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Recent days have been witness to important events; The Middle East Conference at Warsaw, co-hosted by Poland and the US State Department on February 13 & 14, and the Munich Conference. Differences between the EU and the US over dealing with challenges in the Middle East, as well as Iran, were reiterated during both these events.
The Middle East Conference in Warsaw lacked legitimacy, as a number of important individuals were not present. Some of the notable absentees were the EU Foreign Policy Chief, Federica Mogherini, and the Foreign Ministers of Germany, France, and Italy. Significantly, on February 14, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met in Sochi, Russia to discuss the latest developments in Syria and how the three countries could work together.
Personalised aspect of Trump’s Diplomacy
In addition to the dissonance between EU and US over handling Iran, the dependence of Trump upon his coterie, as well as personalised diplomacy, was clearly evident. Trump’s son-in-law and Senior Aide, Jared Kushner, spoke about the Middle East peace plan at the Warsaw Conference, and which Trump will make public after elections are held in Israel in April 2019. The fact that Netanyahu may form a coalition with religious right wingers could of course be a major challenge to Trump’s peace plan. But given his style of functioning, and his excessive dependence upon a few members within his team who lack intellectual depth and political acumen, this was but expected.
EU and US differences over Iran
As mentioned earlier, the main highlight of both events was the differences over Iran between the EU and Israel, the US and the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries. While Israel, the US, and the Arabs seemed to have identified Iran as the main threat, the European Union (EU), while acknowledging the threat emanating from Iran, made it amply clear that it disagreed with the US method of dealing with Iran and was against any sort of sanctions. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went to the degree of stating that the goal of stability in the Middle East could only be attained if Iran was ‘confronted’.
The EU differed not just with the argument of Iran being the main threat in the Middle East, but also with regard to the methods to be used to deal with Iran. The EU, unlike the US, is opposed to the US decision to get out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and is all for engaging with Iran.
At the Warsaw Conference Vice President Mike Pence criticised European Union member countries for trying to circumvent sanctions which were imposed by the US. Pence was referring to the SPV (Special Purpose Vehicle) launched by Germany, France, and Britain to circumvent US sanctions against Iran. The US Vice President went to the extent of stating that the SPV would not just embolden Iran, but could also have a detrimental impact on US-EU relations.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton has, on earlier occasions, also spoken against the European approach towards the sanctions imposed upon Iran.
Differences at Munich Conference
The differences between the US and the EU over Iran were then visible at the Munich Conference as well. While Angela Merkel disagreed with Washington’s approach to the Nuclear Deal, she agreed on the threat emanating from Iran but was unequivocal about her commitment to the JCPOA. While commenting on the importance of the Nuclear Agreement, the German Chancellor said:
do we help our common cause… of containing the damaging or difficult development of Iran, by withdrawing from the one remaining agreement? Or do we help it more by keeping the small anchor we have in order maybe to exert pressure in other areas?
At the Munich Conference too, the US Vice President clearly flagged Iran as the biggest security threat to the Middle East. Pence accused Iran of ‘fueling conflict’ in Syria and Yemen, and of backing Hezbollah and Hamas.
GCC Countries at the Warsaw Conference
It is not just the US and Israel, but even representatives of the GCC which took a firm stand against Iran. (A video leaked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed this.)
Bahraini Foreign Minister Khaled bin Ahmed Khalifa went to the extent of stating that it is not the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict but the threat from Iran which poses the gravest threat in the Middle East. Like some of the other delegates present at the Warsaw Conference, the Bahraini Foreign Minister accused Iran of providing logistical and financial support to militant groups in the region.
Similarly, another clip showed the Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Adel al-Jubeir) saying that Iran was assisting and abetting terrorist organisations by providing ballistic missiles.
Iran was quick to dismiss the Middle East Conference in Warsaw, and questioned not just its legitimacy but also the outcome. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated that the conference produced an ‘empty result’.
US allies and their close ties with Iran
First, the US cannot overlook the business interests of its partners not just in Europe, but also in Asia such as Japan, Korea, and India. India for instance is not just dependent upon Iran for oil, but has invested in the Chabahar Port, which shall be its gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia. New Delhi in fact has taken over operations of the Chabahar Port as of December 2018. On December 24, 2018, a meeting – Chabahar Trilateral Agreement meeting — was held and representatives from Afghanistan, Iran, and India jointly inaugurated the office of India Ports Global Chabahar Free Zone (IPGCFZ) at Chabahar.
The recent terror attacks in Iran as well as India have paved the way for New Delhi and Tehran to find common ground against terror emanating from Pakistan. On February 14, 2019, 40 of India’s paramilitary personnel were killed in Kashmir (India) in a suicide bombing (the dastardly attack is one of the worst in recent years). Dreaded terror group Jaish-E-Muhammad claimed responsibility. On February 13, 2019, 27 members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards were killed in a suicide attack in the Sistan-Baluchistan province which shares a border with Pakistan. Iran has stated that this attack was carried out by a Pakistani national with the support of the Pakistani deep state.
Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj met with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Aragchchi en route to Bulgaria. In a tweet, the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister stated that both sides had decided to strengthen cooperation to counter terrorism, and also said that ‘enough is enough’. This partnership is likely to grow, in fact many strategic commentators are pitching for an India-Afghanistan-Iran security trilateral to deal with terrorism.
So far, Trump’s Middle Eastern Policy has been focused on Iran, and his approach suits both Saudi Arabia and Israel but it is being firmly opposed by a number of US allies. It is important that the sane voices are heard, and no extreme steps are taken. As a result of the recent terror attack in Pulwama, geopolitical developments within South Asia are extremely important. Thus, the US and GCC countries will also need to keep a close watch on developments in South Asia, and how India-Pakistan ties pan out over the next few weeks. New Delhi may have its task cut out, but will have no option but to enhance links with Tehran. Trump needs to be more pragmatic towards Iran and should think of an approach which is acceptable to all, especially allies. New Delhi-Tehran security ties are likely to grow, and with China and Russia firmly backing Iran, the latter’s isolation is highly unlikely.
My latest for RealClearHistory is all about ‘Murica and the Mideast. An excerpt:
2. The Iranian Regime. During the Cold War, the U.S. government supported a number of regimes that were illiberal in the name of fighting communism. The necessity of such tactics are beyond the scope of this article, but the Pahlavi “dynasty” of Persia was one such illiberal regime. The Pahlavis were anti-Communist and pro-Western, which meant that women could dress how they pleased and go to university, and that religion was pushed to the sidelines of political life. This made the Pahlavi’s enemies of not only the socialist reformers of Persia, but also the majority of the conservative religious clergy. One Pahlavi was ousted by a joint British-Soviet invasion in 1925, and his son was deposed in the 1979 revolution that turned Persia into Iran. After the British-Soviet invasion, the United States became heavily involved in Persia and supported the secular autocrat almost blindly, which is why the anti-Shah revolution of 1979 was also anti-American.
Please, read the rest.
My weekend column for RealClearHistory, in case you missed it, was fun to write. An excerpt:
4. The Mughals versus the Persians (1600s -1739). The Mughal Empire, an Indian polity that ruled over much of the subcontinent, fought three wars against two Persian dynasties (Safavids and Afsharids) and lost all of them. Much of the fighting was done around the city of Kandahar, in what is now Afghanistan. Kandahar was for a long time an important fortress for empires and dynasties that lorded over both Persia and India. While the Mughals had their pride stung by the losses, they could at least find solace in the fact their realm was the most economically successful on the planet at the time. India and Iran have long been weary regional rivals and sometime allies, but geographic distance and terrain have made outright wars between the two civilizations rare and limited. The rivalry between Iran and India has been a cultural one rather than a military one.
Read the rest (if you haven’t already!).
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The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit, from June 9-10, went largely as expected. The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, met the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, on the sidelines of the summit. New Delhi’s proposal to have an informal summit, in India in 2019, on the lines of the Wuhan Summit (held in April 2018) was accepted by the Chinese. Agreements were also signed between both countries with regard to sharing hydrological data on the Brahmaputra River, and export of non-Basmati varieties of rice from India. Another issue, which was discussed during the Modi-Xi meeting, was the joint capacity development project in Afghanistan, which was first proposed during the Wuhan Summit.
Commenting on his meeting with the Chinese President, Modi tweeted:
Met this year’s SCO host, President Xi Jinping this evening. We had detailed discussions on bilateral and global issues. Our talks will add further vigour to the India-China friendship.
Modi’s meetings with leaders of other member countries
The Indian PM met other leaders of member countries, including the presidents of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. While there was no formal meeting with the Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain, Modi did shake hands with Hussain and exchange pleasantries. Interestingly, Chinese President Xi Jinping, during his address, had spoken about the presence of both leaders, as well as entry of both countries into the SCO. Said the Chinese President: Continue reading