US al­lies should back Trump against Iran

The West Australian - - OPINION - Con Cough­lin

What a dif­fer­ence a year makes. When US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump made his first ap­pear­ance at the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil last Septem­ber, his con­fronta­tional at­ti­tude to­wards North Korea raised wide­spread fears that hos­til­i­ties were about to be re­newed on the Korean penin­sula.

Then, to ev­ery­one’s sur­prise, Mr Trump achieved the breakthrough that had eluded Amer­i­can diplo­mats for two decades or more. Rather than risk the prospect of an all-out war with the US over his coun­try’s abil­ity to de­velop nu­clear weapons, North Korean dic­ta­tor Kim Jong Un in­stead agreed to meet the US Pres­i­dent in per­son to set­tle their dif­fer­ences, with the sum­mit tak­ing place in Sin­ga­pore.

And while it would be fool­hardy to be­lieve Mr Trump’s high-risk strat­egy has re­solved the North Korean is­sue once and for all (for all the talk, Py­ongyang still re­tains a pow­er­ful nu­clear weapons arse­nal) there can be no doubt­ing that there has been a marked im­prove­ment in re­la­tions be­tween North and South Korea.

Hav­ing sorted out one rogue state, Mr Trump now seems in­tent on adopt­ing a sim­i­lar ap­proach to­wards Iran, an­other na­tion that Wash­ing­ton has long re­garded as play­ing a lead role in what the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion termed the “axis of evil”.

To this end, the Pres­i­dent is us­ing his ap­pear­ance at this year’s gath­er­ing of for­eign dig­ni­taries to con­cen­trate his fire on Tehran. The tone was set when Mr Trump re­vealed he had turned down a re­quest by his Ira­nian coun­ter­part, Has­san Rouhani, for a face-to-face meet­ing.

“I am sure he is a lovely man,” the Pres­i­dent tweeted on his de­ci­sion to spurn the ad­vance, adding that “Iran has to change its tune” be­fore he would agree to such a meet­ing.

Nor did the Pres­i­dent leave any­one in any doubt about how he views the Ira­nian regime. The coun­try was “the world’s lead­ing spon­sor of ter­ror­ism”, which had used the “wind­fall” it re­ceived as a re­sult of sign­ing the con­tro­ver­sial nu­clear deal in 2015 to in­crease its mil­i­tary bud­get by 40 per cent. The ex­tra money had been used to fi­nance ter­ror­ism and “fund havoc and slaugh­ter in Syria and Ye­men”.

The del­e­gates may have laughed at Mr Trump’s boast that his pres­i­dency had achieved more than any other ad­min­is­tra­tion, but the tone of his re­buke to Iran demon­strates that he is deadly se­ri­ous about sub­ject­ing Tehran to the same re­lent­less diplo­matic, eco­nomic and mil­i­tary pres­sure that even­tu­ally brought Kim to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

This hawk­ish ap­proach may have suc­ceeded in de­fus­ing ten­sions with North Korea.

But per­suad­ing the ay­a­tol­lahs to mend their ways is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent propo­si­tion, not least be­cause the regime is driven by re­li­gious ex­trem­ism, not po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy.

Iran’s com­mit­ment to ex­port­ing the prin­ci­ples of its Is­lamic rev­o­lu­tion through­out the Mus­lim world means that, un­like the North Kore­ans, much of the regime’s en­ergy is in­vested in med­dling in the af­fairs of other states.

Le­banon, Syria, Iraq, Ye­men and the Gulf states: all have been sub­jected to the un­wel­come at­ten­tions of Iran’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps, to the ex­tent that any fu­ture con­fronta­tion be­tween the US and Iran is un­likely to be con­fined within Iran’s bor­ders.

This week’s an­nounce­ment by Moscow — that it is de­ploy­ing its state-of-the-art S-300 anti-air­craft mis­sile sys­tem to Syria — pro­vides a good ex­am­ple of how Iran’s over­seas in­ter­fer­ence cre­ates fur­ther in­sta­bil­ity in the re­gion.

The Rus­sians an­nounced the up­grade af­ter their Syr­ian al­lies ac­ci­den­tally shot down a Rus­sian air­craft, be­liev­ing it to be an Is­raeli war­plane car­ry­ing out a bomb­ing raid on an Ira­nian mis­sile fac­tory.

If the Ira­ni­ans had not been op­er­at­ing in Syria, the Is­raelis would have no rea­son to at­tack the coun­try — and the Rus­sians would not feel com­pelled to up­grade their mil­i­tary pres­ence.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to con­front the ay­a­tol­lahs, more­over, de­serves the sup­port of al­lies such as Bri­tain, who have much to lose if the spread of Iran’s per­ni­cious in­flu­ence is not con­tained. The time has come for Bri­tain to join the US in with­draw­ing from the nu­clear deal.

Pre­vi­ously the Bri­tish Govern­ment has ar­gued that stick­ing with the deal is the best way to en­cour­age Tehran to be more re­spon­si­ble. But, as its ac­tions in Syria and else­where have shown, the ay­a­tol­lahs are in­ter­ested only in sow­ing dis­cord, not har­mony. The best way to bring them to their senses is for Bri­tain and other Euro­pean pow­ers to give the US Pres­i­dent their un­equiv­o­cal sup­port.

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