Time to sit back and disentangle Iran tension

​By Sajjad Malik
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, July 24, 2019
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The photo released on July 21, 2019 shows the British oil tanker "Stena Impero" surrounded by Iranian Revolutionary Guard near the Strait of Hormuz, Iran. [Photo/Xinhua]

Relations between Iran and the United States have been steadily deteriorating. The downward slide began with the re-imposition of more stringent and biting sanctions by Washington that have apparently started to pinch both Iran's rich and poor.

The friction has added to the strategic uncertainty in the Gulf region. New issues are being added to rivalries. The U.S.-Iran tangle is sucking more nations into the grind, as bilateral hostility gets thicker and nastier.

Take the tit-for-tat seizure of a U.K.-flagged oil tanker by Iran's Revolutionary Guards in the Strait of Hormuz. Iran alleged the Stena Impero had "violated international maritime rules" and took control of the vessel as well as its 23 crew members.

The measure followed after the U.K.'s action against an Iranian vessel accused of carrying oil for Syria in defiance of an international blockade. Iran has rejected the allegations. However, it provided Tehran with an opportunity to flex its muscles and show Iran would not allow itself to be bullied by the West.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt talked to his counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif and urged release of the tanker. However, no headway had been made at the time of writing, and Iran has announced plans to conduct an investigation before taking any decision.

The British government is still looking at its options to react. However, the message from Tehran is loud and clear: It is in no mood to relent and in case of any provocation will target traffic passing through the busy waterways close by.

The tension with Iran started in May 2018 when President Donald Trump pulled out of an international deal signed in 2015 and designed to curb Iran's development of an ability to produce nuclear weapons. First, it was war of words between the two sides, then it descended to chaotic actions we have seen of late.

The U.S. accused Iran of two separate attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman in May and June. Iran denied the charges but was quick to claim it had shot down a U.S. drone over Strait of Hormuz last month.

The Trump administration condemned the destruction of unmanned aircraft which it said was flying over international waters at the time of attack.

It does not mean that U.S. is looking the other way in the face of an assertive Iran. Strategically, it has slowly increased its military forces in the region and is poised to deal with any situation by force.

Saudi Arabia has also decided to allow American troops to stay in the Kingdom, which shows that the U.S. policy makers are looking at a long-term scenario, and are not in any hurry to act against Tehran.

In the midst of all this tension, Iran announced it had arrested 17 suspects alleged to be spying for the CIA and sentenced some of them to death. President Trump tweeted to reject the story, but it helps us to gauge the seriousness of current tension.

Iran by its recent actions has proved it will react to every American move. Already, it has announced a partial suspension of the nuclear joint agreement.

History shows war is not a solution to any problem, while talks are the surest way to bring peace. Trump, during his visit to Japan last month, said that talks with Iran were possible. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a crucial trip to Tehran with Trump's offer.

However, the chain of events after his visit showed that his mission was not successful, and no improvement has been seen in the attitude of the various parties. So, it is less likely that fresh talks are held in the near future.

Time is crucial. If no positive news came out by the end of this year, then chances are that tension will continue through 2020, which is the election year in the United States. Meanwhile, any miscalculation or an unseen event can trigger a conflict that will not be in the favor of any nation.

Hence, all parties should think about ways to contain the tension. It is possible if talks are started without pre-conditions. The aim should be to have a win-win formula to deal with the nuclear issue on permanent basis.

Sajjad Malik is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:


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