The United States, true to its tactic of exacerbating the situation in any region of the world, has also left a rude “mark” in the Middle East. This is a region that the Biden administration, after its disgraceful flight from Afghanistan, is losing day after day.
The day before giving its long-awaited response to the European Union’s proposal for nuclear talks in Vienna, the United States launched a provocative air strike in Syria that escalated tensions for no good reason. “At President Biden’s direction, US military forces conducted precision airstrikes in Deir ez-Zor Syria today,” CENTCOM Communication Director Colonel Joe Buccino said. “These precision strikes are intended to defend and protect US forces from attacks like the ones on August 15 against US personnel by Iran-backed groups.” He went on to explicitly say that these strikes were not on military targets, but on infrastructure.
General Michael “Erik” Kurilla, CENTCOM Commander, issued a similar statement, saying “the strike in eastern Syria was in response to attacks by Iran-backed groups against US forces in Syria on August 15 and demonstrates our resolve to defend US forces and equipment.”
Tehran denied any involvement in the groups targeted by the US. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kanaani strongly condemned the US army’s aggression against Syria’s people and infrastructure as “a gross violation of the country’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.” He demanded that Washington provide hard evidence that it was the Iranian military that was involved in the attacks on the “brave warriors” of the US. Kanaani said the new US army aggression against the Syrian people was an act of terror against the popular groups fighting against the occupation. He added that the continued presence of US troops on Syrian territory was contrary to international law and constituted a violation of Syria’s sovereignty and an act of occupation. The Iranian diplomat noted: “Consequently, the US must leave Syria immediately and stop plundering the country’s oil resources and grain.”
The drama in Syria came at a time when all the partners in the Vienna talks are waiting for an American response to the Iranian and EU proposals. Tehran has already responded to the EU’s offer of nuclear talks, and while Washington instantly received an Iranian response, it has so far refrained from responding. According to press reports, the US response is expected to be announced “when Washington sees fit” or, to put it simply, when Biden administration officials “feel like it.”
The US strike on Syria is likely intended to send the message that Washington remains committed to countering Iran’s influence in the region through a US illegal presence on Syrian territory and elsewhere in the Middle East even after a return to the nuclear deal officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). At the Vienna talks, the US did its best to raise a number of non-nuclear issues, but met fierce resistance and Iran’s reluctance to discuss these issues as outside the scope of the JCPOA.
One such problem is Iranian influence in the region. But Iran stated that its influence in the region has nothing to do with the US, nor with the new JCPOA, which is why the Iranians are not going to discuss the issue now or in the future. Moreover, it is the US that is the foreign power in the region, whose troops have not been invited. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that several thousand US military personnel plus private military companies (PMCs) are operating in his country and that they are a source of lawlessness on Syrian soil.
Earlier, Pentagon chief Mark Esper said the military would remain in Syria to “protect” the oil fields. As Esper pointed out, the oil revenues would go to the Syrian opposition formations, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). “The United States will maintain control of the oil fields in northeastern Syria… The US military will give a serious response to any forces that threaten them,” he said. The Russian Defense Ministry was more specific in indicating that, in practice, the proceeds from oil smuggling go directly into the accounts of US PMCs and intelligence services. Considering that a barrel of smuggled Syrian oil costs $38, the monthly profit of this “private business,” or rather the open robbery of impoverished Syrians by rich Americans, exceeds $30 million. What low morals Washington must have, to cynically resort to such actions and openly rob Syrians.
After the failed attempt to expand the original JCPOA, Washington cynically resorted to bizarre accusations such as those widely circulated by the Western media these days. At the same time as the strike on Syria was launched, a Reuters report claimed that Iran had allegedly abandoned one of its demands in the talks, which is to remove the IRGC from the US list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTO). The report also claims that Iran has taken a more lenient stance on the IAEA’s accusations regarding its results of past inspection visits to Iran. It is well known that in Tehran, IAEA officials generally praised the disciplined Iranians, who scrupulously complied with all the instructions of the international organization. But once back in the West, according to a paper written in Washington, they accused Tehran of all sorts of unimaginable abuses. Western-style demagoguery is off the charts and defies conventional logic. Apparently, the basic tenets of Western democracy, which has nothing to do with this great universal concept, are blatant lies, just lies and more lies.
All these accusations were easily refuted by Iranian officials. Mohammad Jamshidi, Deputy Chief of Staff of Iranian President for Political Affairs, submitted a similar report. “Delisting the IRGC from the FTO was an American offer to the former Iranian administration to incentivize Iran to accept Regional & Missile negotiations. The US firmly believed that without it there will be no return to the agreement. The Raisi team rejected it,” he wrote on his social media blog. Jamshidi added: “US then said, removal from FTO in return for forgetting those responsible for the terror attack on General Soleimani. Iran said NO. They then offered 3 alternatives for the security of their personnel. Iran rejected them and the US backed off. So who is dropping their demands?”
In a rare public admission that is likely to throw regional powers in the Middle East off balance and complicate Western calculations about the JCPOA, Mohammad Eslami, head of Iran’s atomic energy program, confirmed that Iran has the technical capacity to produce a nuclear bomb, but that it has no immediate intention of doing so. Eslami is the second prominent Iranian official in recent weeks to confirm Iran’s technical ability to produce nuclear weapons, while stressing that no political decision has been made to do so. Before him, Kamal Kharrazi, a senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had said that “Iran has the technical means to produce a nuclear bomb but there has been no decision by Iran to build one.”
Such public statements by senior officials are rare and have certainly been given the green light by the Iranian leadership and the Revolutionary Guard, which controls Iran’s nuclear program. In its latest report, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran has 43.1 kg of uranium enriched to 60 per cent purity. About 25 kg of uranium enriched to 90 per cent is needed to build a nuclear weapon, experts say. There is growing concern in the West about “breakout time” or the amount of time it will take Iran to accumulate enough highly enriched uranium to build a nuclear device. IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said Iran could acquire such a quantity within weeks. However, having enough material does not mean Iran can make a nuclear bomb, he added. The US has established that the “breakout time” is about a year during the period when the nuclear deal with Iran remained unchanged. But Tehran continues to insist that its nuclear program is designed exclusively for peaceful purposes. The Islamic Republic is increasingly claiming that it is Washington that is now delaying the deal, even though Tehran has spent many months negotiating, during which the US has repeatedly imposed more and more sanctions on the Iranians.
It must be said that in Washington itself, the Biden administration faces considerable political opposition to a return to the 2015 agreement from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, who remain unconvinced that it is in the interests of US national security. “I intend to systematically fight the implementation of this catastrophic deal, and will work with my colleagues to ensure that it is blocked and eventually reversed in January 2025,” said Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. In light of this, it is not surprising that Washington is again and again inflaming the situation in the Middle East region. Unsurprisingly, the Biden administration has so far failed to make a final decision on whether to sign the JCPOA.
Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.