In a recent very insightful article, analyst Alistair Crooke argued that the United States was institutionally incapable of making a substantive deal with Iran. Written before the recent removal of national security adviser John Bolton from his position, Mr Crooke argued that decades long sanctions have become a “knot” that is difficult, if not impossible, to untangle.
Bolton’s removal is certainly a factor in potentially improving United States – Iran relations, but there are other factors that will have a longer-term influence in determining the nature of the relationship between the two countries. These factors relate both to the past and, in this writer’s view more importantly, to the future.
Mr Bolton was born in 1948. He was therefore a very small child when the British and the American CIA engineered the coup that dismissed Iran’s political leader Mossadeq in 1953, replacing him with the Shah who ruled with despotic terrorism until he in turn was overthrown in the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The Americans in particular have never forgiven the Iranians for that coup and in one form or another have waged a war against that country ever since.
The 2015 JCPOA agreement between the five permanent Security Council members (obviously including the United States) plus the European Union achieved a resolution of the long festering, albeit false argument, of Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions. The unilateral American withdrawal simply confirmed in very short order, Iranian skepticism about the integrity of US foreign policy.
Despite positive reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran was meeting its obligations under the agreement the United States unilaterally withdrew from the agreement in May 2018. Whether the withdrawal was due to Israeli pressure, Trump’s own idiosyncratic foreign policy initiatives, other factors or a combination of several of these factors is essentially irrelevant. For the Iranians, and indeed many other countries, it simply confirmed the accuracy of Russian President Putin’s observation that the Americans “are not agreement capable.” The aftermath of the United States withdrawal from the agreement has had a number of important consequences.
It is not only Iran that has concluded the United States “is not agreement capable.” The Turkish leader Recep Erdogan, himself the survivor of an attempted United States coup, has taken a series of steadily increasing steps to reorient his country away from the United States axis. These include making trade deals with Iran and perhaps more significantly, an increasing degree of involvement with Russian and Chinese initiatives to reorient the balance of world power away from the United States.
In recent months Erdogan has extended his country’s commitment to the Shanghai Corporation Organisation (SCO), strengthened trade ties with Iran and taken delivery of the Russian S400 anti-missile defence system. All of these moves work in defiance of strong United States representations not to continue the various deals being made with Russia, and to further isolate Iran.
The aforementioned SCO is only one of several initiatives by countries geographically widespread from China to Europe to formulate trade and other arrangements that run directly counter to American wishes and, as for example with the Russian developed oil pipelines to Europe, the active opposition toward and outright blackmail of participating nations by the US.
For countries such as Germany, a principal beneficiary of the Russian oil projects, a refusal of American wishes would have been unthinkable not so very long ago. Self-interest is always a powerful motivating factor, and an increasing number of European countries have taken significant steps in recent months to be more assertive about their independence.
One manifestation of that are the 152 countries that have signed agreements with China to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This is an astonishing degree of acceptance of a Chinese initiative that was first propounded as recently as 2013. Signatory countries now encompass the world.
Notable exceptions include the United States, Japan (although probably not for much longer) and loyal United States acolytes such as Australia. As an illustration of how obedience to United States wishes can supersede national interest, Australia is a singular example. China is that countries largest trading partner (nearly 3 times the proportion of the next largest country, Japan). China is also Australia’s largest source of foreign tourists (an economically hugely significant portion of the domestic economy), the largest source of foreign students (ditto) and the third largest source of foreign investment.
There could not be a clearer example of loyalty to a fading militaristic hegemon existing at the expense of national interest, than Australia’s ambivalent and contradictory role viz a viz its most important economic partner.
United States bullying and blatant illegality over its relationship with Iran and also all of its allies, while undoubtedly painful for the Iranian people, has not stopped a series of developments in which Iran is playing an increasingly important role.
China and Iran signed a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement in 2016. It is a measure of how little attention China now gives to the blatantly illegal US measures against Iran, that the two countries signed an extended strategic partnership agreement in August 2019 when the Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Zarif visited Beijing.
Many of the details of the agreement signed by Mr Zarif and China’s Wang Li remain classified. Enough has been revealed however, to present a radical picture of their changing relationship, the details of which are almost entirely missing from the western media narrative.
For example, China will invest US$280 billion developing Iran’s oil, gas and petrochemical sector. A further $120 billion will be invested to help upgrade Iranian infrastructure, in particular the transport sector. Payment for the various projects will be made in a combination of foreign currencies from China’s trade surpluses, plus the Chinese renmimbi. Not a single United States dollar, hitherto the overwhelmingly important currency in international trade, will be utilized.
The United States has long ceased to use the dollar as primarily an instrument of financial trade and instead has used it as a weapon in that country’s warfare against countries recalcitrant to US foreign policy wishes. The consequences of that international financial bullying are now starting to be reflected in the rapidly expanding use of mechanisms other than the United States dollar as vehicles for the payment of international trade.
Iran has also signed huge deals to electrify the 900 km rail link between Tehran and Moshad, an important city with easy access to Pakistan, Afghanistan and the other “stans” that were part of the former Soviet Union and now form an important part of the Shanghai Corporation Organisation. Details of this latter organisation are almost entirely absent from the western media, yet it is one of the most important developments in the world, now incorporating nations representing more than 40% of the world’s population.
The Tehran-Mashad development is one of a number of projects that are important in providing not only transport links, but also the means of conveying oil and gas via the “stans” east to China, but also via Turkey to Europe in the West.
Russia is an important partner in these developments, spurred in part by its historical links to the old Soviet Union to the “stans” but also through its strategic partnership with China.
A measure of western disregard for these developments is reflected in the minimal coverage in the western media of the recent Eastern Economic Forum meeting in Russia’s Vladivostok. The attendance of Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his warm meetings with both Mr Putin and Mr Xi of Russia and China respectively were also underreported in the western media. The vast majority of the western media audience would be unaware that the forum hosted more then 8500 participants from 65 countries.
The central point is that these developments are occurring in spite of, rather than because of US cooperation and support. These dreams will continue and accelerate as the recent news out of Iran and elsewhere in the region make increasingly clear.
The vast majority of countries in the world, as evidenced by the rapid growth of the BRI membership, is tired of the United States and its dwindling number of allies pursuing perpetual war for their own profit. Multi national cooperation, from China in the east via Iran to the Russian west and its European neighbours show that a better alternative is available.
It is up to recalcitrant obstacle nations such as Australia to recognise that the world is changing and that unless they recognise that fact the risk is of being left behind as remnants of an undesirable and obsolete past.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.