Wash­ing­ton should en­gage with Iran

The Phnom Penh Post - - OPINION -

WITH the lat­est set of sanc­tions tar­get­ing Iran, the US has just per­formed the last rites of the Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Ac­tion ( JCPOA), as the 2015 nu­clear deal is for­mally known.

The mea­sures are de­signed to hit Iran’s bank­ing, ship­ping and – most crit­i­cally – the Is­lamic Re­pub­lic’s oil sec­tor, in a strat­egy to bring Iran to its knees eco­nom­i­cally. Mon­day’s re-im­po­si­tion of sanc­tions is, in fact, a fol­low-up of the Amer­i­can with­drawal from the mul­ti­lat­eral deal in May.

While nearly all the sig­na­to­ries, in­clud­ing the IAEA, had con­firmed Tehran was abid­ing by the deal, US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump de­cided to go af­ter Tehran for its “ma­lign” ac­tiv­i­ties in the re­gion, a eu­phemism for Iran’s geopo­lit­i­cal ma­noeu­vres, such as its sup­port for Bashar al-As­sad, Hezbol­lah and the Houthis.

Amer­ica’s aims here seem clear: to make Iran’s “econ­omy crum­ble”, as Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo was quoted as say­ing. Iran has struck a de­fi­ant tone, with Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani terming the ac­tion an “eco­nomic war sit­u­a­tion” and vow­ing to break the sanc­tions.

In­ter­est­ingly, some of Amer­ica’s clos­est al­lies – eg the Euro­peans – have said they will help Iran con­tinue to do busi­ness. The US has also granted its al­lies waivers to keep buy­ing Ira­nian oil for the time be­ing, per­haps re­al­is­ing that push­ing Tehran com­pletely out of the world mar­ket may desta­bilise the al­ready frag­ile global econ­omy.

The US ef­forts – guided by war­mon­ger­ing hawks – ap­pear de­signed to pro­voke Iran into an open con­fronta­tion. Also, Is­raeli of­fi­cials could hardly con­tain their glee over the lat­est de­vel­op­ments.

This strat­egy is akin to play­ing with fire, for if the US starts a con­flict with Iran, the Mid­dle East as a whole may burn. In­deed, Iran is a cen­tral ac­tor in many of the geopo­lit­i­cal games cur­rently be­ing played across the Mid­dle East.

How­ever, the coun­tries of the re­gion – the Arabs, Turks and the Ira­ni­ans – need to shun invit­ing out­side pow­ers and, in­stead, must set their own house in or­der and come up with re­gional so­lu­tions to lo­cal crises.

More­over, it is hyp­o­crit­i­cal for Wash­ing­ton to play global po­lice­man and pun­ish Iran for its ‘bad’ be­hav­iour, when some of its clos­est al­lies in the re­gion are guilty of vi­o­lat­ing hu­man rights; the Ja­mal Khashoggi mur­der is a case in point.

Bet­ter sense should pre­vail in Wash­ing­ton and in­stead of beat­ing the war drums, Trump should think about en­gag­ing Iran.

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