Iran sanctions threat

Published August 24, 2020

THE Trump administration’s handling of its relationship with Iran can best be described as disastrous. Donald Trump and his acolytes have consistently used confrontational, hostile rhetoric against the Islamic Republic, as if they were trying to lure Tehran into the battlefield. While at times it seemed as if war between the two was imminent — such as when the US assassinated senior Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Iraq earlier this year — thankfully armed conflict has been avoided up till now. But it seems that in the last few months of his term, Trump and company are again trying to spark a conflict with Iran. The latest example of this emerged in the UN Security Council on Friday, when 13 out of 15 UNSC members reportedly opposed America’s move to re-impose sanctions against Iran under the 2015 nuclear deal. As was rightly pointed out, the US had no legal standing to do so because it had left the accord in 2018. In snide comments, the US secretary of state chided his European allies for “siding with the ayatollahs”.

It is difficult to say whether or not the Europeans and other UNSC members are siding with Iran’s clerical leaders. What is quite clear, though, is that the international community, including even some of America’s closest allies, has no appetite for a confrontation with Iran, which will definitely ensue if UN sanctions once again take effect. This was also reflected by the fact that a recent American move to renew an arms embargo against Iran was similarly rejected by the UNSC. While team Trump may be looking for ways to look tough on Tehran and grab a few more votes in the twilight of what could be a one-term presidency, this brinkmanship can have disastrous results for world peace. From tearing up the nuclear deal to assassinating Soleimani, the Trump White House’s reckless behaviour vis-à-vis Iran has miraculously avoided a conflict. However, the next few months are critical, especially if the Trump administration tries any adventurism in the Middle East ahead of the US election.

As it is, the temperature in the Gulf is rising, especially after the UAE-Israel peace deal, largely seen as engineered by the US. Iran feels that its arch-enemy Israel now has a staging post in Tehran’s backyard. Earlier this week, the Iranians seized an Emirati ship after Tehran said the UAE coastguard killed two of its fishermen. Such incidents, if not avoided, have the potential to balloon into something bigger. Which is why all sides need to act rationally. Primarily, the Trump administration must jettison its incendiary anti-Iran rhetoric. Iran, for its part, must avoid aggressive responses as war will not be beneficial for its battered economy. Moreover, the Gulf sheikhdoms are free to establish relations with whoever they want, as long as they don’t become pawns of extra-regional powers looking for a fight in the Middle East.

Published in Dawn, August 24th, 2020

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