ON April 22 it was announced that the Significant Reduction Exception President Trump had granted to eight countries would not be extended and that purchases of Iranian oil by these countries would be subject to sanctions after May 2. This was another step to isolate Iran, deprive it of revenue and make it more amenable to fulfilling the 12 conditions Secretary Pompeo had laid out for resumption of US-Iran dialogue.
A lot of material was made available regarding America’s increased production and export capacity and of the Gulf countries’ commitment to increase production and ensure there was no shortage on account of the withdrawal of Iranian oil from the international market.
(Essentially, the fact sheet the State Department put out said that the US crude oil production was 12 million barrels a day and would increase by 1.4m within the next year; Iran oil production had been reduced by 1.5m barrels; other countries including Saudi Arabia and the UAE had promised to increase their production; the inventory of crude oil globally was seasonally strong.)
This followed the unprecedented and perhaps legally dubious step of designating Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps a foreign terrorist organisation. Iran retaliated by naming all US armed forces as terrorist organisations.
What will be the costs as America continues to tighten the noose around Iran’s neck?
If one looks at other actions the Trump administration has or is taking or is likely to take around the world, it appears that apart from the ‘America first’ mantra, securing a victory against Iran is the driving force.
Support for Israel has been part of Trump’s creed. This could explain the abandonment of the long-settled US policy on Palestine and Syria, formal recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights and formal endorsement of Israel’s intent of annexing illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank. However, there is in my mind the vision that partnering with Israel in confronting Iran would help create conditions in which the Arabs would join Israel formally in the Middle East Security Alliance that seems to be part of the plan that Trump’s point man for the Middle East, Jared Kushner, would present for a regional settlement.
In Libya, Gen Haftar, a commander from Qadhafi’s days, has a base in the east and is receiving weapons from Russia, political support from France and political and material support from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The latter two are reportedly supporting Haftar because they think that Libya has become a centre for the Muslim Brotherhood that these countries and Egypt want eliminated.
In Libya, it had been long-standing US policy to recognise the Government of National Accord and support the efforts of the UN special representative to help negotiate a power-sharing agreement between various Libyan factions to maintain essential Libyan unity.
When Haftar started his assault on the GNA, the State Department asked him to stop. Trump, however, after a conversation with the Abu Dhabi crown prince, spoke to Haftar, in which he “recognised Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system”. The GNA saw this as a betrayal. One could assume that Trump’s reversal of State Department policy owed to his willingness to defer to the views of his allies and thus strengthen their support for his Iran policy.
The Sudan uprising, the overthrow of president Omar Al-Bashir’s regime or more accurately his ouster after 30 years or rule owed to demonstrations mounted by the Sudanese Professional Association. The uprising was successful because the armed forces, that have participated in the Yemen war as part of the Saudi/UAE effort and thus have strong connections there, saw their own soldiers joining the rebels. The air force chief’s son joined the protesters. The Military Council said it would hold elections in two years because it would take that long to ensure security and make other arrangements. This is being resisted but this is what Sisi’s Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE would want because Omar al-Bashir had provided shelter to Muslim Brotherhood followers.
To cement ties with the Military Council, Saudi Arabia and UAE said they would provide $3 billion in assistance to Sudan with $500m being deposited for balance-of-payment support and the rest for humanitarian aid for Sudan’s people.
Sudan is under US sanctions which can be lifted only if a civilian government comes to power. The Military Council has announced it will send a delegation to Washington to discuss the situation. It is my conjecture that helping them find their way in Washington will be a task undertaken not just by the Sudanese embassy but by the other friends I have identified.
It is again my conjecture that they will receive a sympathetic hearing. Their promise to hold elections within two years may not be accepted and a shorter time frame proposed, but sanctions will be lifted as a favour by Trump for his supporters in the anti-Iran campaign.
Iran’s economy is suffering as a result of the sanctions; the ill effects have been compounded by floods and earthquakes. There is no sign the regime is collapsing.
For Pakistan, it is important that what Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Hassan Rouhani agreed upon is implemented. Trade that was agreed upon is all food and humanitarian relief related and will not be affected. Border security is important to both, not only because of Iran’s need but also because those who trouble this border are likely working with those across the border who want a Balochistan independent of both Iran and Pakistan. Oil prices will rise perhaps to $80 a barrel and we may need to get further concessional oil supplies from our friends.
The writer is a former foreign secretary. He is currently head of the IoBM’s Global and Regional Studies Centre.
Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2019