At present, there is a so-called B-team in the United States, which includes John R. Bolton, the National Security Advisor to the U.S. President, and a number of leaders from the Middle Eastern region, such as, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel; Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, and Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, who, for their own personal reasons, are all trying to escalate tensions between the USA and Iran, and nudge Donald Trump towards a confrontation that he does not want. The first person who hypothesized about this was Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Foreign Affairs Minister of Iran: “They have all shown an interest in dragging the United States into a conflict. We don’t believe that President Trump wants confrontation… President Trump had run on a campaign promise of not engaging in any more foolish wars.”
It is only natural that in the West and the United States this statement was initially met at dagger-point, but with the passage of time, more and more factual information has come to light indicating that the Iranian diplomat made an accurate assessment of the situation.
And recently, The Times, a fairly reputable newspaper, published a long article, which criticized John Bolton’s overly hawkish stance, and expressed an opinion that his warmongering was beginning to irritate Donald Trump more and more. According to the story, the National Security Advisor to the White House renewed his attempts to push the United States towards a military confrontation with Iran, and these actions could potentially cost him his job. Earlier, “President Trump knew when he appointed John Bolton as new national security adviser that he wanted to bomb Iran and North Korea. He had heard this directly from Mr Bolton on Fox News, where he was a frequent pundit.” It is perfectly understandable that John Bolton has not simply been expressing his own opinion but the views held by a fairly hawkish group within the U.S. society, who essentially forced the current President to appoint John Bolton as his National Security Advisor. And the latter, to the best of his ability, has been trying to steer the general course the U.S. is following in a negative direction.
Before becoming an advisor on national security issues, John Bolton had been fairly hostile towards Iran for many years, and had called for overthrowing the Iranian government on a number of occasions. “I don’t back away from any of it. Those are positions I took as a private citizen,” John Bolton said when asked about his prior remarks. “Right now I’m a government official. I advise the president. I’m the national security adviser, not the nation security decision-maker. It’s up to him (the President) to make those decisions.” That is all very true, but clearly, Donald Trump is not as smart as a whip, he draws his conclusions based on the information that his advisors, in this particular case John Bolton, provide to him.
It is readily apparent that John Bolton and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (who is dancing to the former’s tune) are the ones behind the sudden escalation in tensions between the USA and Iran at a time when, seemingly, the entire Middle Eastern region is being nudged towards an all-consuming war by U.S. instigators. There was a public announcement that 120,000 U.S. troops, the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, other military vessels and B-52 strategic bombers had all been sent to the region. Terrorism-related moves made by both Tehran and Washington also contributed to the escalation in tensions one year after the United States withdrew from the multilateral agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. The USA added the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to its own list of foreign “terrorist organizations”. A tit-for-tat decision was then made by Iran in relation to the United States Central Command (USCENTCOM or CENTCOM), which is accountable for the Middle Eastern region. But instead of an entire army, only 1,500 extra military personnel were sent in response.
Still, according to American and Iranian media outlets, the Pentagon can quickly and surreptitiously relocate the American forces that are currently in the region. For instance, the Pentagon has placed its forces on the Iraqi border that separates it from its neighbors to the west. And according to reports by Arab media sources, more than 10,000 American soldiers were brought into the country, where they are temporarily stationed at military bases in Ayn al-Asad and Farhud al Hammadi. In addition, a U.S. military convoy quickly moved from Jordan to Iraq’s western governorate Al Anbar. It transported weapons and ammunition to the U.S. air base located in the inhabited area Ayn al-Asad, near the city of Hīt. A report on this, citing a reliable source from a local intelligence service, was published by the online (Arab-language) news agency Almaalomah. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that the Iraqi government still believes that Baghdad should not get involved in the confrontation between Tehran and Washington. As the conflict between the United States and Iran is unfolding, the stance taken by the Iraqi authorities cannot but worry Washington, which is putting in a lot of effort to try and get the Iraqis on their side.
While exchanging bellicose messages, the USA and Iran, as the most recent diplomatic visits in the Middle East indicate, are simultaneously exploring means of de-escalating the conflict. Tehran has been especially active on that front. Despite the difficult situation Iran finds itself in, its leadership has stated on numerous occasions that it was not inclined to wage a war against the United States. The day before (on 26 of May) Abbas Araghchi, the political deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, paid an official visit to Oman. He met with Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, the Minister responsible for Foreign Affairs, there. At that exact time, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Foreign Affairs Minister of Iran, was in Baghdad. Previously, Iraqi and Omani leadership expressed their willingness to take on the role of mediators between Washington and Tehran in order to de-escalate tensions in the Persian Gulf region, where, earlier, the United States had sent additional troops. According to the Al Arabiya TV channel, after Oman, the deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran will visit Qatar and Kuwait.
Iran, unlike the three current “trend setters” in the Arab world, i.e. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has maintained fairly stable relations with the previously mentioned Arab nations. Seemingly, Tehran is trying to use this factor to its advantage with the aim of firstly, preventing the formation of a broad coalition of Arab nations in the region against it, and secondly, opening an indirect communication channel with the current American administration. Ten years ago, in the summer of 2009, a similar confidential channel of communication was established between Iran and the United States with the help from the Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said al Said. At the time, this served as a prelude to the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA on Iran’s nuclear program) in July 2015, during Barack Obama’s presidential term. After the United States’ unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA in May 2018, and the decision by Donald Trump’s administration to broaden sanctions against Iran and increase troop numbers encircling the Islamic Republic of Iran, these factors have made it that much harder for Arab mediators to achieve their current goal of reconciling the USA and Iran.
During all the recent months, the Iranian leadership has repeatedly stated that they would stick to their decision of “neither engaging in negotiations with, not waging a war against” the United States until all the barbaric sanctions imposed on their nation were lifted. However, there was no clarification as to whether the term “negotiations” also referred to talks mediated by a third party via the confidential line of communication or not. Hence, there is still a distinct possibility that the need for an Arab intermediary, who is trusted by the USA and most likely Iran too, not only remains but, perhaps, presents the only solution to the difficult situation at present.
In addition, after the meeting with his Iraqi counterpart on 26 May, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Foreign Affairs Minister of Iran, said that he suggested signing a non-aggression pact with the nations of the Persian Gulf on more than one occasion. According to his statement, his proposal was still under consideration. He highlighted that Iran was an avid supporter of better relationships with the countries of the Persian Gulf, and also added that everyone usually welcomed proposals and negotiations aimed at reducing the current tensions. Iran’s Foreign Affairs Minister said that it was not the first time that his nation put forward such a plan of action. Some time ago, Tehran also suggested signing a non-aggression pact with Saudi Arabia, and staging a Forum on regional dialogue.
The proposed plan proves that Iran is in the right, after all security in the Middle East will only be achieved via cooperation of all the nations in the region, and the hoped for state of stability in this part of the world will only be possible without interference of foreign countries. In the opinion of many rational experts, Tehran has chosen an appropriate stance that shows it in a good light, especially against the backdrop of aggressive moves and accusations made by the United States. From the perspective of ensuring security for Middle Eastern nations, and first and foremost for the countries in the Persian Gulf, the proposal, made by Iran, is positive in nature and, in essence, could be supported by everyone. In all likelihood, the nations of the Persian Gulf do not hope for an escalation of tensions in the region, and would happily agree to peace with Iran. However, the problem is that the United States is guiding their decisions. Still, if the agreement is actually signed, it will become an additional guarantee of stability in the region despite the fact that the stand-off between the United States and Iran will continue.
Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”