This is a short article I wrote about Donald Trump’s promises to change the US’ position on the nuclear deal with Iran. To make a long story short, its not a good idea.
There is nothing really substantively new in this article. It is the latest in the war of words between the Saudis and Iran. The rhetorical battle has escalated recently because of the start of the Hajj season. At last year’s Hajj 769 pilgrims were killed in a stampede. Iran blames the Saudis for the catastrophe and claims the al Saud are unfit to oversee the pilgrimage. The Saudis, on the other hand, claim Iran exploits the religious event for political purposes.
The article is notable however because it is the second time Iran’s Foreign Minister has taken to the op-ed page of the New York Times to chastise the Saudis. The first time was back in January when the Tehran and Riyadh fought a rhetorical duel on the editorial pages of the American paper/website.
Apparently, courting American public opinion has become a mainstay of Iranian foreign policy.
“The borders of the Islamic State’s “caliphate” are shrinking fast. The group’s strongholds in Iraq and Syria are collapsing one by one. The U.S.-led war has reached a point where questions are being raised about what comes next.
So far, the answer seems likely to be: more war.”
This article probably oversimplifies things in the sense that it suggests that these wars are discrete events. Rather, the conflicts being played out in Syria are the product of long submerged tensions that were unleashed first by the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and then the Arab Spring. Once the state system began to collapse in 2010, they were bound to come to the fore. The article is effective though, in the way it identifies the various schisms and how they have been effected by recent events.
This article suggests that Turkey’s Syria policy is changing, driven by two factors. The first is Iran and Russia’s commitment to supporting Assad, which makes Turkey’s policy of regime change unrealistic. The second is the Assad regime’s opposition to an independent Kurdish entity on the border with Turkey, something which gives the two common ground. The change in Turkey’s Syria policy would also be part of a larger regional adjustment, which includes improving relations with Israel. It is an interesting argument, but it is still in the realm of speculation.
- “….a complete reversal of Turkish policy is hard to imagine, and neither side has given any public signal of having revised its views. Turkish officials continue to demand Assad’s resignation, while the Syrian president recently slammed “Erdogan’s fascist regime” and vowed to make Aleppo “the graveyard in which, by the grace of God, the hopes and dreams of this butcher will be buried.”
- Of course, even if contact has in fact be re-established via Algeria, that does not mean that Ankara and Damascus are any closer politically. Conflict diplomacy is full of secret back channels, track-two talks, and other under-the-table maneuvers, but most never actually lead anywhere.
- Perhaps the new Turkish attitude was best summed up by an anonymous senior official from Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) in remarks to Tulay Karadeniz of Reuters: “Assad is, at the end of the day, a killer. He is torturing his own people. We’re not going to change our stance on that,” the official said. “But he does not support Kurdish autonomy. We may not like each other, but on that we’re backing the same policy.”
Since this was published, Turkey has indeed signed a deal to normalize relations with Israel.
And, Turkey has apologized to Moscow for downing a Russian jet over the Syrian-Turkish border last year.
The Assad government, however, will be more difficult…..
The BBC has published an article detailing direct secret talks between the US, under the Carter administration, and representatives of Ayatollah Khomeini as the Shah’s regime was crumbling. Neither the US or the Iranian government wanted the meetings public, and the Iranian government is dismissing the article as a fabrication.
The talks were initiated by the US in order to establish contacts between the Shah’s military and Khomeini’s representatives so that some sort of transition could be arranged and a full blown civil war avoided.
- “Secretary Vance informed the French government that Washington urgently needed to be in direct contact with Khomeini’s group. The reason: to obtain Khomeini’s support for secret talks in Tehran between Beheshti, and the Shah’s military and intelligence chiefs.”
The meetings are interesting in and of themselves. However, perhaps more interesting is the perspective the article gives us on how revolutions unfold and the circumstances under which strategic choices are made by key actors. The US was operating with little information and had to make a choice between allies who no longer appeared politically viable, and an opposition they did not understand or trust. This is not just a history lesson. The Shah fell in 1979, but the same type of scenarios played themselves out during the Arab Spring and the same type of calculations had to be made.
For more details see: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-36431160
There has been a great deal of concern expressed in the western press about Iran’s continuing missile program. For critics of the JCPOA (the nuclear deal), Iran’s missile tests have been taken as a sign that Iran still cannot be trusted and that the deal was a mistake. The same dynamic is taking place in Tehran. Iran still is having trouble doing business with the international community
- These challenges have meant that the flow of money into and out of Iran remains largely paralyzed. US Secretary of State John Kerry has admitted that Iran has been unable to access much of its own unfrozen assets in offshore accounts. Back-to-back visits by foreign officials and hundreds of trade delegations to Iran have culminated in stacks of agreements that have little prospect of materializing insofar as they lack financial backing.
- Although the US administration has taken some positive measures to ease the concerns of Europe’s banking sector, these steps have so far failed to sufficiently reassure companies that they will not be explicitly or implicitly penalized for permissible business with Iran.
- European banks are also concerned that the US Congress will impose fresh secondary sanctions over Iran’s non-nuclear-related behavior. In addition, the post-2008 US restrictions on dollar-denominated transactions with Iran — transactions necessary for processing most major deals — pose serious impediments for European investors.
Just like in the US, this is putting the Iranian moderates who supported the deal in a politically vulnerable position. It is also giving hardliners lots of rhetorical material to work with, and allowing them to regroup after several years of political disarray.
“The Islamic Republic’s 10th parliamentary elections have yielded a significant victory not only for Reformists, but also for women pushing for change in Iranian society. While the final nationwide results are not expected until March 1; early numbers show twice the number of female members as in the previous parliament. Though ballots from many districts are still uncounted, it is clear that the number of women will reach at least 22. Thus far, 15 women have won seats in Parliament, and 14 of them are Reformists. These include all eight women on the Reformist-moderate “List of Hope” in Tehran, where the results are set to be finalized on Feb. 29.”