Observations of an ex pat: Iranian ripples

Donald Trump has dropped a massive boulder in the world’s diplomatic pond. Its ripples will be felt in every corner of the globe and in some cases the ripples could quickly grow  to tsunami proportions.

Let’s start with the epicentre– the Middle East. The region is already peppered with smouldering short fuses: The Arab-Israeli conflict; Syrian civil war; Yemeni civil war; Turks v. Kurd; Qataris v Saudis and Emirates; Saudis v. Iran; The Russian presence; threatened American withdrawal; Hezbollah… .

The Iran Nuclear Accord (aka Joint Consultative Plan of Action) was one of the region’s few diplomatic success stories—albeit a limited one.

Since President Trump announced American withdrawal from the Accord, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini has announced that his country will resume work on building a nuclear weapon.

In return, Israel has bombed an Iranian base outside Damascus; announced the preparation of bomb shelters; called up reservists for air defence, intelligence and home front command units and deployed missile defence batteries in Northern Israel.

Iran’s Army Chief of Staff, Major General Mohamed Bagheri, warned: “If the enemy casts a covetous eye on our interests or conducts even a slight act of aggression, the Islamic Republic will give an appropriate response at an appropriate time.”

Back in Washington they are celebrating. Not the problems in the Middle East, but the release of three American citizens from North Korean prison.  President Trump hailed the release as a diplomatic triumph for his administration and the best of auguries for his forthcoming summit with Pyongyang’s Kim Jong-un.

Others are most sceptical of summit success. They fail to see any advantage for Kim in unilateral de-nuclearisation, and Trump has said he will accept nothing less.  It will take a raft of promises covering trade, aid and politics to persuade Kim to give up his nuclear toys.  But why should accept such promises? His good friends the Iranians,  will tell him, as Ayatollah Khameini, said: “You cannot trust the Americans.”

One person who will celebrate American withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear accord is the recently re-inaugurated Vladimir Putin. Just as the Trump Administration appears to be awakening to the military and political threat of Putin’s Russia, it has created an opportunity for the Russian leader to come in from the diplomatic freezer into which  he was cast in the wake of Russian involvement in Ukraine and Syria.

Russia is the only signatory to the Iran Nuclear Accord with good relations with both Iran and Israel. It is in a de facto military alliance with Tehran in Syria and the two countries have been working with Turkey to negotiate a settlement to the civil war which  leaves President Assad in power.  Israel and Moscow have historic good relations. In fact, Israeli Premier Binyamin Netanyahu was in Moscow on the day that President Trump announced US withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Accord.

Putin is the logical, albeit unpalatable, choice for honest broker to negotiate a way out of the diplomatic toilet into which Donald Trump has dumped the world. If he succeeds his political capital, and the capital of the authoritarian system of government that he represents, will increase exponentially.

Western Europe, on the other hand, has suffered a major diplomatic failure.  Britain, France and Germany – key  American allies for 70 years–practically dropped to their knees and pleaded with President Trump to stay in the Agreement. He spurned them. He even publicly mocked Britain and France days before the withdrawal announcement.

This, plus threatened American tariffs has put the heaviest strain on the Transatlantic Alliance in modern history. The Observer newspaper wrote two days before the withdrawal announcement: “If he (Trump) rips up the Iran nuclear deal, American’s relationship with Europe will also be irreparably damaged.”

Relations across the pond will top the agenda when the EU heads of government meet in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia next week. There is a growing feeling in Europe that the United States can no longer be counted on as a reliable ally. Europe, it is argued,  must develop politically and militarily to replace the support  it has lost from the other side of the Atlantic.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War” and “America Made in Britain". To subscribe to his email alerts on world affairs click here.

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  • Andrew McCaig 11th May '18 - 9:12am

    All very true..
    The other thing is that the Iranians will look at NKorea and say that the best way to bring Trump to the negotiating table is to demonstrate strength by repeated missile tests and pictures of nuclear bombs..
    The problem for Iran and the rest of us is that Israel will not react to such tests in the passive manner of S Korea…

  • John Marriott 11th May '18 - 11:09am

    The Middle East is an awful mess, created largely by the Western Powers after WW1 (Sykes/Picot, Balfour Declaration etc.), made worse by allowing Israel to hang on to most of the territory it ‘acquired’ after its creation in 1948. Above all, as former US Secretary, Condoleezza Rice, once said, by supporting dictatorships and autocratic regimes in the Middle East whilst also expressing a desire to see ‘democracy’ flourish in an area where it has never really found a foothold the West has displayed the kind of political hypocrisy we would prefer to associate with Putin’s Russia.

    Since WW2 the British, French and US rôle here has been pivotal, and especially with regard to Persia/Iran. In 1953 the British and Americans were behind the overthrown of the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mossadegh and the support of the autocratic government of the Shah. The reason for this interference? You’ve guessed it – oil. The overthrow of the Shah in 1979 and the installation of an Islamic Republic was viewed particularly by the USA as a humiliation, and probably tipped the balance in the US presidential election in favour of Ronald Reagan over the incumbent Jimmy Carter the following year. I could talk about the Suez fiasco, which put paid to British and French illusions of being independent power brokers on the world’s stage but space does not permit.

    Let’s be honest. Iran today is no pussycat. But neither is Israel, which, as far as I know, has never signed ANY nuclear agreement but whose lobby in the USA makes it very difficult for any US administration to bring them to order. However, unilaterally to abandon an agreement, which, while far from perfect, was a move in the right direction and appears to be working, adds to the image of Trump as the kid, who, if he can’t get his own way, just takes his bat and ball home.

    So, the missiles are flying over the Gotland Heights and the can of worms is about to be opened even further. As Patrick Wintour said in today’s Guardian, Pandora’s box might be a more apt description. Oh Donald, what have you done?!

  • John Marriott 11th May '18 - 3:15pm

    Israel has never signed a Nuclear treaty. North Korea is probably reacting to economic pressure from China as much as threats from Trump. Missile exchanges on the Golan Heights are an ominous warning of things to come.

    Oh, Donald. What have you started?

  • John Marriott 11th May '18 - 6:07pm

    To those who may wonder why my second contribution appeared, that is because I was responding to Andrew McCaig’s comment as my original, much longer contribution was still the subject of moderation. By the way, for ‘Gotland’ in the last para read ‘Golan ‘!

    While I’m at it, here’s a bit more.

    How the other signatories to the Iran agreement now react will be interesting. I really hope that they stick together and resist pressure from the USA to follow their example. My worry is that some may just cave in. If there is a major new conflict in the Middle East I know whom I would blame.

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