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Friday, 24 May 2019

How will Iran respond to increased pressure from Trump administration?

Camelia Entekhabifard , Tuesday 14 May 2019
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File Photo: The fast combat support ship USNS Arctic pulls alongside the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln to conduct a replenishment-at-sea in the Mediterranean Sea, May 8, 2019 (Photo: Reuters)
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Iran and the United States have reached one of the most crucial turning points in the history of their 40-year non-diplomatic relations since Iran’s revolution in 1979.

American aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln has passed through the Suez Canal and four B-52 bombers are stationed at the US military base in Qatar.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that there is reliable information that Iran is preparing to launch an attack against US forces in the region.

There have been reports claiming that Iran is attempting to move its midrange missiles on speeds boats, or is possibly instigating attacks by their militant allies, such as the Houthis in Yemen and Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi in Iraq, against US personnel and interests in the Gulf of Aden or in Iraq.

While there is no clear information about the threats the Americans are preparing to confront, the escalation warns of the potential for confrontation.

On 12 May, Iranian lawmakers held a closed door meeting with the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) commanders to hear the country's defence strategy.

“The situation is under control and there will be no war since Israel is in our grip,” Ali Motahari, a well-known PM, told reporters after the briefing with the IRGC commanders, adding that Trump will be the one who decides whether to start a war. However, so far both sides are denying that they have taken a confrontational stance.

Trump said in recent remarks that he wants to talk to Iran—and that he can help their economy get “back to great shape.”

But the regime in Tehran knows that if they agree to talk to Trump, his demands will not be limited to Iran giving up its nuclear programme. It would cover everything from releasing detained US citizens to ending its support for proxy militias in the region and its advanced missile programme.

For a country with normal diplomatic relations with the US, the Trump question would seem easy and straightforward, but it is very difficult for a regime that feels insecure and has created a hierarchy based on anti-imperialism and anti-US sentiment.

The United States has repeatedly made it clear that it would hold Iran responsible for any attack carried out by its proxies.

The “maximum pressure” strategy here makes sense if it intends to pressure Tehran to deter its militant allies from making any moves against the US and its allies, perhaps including Saudi Arabia, Israel, and other small Persian Gulf countries.

It will be interesting to see if this strategy will affect a drastic change from Yemen to Iraq and whether it will cause the militias associated with Tehran to change their course from violence to diplomacy.

Some of these groups, such as Hezbollah, are believed to have a huge arsenal of missiles. Others, like the Houthis in Yemen, often use mid-range missiles which, according to UN investigators, were imported from Iran.

Regardless of what Iran's Ayatollahs have in mind regarding what diplomatic strategy to pursue to safeguard their national security interests, Trump wants to achieve his goals by carrot or stick.

Trump is keen to sort out the Iranian disturbance and ends its regional interference, irrespective of the IRGC’s ego, the nuclear deal card played often by Iran's foreign minister, or the country's politicians attempting to shame Trump for dishonesty or for violating the international agreement to end Iran's nuclear programme.

"What I'd like to see with Iran, I'd like to see them call me," the US president said.

"What they should be doing is calling me up, sitting down; we can make a deal, a fair deal .... We're not looking to hurt Iran," Trump said on Thursday.

Trump’s simple offer to talk to Iran on the phone prompted many Iranians inside and outside the country to post online humorous video clips about lovey-dovey telephone calls, including parody songs like 'Hello, this is me Hassan.'

Social media broke the cold, confrontational atmosphere even before the two countries’ leaders could start any talks.

When Iranians woke up on 10 May and learned that the US had given Iran Trump’s direct phone number via the Swiss embassy in Tehran, Iranians reacted with their famous sense of humour, insisting that if Ivanka Trump were appointed as the liaison between the two countries, there would be a queue of visitors outside the embassy bearing bouquets of flowers and sweets.

These jokes recalled last year’s visit by Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who was in Tehran in August and visited Iran’s parliament.

Images were widely circulated of mesmerised Iranian officials lined up to take selfies with her, and were mocked by the public as "gentlemen prefer blondes," causing a huge local and international embarrassment.

US navy ships and the B-52s are waiting to hear Iran's preference.

With the economic crisis and the increase in sanctions, the truth is that Iran cannot resist for too long.

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