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In-focus: Tehran and Washington, cat and mouse

The escalation of tension between the US and Iran will sustain the proxy wars each has fought with its allies in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen

Galal Nassar , Thursday 31 May 2018
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I admit I believe in conspiracies and conspiracy theories, but I am not afflicted with political or compulsive phobias, simply because we live in a tragic reality in the Arab and Middle East region full of slogans and positions that are not related to what is happening on the ground or behind the scenes regarding relations and interests, linking powers that appear to be enemies but are discreetly allies and friends on the level of institutions and agencies. This is contrary to what is being fed to public opinion and citizens.

Iranian-US relations are an example of such pragmatic relations that appear hostile and confrontational on the surface, but at the core and in outcome serve the higher interests of both countries, especially when we understand that Tehran is playing a pivotal role, as do Tel Aviv, Ankara and Doha.

These roles serve US interests and the arms lobby in the US and other arms traders.

Tensions and oil prices fluctuate with every crisis or breakthrough that harms or helps other countries based on calculated moves. Iran’s expansion or retreat in several regional countries in terms of ideology, military or security is the polar opposite of a Sunni plan that requires funds, sponsorship, protection and a price.

Observers of US-Iran relations before and after Khomeini’s revolution understand that the current crisis or diplomatic escalation and Washington’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal will be a passing event and both countries will reap gains once the crisis is over. Washington will benefit financially and strategically, while Tehran will expand into several countries and on multiple issues.

Observers understand that a war of words between leaders is needed, even if it appears unscripted which is common in the game of nations, and the actions and statements of some leaders such as Trump and Khamenei.

A quick review of these actions proves this point. A few days ago, Iranian Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei declared several conditions on European countries to continue his country’s commitment to the nuclear deal, which is now at risk after Washington’s withdrawal.

These include France, Germany and the UK issuing a resolution condemning the US for violating Resolution 2231 that was passed after the nuclear deal.

Also, not raising the issue of ballistic missiles or Iran’s interventions in the region, and confronting US sanctions against Iran and blocking any new ones.

Finally, to guarantee the sale of Iranian oil, compensation for any losses due to US sanctions and that European banks will continue to do business with Iran.

Observers described Khamenei’s demands as “intentionally unattainable” since they raise the guide’s doubts about the positions of the three European countries, which he accused of reneging on their promises during nuclear talks in 2003 and 2005.

“Europeans are silent about the US breaching the nuclear deal for two years,” he said. “We are not enemies of the three countries but we do not trust them due to their past history.”

Khamenei described Tehran’s relationship with Washington as “a game of cat and mouse”. Germany’s foreign minister said: “Europe is very united in its position on the nuclear deal with Iran. This will not change.” In other words, Washington and Tehran began this crisis and they should find a solution.

The conditions stated by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo map out a new strategy for dealing with Iran, including demanding Iran meets 12 conditions before sanctions could be lifted and it is once again welcomed into the global community.

These requirements pertain to its nuclear programme, ballistic missiles, its political and military role in the region, and complete compliance with inspections of all its facilities. If they refuse — which they did immediately — they will face stiff penalties, according to Pompeo.

It is clear Washington wants to change the regime not just modify its actions as Trump’s administration is demanding.

It is impossible for the Iranian regime, due to its overt political, ideologically intentions, and Iranian public opinion, to accept these conditions even if it incurs tough sanctions.

Tehran will resist these sanctions and will strive to break them through alternative international and regional alliances with Russia, Turkey and others.

It will not cease recruiting major European countries on its side. It is likely Iran will present itself as more radical on regional issues to strengthen its hand, especially on Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. The same is required of the US and Israel.

This simply means that the likelihood of reaching any agreement on this crisis will be problematic in the near future, which complicates matters more and forces the Sunni alliance to pay more to get rid of Iranian fanaticism and defeat it on all these issues with US assistance and protection.

The proxy war will continue in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, the occupied Golan Heights and Palestine, but it will remain a formula where some parties are pushing it to the edge of crisis and greater risks.

Other parties pay the price under pressure, exposure and disclosure, but it is certain that the US and Iran, along with Turkey, Israel and Qatar, are serving their own interests at the expense of Arab players.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 31 May 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly with headline: In-focus: Tehran and Washington, cat and mouse

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