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21 August, 2019 00:00 00 AM
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Tensions between US and Iran are moving from the high seas to summits

All efforts are focusing on the G7 summit later this month in France, when Instex will be the main topic of discussion
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Tensions between US and Iran are moving from the high seas to summits
A US Marines UH-1Y Venom helicopter takes off from the flight deck of the US Navy amphibious assault ship USS Boxer during its transit through the Strait of Hormuz

RAGHIDA DERGHAM

The rift between Iran and European countries is intensifying amid threats and warnings from Tehran. The Europeans, however, are refusing to cave in, even as they lobby the US to take a softer stance on the Instex special purpose vehicle intended to skirt around sanctions.

Iran is threatening to withdraw from the nuclear deal, with a view to causing panic in Europe. Indeed, European powers are obsessed with salvaging the deal and do not want to see Iran resuming uranium enrichment and other activities that could help it expedite its quest to develop nuclear weapons. This is also a red line for US President Donald Trump, who has threatened to take measures should Iran resume high-level uranium enrichment, which could include strikes on Iranian nuclear reactors.

At present, all efforts are focusing on the G7 summit later this month in France, when Instex will be the main topic of discussion. Tehran has already issued an ultimatum to Europe to activate the special purpose vehicle for oil revenues by mid-August or it will scale back its nuclear commitments. French President Emmanuel Macron, who is walking a tightrope between the financial mechanism and mediation efforts between the US and Iran, was snubbed by Mr Trump this week, who told him not to speak to regime leaders on behalf of the US.

At the same time, the idea of forming a US-led naval taskforce to secure navigation in the Gulf has taken practical steps with Britain announcing it would join and Israel expressing interest as well. Iran has warned against “disastrous consequences” if Israel participates and said the conference scheduled to take place in Bahrain on August 31 to discuss the mission was a “provocation”. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressed the US in threatening language, saying there can be no security in the Gulf without Iran’s consent and that no country will be able to export its oil if Iran is prevented from resuming its exports. His declaration has clearly drawn the lines of Tehran’s negotiating position, coupled with allegations of jamming GPS systems to lure ships into Iranian waters.

All this means the possibility of military escalation, either as a result of an accident in the Gulf or following strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities. On the surface, things appear calm but some say it is the calm before the storm. Other sources suggest it reflects the managed escalation strategies of both the US and Iran, although there is always a risk of miscalculation.

Russia is trying to play the role of influencer in Tehran. Moscow could send a special envoy to Tehran next week seeking de-escalation through two measures: freezing the level of uranium enrichment and refraining from attacking tankers in the Gulf.

President Vladimir Putin is also trying to work with his French counterpart. Mr Macron is set to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a bid to co-ordinate positions prior to the August 20 ultimatum for Instex and the three-day G7 summit from August 24, which will be attended by Mr Trump.

In the meantime, Mr Rouhani is inching closer to adopting the line of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif could resign and pave the way for a tougher successor who will pursue less flexible positions in negotiations with the West, which could further increase tensions. Iran is tired of waiting on the Europeans but it was a mistake to assume they could be pushed into panic and prompted into coercing Mr Trump into a compromise. Now Tehran is making another mistake by issuing an ultimatum ahead of the G7 summit.

   

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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