the Majlis, the parliament’s vote to approve a motion to counter US terrorist and adventurous measures in the Middle East was just the first step and if Washington proceeds with its anti-Tehran policies, the law will take effect.
Thus, Iran has called the Congress, the White House and Donald Trump “not good partners or reliable negotiators” and has accused them of adventurous behavior. For Trump, this is almost like a challenge but he has given lots of grounds for such accusations.
The nuclear deal is almost the only efficient factor in the U.S.-Iranian relations. Trump’s new sanctions are undermining it as they are pushing the Iranians to enlarge their missile arsenal. The UN Security Council’s Resolution 2231 does not prohibit Iran from implementing a missile program (1). But Trump is looking at that country through the eyes of the Pentagon and the CIA at home and Saudi Arabia and Israel abroad. And since the latter are Iran’s bitter enemies, his relations with Tehran are getting worse.
Together with Israel and Saudi Arabia, the United States constitutes the opposite pole to Iran and this situation will hardly change in near future.
On Aug 14, Middle East Eye published private e-mails sent by former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk and the current UAE Ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba to each other. The letters contained the details of a conversation they had with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
A month before the Gulf crisis (the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Qatar), Bin Salman had a conversation with Indyk and George Bush Jr’s national security advisor Stephen Hadley. Indyk gave Al Otaiba just a few details from that talk, more specifically, he told him that the Saudi Crown Prince, who is also Saudi Defense Minister, wanted out of war in Yemen.
Concerning Iran, the letters contained no sensations. Bin Salman said that he was OK with the U.S. engaging Iran as long as it is coordinated in advance and the objectives are clear.
It is obvious that without “the U.S. engaging Iran,” the Saudis – even together with the Israelis - will not be able to curb the Iranians in the region. And it is no less obvious that the al-Saud family would like to see Trump as their reliable partner.
But on Aug 13, Iraqi mass media reported Saudi Arabia’s wish to improve its relations with Iran and to see Iraq as a mediator. Al-Ghadeer quoted Iraqi Interior Minister Qasim al-Araji as saying that Bin Salman had asked Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to act as a mediator between Riyadh and Tehran.
This news reminded Middle East mass media of the recent visit of Iraqi politician and Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and his meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince and they began wondering if Saudi Arabia and Iran might take some steps of reconciliation.
But the Saudis hurried to dispel their hopes by reiterating their reluctance to have anything in common with the terrorist and extremist Iranian regime.
A high-ranking Saudi diplomat has refuted the reports that Saudi Arabia wants to improve relations with Iran and wants to use Iraq for this purpose. On Aug 16, Saudi Press Agency quoted him as saying that Saudi Arabia’s policy on Iran is unchanged: Riyadh is against any contacts with a regime that “spreads terrorism and extremism in the region and the world, and interferes in the affairs of other countries.” “Tehran cannot be negotiated with as it does not respect diplomatic rules and norms, or the principles of international relations,” the diplomat said.
As regards the mediatory role of al-Sadr, his visits to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have infuriated Ayatollah Khamenei. Keyhan newspaper has even accused al-Sadr of selling himself to the al-Saud family. Even more, the Iranian leaders have warned the Iraqi cleric that if he persists, he may lose popularity among the Iraqi Shias.
After this, the Iranians will hardly let al-Sadr mediate their reconciliation with the Saudis. In one of its recent articles, EADaily commented on al-Sadr’s visit to Saudi Arabia and assumed that one of the reasons might be an attempt to find support before the next year’s elections in Iraq (2).
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi may still offer his services as a mediator but the Saudis have better candidates, like Kuwait or Oman. The fact is that Saudi Arabia and Iran are waging a diplomatic war for Iraq.
One more fact is that the crisis in the Middle East is growing. So, the authors of the abovementioned correspondence are just making assumptions that have nothing to do with the real situation. But there is one thing we can agree with. They characterized bin Salman as a “pragmatic.”
They did not specify what exactly they meant. It seems that in Washington and some Gulf capitals, this is regarded as an established truth. One could argue this but this is not the point.
It is good that decisions in such an explosive region are being made by pragmatics but it is bad that the Americans continue pretending that the Iranian regime is the key destabilizer of the region. This approach is very non-pragmatic as are Trump’s new sanctions against Iran, a country that has agreed to put its nuclear program under international control.
Unlike the Americans, the Iranians are pragmatic and are not going to quit the nuclear deal now even though Trump and his Saudi and Israeli partners are actively provoking them into doing it. On the other hand, they are not going to endure such a discriminatory approach. And their only way to react is to show their military strength. So, the risk of a new conflict in the region is high.
(1) The UN Security Council’s Resolution 2231 calls upon Iran – rather than obliges it - not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.
(2) Earlier the office of al-Sadr reported that as a result of his visit to Saudi Arabia, the Saudi authorities decided to donate $10mn in aid to the Iraqi government and study possible investments in Shia regions of southern Iraq (Saudi Arabia to reopen border with Iraq after 27 years // aljazeera.com, August 15, 2017).
EADaily’s Middle East Bureau