On the edge

first_imgThe continuing high tension between the US and Iran in the Trump era has escalated substantially and could spiral out of control if not handled properly by both the countries. The reason for this escalation can be traced back to President Donald Trump’s withdrawal in May 2018 from the landmark nuclear deal Iran signed in 2015 with the US, EU, France, Germany, UK, Russia and China, saying it only paved Iran’s path to the bomb. However, Iran’s main European allies along with Russia and China disagree with the US stand. Also Read – Hijacking Bapu’s legacyUnder the deal, economic sanctions against Iran were relaxed and the country was permitted to resume oil exports, its main source of revenue, in return of a closer scrutiny of Teheran’s nuclear programme by giving free access to its nuclear facilities to monitors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the global nuclear watchdog, among other conditions. According to the US policy towards Iran, which involved withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), all countries were given six months till November 2018 to bring down oil imports to zero. In November, however, the US gave a six-month waiver to eight countries including India to bring down oil imports from Iran to zero. The waiver ended April this year. Also Read – The future is here!India is the world’s third-largest consumer of oil with 85 per cent of its crude oil and 34 per cent of its natural gas requirements being met by imports. In 2016 India imported 215 million tonnes crude oil and, at 13 per cent, Iran stood third among India’s biggest oil suppliers after Saudi Arabia and Iraq at 18 per cent each. India is likely to make a decision on how to handle the situation only after a fresh government takes charge after May 23. Iran and all other signatories to the historic deal have carried on regardless of US actions. The IAEA has repeatedly given Iran a clean chit with regard to adherence to the deal. Amid rising tensions in the region, Saudi Arabia, US’ closest Arab ally, said two Saudi oil tankers and two other vessels were targeted in a “sabotage attack” off the coast of the UAE, not far from the vital Strait of Hormuz. This has raised fears that the shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf could become flashpoints. An oil pipeline that runs across Saudi Arabia, west of capital Riyadh, was hit by drones, launched by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Citing credible intelligence that Iran and groups it supports in the Middle East might attack US personnel based in the region, the US has strengthened its military presence in the region, including deploying a number of strategic B-52 bombers in response to Iran’s threat to block all exports through the Strait of Hormuz. It has also sent aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln to the Persian Gulf. The US has also designated the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), Iran’s hugely influential security and military organisation responsible for the protection and survival of the regime, as a ‘foreign terrorist organisation.’ This is perhaps the first time the US has declared any part of another government as terrorist. The US has also withdrawn all non-emergency staff in its embassy and consulate in Iraq. The US actions have triggered an economic meltdown in Iran and soaring inflation. Iran has responded by scaling back its commitment under the deal by suspending obligatory sales overseas of surplus enriched uranium and heavy water. Last week Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gave the five countries still party to the deal 60 days to meet their commitments and protect Iranian oil sales from the US sanctions, failing which Iran will resume enrichment of uranium and keep those stocks in the country rather than selling them abroad. Perhaps adopting a carrot and stick policy, President Donald Trump has urged Iranian leaders to sit down and talk with him about giving up their nuclear programme but did not rule out a military confrontation, given the heightened tensions. The powerful Revolutionary Guards declared that Iran would not negotiate with the US while hardliner Ayatollah Tabatabai-Nejad has warned that the US Navy fleet could be “destroyed with one missile”. Comments by hardliners appeared partly aimed at discouraging President Rouhani and his moderate allies in Teheran from taking up an offer of talks with the US. Thousands of Iranian took part in state-sponsored marches last week to show support for the government’s decision to scale back curbs on its nuclear programme agreed under the 2015 deal. Worried over the developments, some experts say that a delicate and dangerous situation is prevailing and could easily spiral out of control if not handled carefully by both the US and Iran. The pressure now is squarely upon the Europeans, particularly France, Germany, and the UK that had helped in negotiating the deal. They have to do something to ease the situation as well as to relieve the economic pressure on Iran. The international community has a stake in the warlike escalation between the two countries and must act to defuse the situation. (The author is a former Editor of PTI and served as West Asia Correspondent for PTI, based in Bahrain from 1988 to 1995. The views expressed are strictly personal)last_img

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