On May 21, newly-appointed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voiced a total of 12 conditions that Iran must promise to fulfill in order for the US to return to the Iran nuclear deal Washington recently and unilaterally abandoned in the violation of all norms of international law.
American demands can be divided into two categories, technical demands related to the possible revision of rules of access to Iranian nuclear facilities, and those purely political. Judging by what Mike Pompeo announced, the latter were the primary goal of Washington’s dubious maneuvering staged together with the government of Israel. However, these political demands in their nature can be described as absolutely unacceptable for any sovereign state. They represent nothing less than an ultimatum requiring Tehran’s complete and utter surrender to the West. In fact, this all indicates that the United States has very closely approached a tacit declaration of war on Iran, although, of course, much will depend on Tehran’s reaction to these demands, as well as the positions that Russia, China and the EU take on the issue.
What is absolutely clear is that there’s no scenario under which Tehran will accept Pompeo’s ultimatum. After all, Washington demands the complete withdrawal of all Iranian troops from Syria, Iraq and Yemen together with the surrender of all political support of pro-Iranian forces in those states. The demands are extreme and Washington has put them forward at a time when it will benefit the West the most. Tehran has found itself in a disadvantageous position with virtually no military allies that can be described as big geopolitical players. And it has no position to abandon to make a concession to the West, as the nuclear deal itself was already the ultimate compromise on Iran’s part.
China is currently busy mending the Korean crisis, and it is unlikely it will risk derailing a possible negotiations between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Additionally, Beijing is re-signing trade agreements between the US and Chinaat a time when Washington has pushed restrictions on Chinese companies and their goods. The negative balance of American trade with China has reached unprecedented levels, even though it has been between two and three hundred billion dollars annually for years now. Washington and Beijing have just agreed to cut it by 200 billion dollars by Beijing agreeing to buy more American goods, among which is US liquefied gas. Such a move, however, will inflict massive damage to the interests of both Qatar and Australia. The US threat to impose draconian duties on Chinese goods, of course contradicts WTO rules, but from the standpoint of American interests, of course, they are justified. Across the world one will find no more than 30 countries that have similar trade deficit in trade as China and the US have, so here Trump’s concerns and claims are understandable. In general, China is not going to help Iran, especially in a situation when it finds itself in a military conflict with Washington. The Middle East as a whole, including Iran, Iraq and Syria, fall into Beijing’s low-priority list. There are enough problems at home from Beijing’s point of view, as China’s economy is in an extremely vulnerable position, and US duties can inflict serious harm upon it. In addition, the ambitions of China as a major world power are just that for the time being.
As for the EU, it is expected to voice dissatisfaction with Washington’s policies and can go as far as to test Washington’s patience. But at the same time its trade agreement are at stake, and it still has the headache of protecting Russia’s pipelines to Europe, which Washington attacks relentlessly. Therefore, the EU will not enter a real confrontation with Washington over Iran under any condition.
As for Russia, the example of Iran’s latest strikes against the positions of the Syrian armed forced launched by Israel and the United States demonstrated that Moscow will take a restrained approach to this whole situation. This approach can be described by the formula “this is their conflict, we have nothing to do with it.” Sure, it will make a number of statements about the unacceptable nature of Washington’s actions, but little more. In the event of an armed conflict between Washington and Tehran, Russia will not plunge itself into the fight on Iran’s side and it’s unlikely it will be providing military assistance to it. It is clear that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow on May 9 has had both tactical and strategic implications, including those that concern Syria and Iran’s future. So the US will be able to bomb Iran as it did with Syria, Iraq or Yemen. From this point of view, Iran has found itself in a difficult situation.
Moreover, there’s little analogies to be drawn between North Korea and Iran. Kim Jong-Un consciously raised the degree of tension, forced Trump to lose face with his military exercises, and then proposed a peace deal. Conversely in regards to Iran, the crisis has been initiated by the US itself. Moreover, it initiated it deliberately at a time when the situation favors its own ultimatum. Most likely, that’s why Trump replaced Tillerson with Pompeo. Personal relations have nothing to do with it, just the nature of the work at hand, as Tillerson played his preparatory part, while Pompeo was put in place to pull the trigger.
Iran has already predictably responded, stating that Washington made an attempt to undermine its sovereignty. The US will have to wait a bit to feign interest in peace, then it will begin implementing the things it has been planning for years. Trump is doing things in an intentionally aggressive manne. Therefore, if a final decision is made that Iran needs to be driven to the place that Washington assigned for it, the US will do it as efficiently and as quickly as possible. No protracted war, but only a series of devastating strikes on Iranian positions in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and possibly against nuclear facilities deep in the territory of Iran itself, with maximum damage and casualties inflicted on Iran’s side.
The US goal is to squeeze Iran out of Syria and Iraq, and then starve it with sanctions. And then Washington will keep the Iranian cauldron boiling inside until it explodes. The Iranian leadership is developing its country too slowly, paying a lot of attention to the development of “Islamic values”. This, in principle, was justified earlier, but not in today’s world, where economic development must also count for something. Today one has to be dynamic in order to manage the role you lay upon your shoulders, as archaic ayatollahs do not quite fit into the current, rapidly developing and high-tech world.
Yet another disturbing report came form Iraq, where an influential Iraqi Shia cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr announced that Iranian general Qasem Soleimani depart from Iraq within 48 hours in an extremely tough and indisputable form. Soleimani moved to the “green zone”, out of the grasp of Iraqi authorities. It seems that Shia pro-Iranian groups are being mobilized in Iraq. Of course, formally Muqtada al-Sadr occupies no official post, despite the fact that a bloc he headed won the parliamentary elections. He intends to remain a purely spiritual leader that is capable of influencing the situation. And now his influence is unparalleled, as he enjoys full support of the sitting Prime Minister of Iraq. Therefore, Haider al-Abadi will have to take the side of al-Sadr in the event of a severe conflict with Iran. No time has been spared in making harsh statements regarding the situation. In particular, he said that Iranian forces will suffer a crushing defeat this summer. It was about Syria and Iran. There’s behind the doors discussions that Muqtada al-Sadr has recently been enjoying close ties with Saudi politicians, which, of course, have always been interested in such an ally, as Riyadh remains Iran’s most uncompromising opponent. In general, the signs of military preparations against Iran are now visible. No one can predict when the aggression will begin, but it is clear that Iran does not fit into today’s model of US policy, and it doesn’t play a crucial role in anybody else’s plans. In this regard Muqtada al-Sadr is perfectly rational in an attempt to bury one of his two enemies. If there is a chance to get Iran driven out from his country – well, why not use it. Then he will try get the United States expelled as well.
For Russia, this development of the situation around Iran is extremely unfavorable. Should Tehran fall this year, as Muqtada al-Sadr said after contacting Riyadh, where he was shown all the plans of what is about to happen, Moscow is going to be next in line. Once Iran is strangled, Washington will waste no time in attempts to move against Moscow. There will be no direct war, just local strikes on the periphery – in Syria and Ukraine.
It’s clear that gears are turning now.
Peter Lvov, Ph.D in political science, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”