Millennium Post

Impasse prevails

Iran crisis seemingly reached a rather peaceful conclusion with US President Donald Trump's address from the grand foyer of White House on Wednesday. Widespread news had already confirmed no damage to the US in terms of personnel but a formal statement meant an assured sigh of relief — for everyone. Iran's barrage of ballistic missiles did not make a dent on US pride nor did it make them even slightly repent assassinating Soleimani. What Iran wanted to pursue in ideology was a far cry from its actions. Even as a unanimous Iranian parliament pushed a bill to designate US troops as terrorists, Trump, in his address, called for tighter sanctions and heightened NATO involvement in the Middle East. Iran's retaliation became a no-show and its demand to push the US out of the Middle East got a straight face reply. Adamantly urging European allies to follow suit and abandon the Iranian Nuclear Deal — the root of US-Iran agitation — and calling Iran to end its support towards Terrorism, Trump established US stance on the crisis. With Iranian leaders firm on driving the US out of the region and Trump adamant to increase involvement, the impasse ahead for the world is anything but avoidable. But de-escalation highlights respect for peacetime and global order, even if it serves mutual interests. While Iran and the US may not confront each other on the battlefield, waging proxy-war is inevitable. Stricter sanctions from the US amounting to almost punitive levels is only the beginning of a turbulent campaign to bring Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions. The path that the leaders of these two countries take is very important for regional stability. While sitting on the table seems off-the-books due to the US being rigidly ignorant to discuss the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action which it abandoned and Iran pressing for any bilateral talk only once the US joins the deal again. A classic stand-off is hanging over the entire episode and while the concerned parties play their rhetorics, it is the global order that must be wary of future developments. The brief escalation between Iran and the US caused a tremor in the crude oil market, bringing economies to realise the price of their war. While the war was considered unlikely, forecasts were still made should leaders of the two countries turn out to be irrational enough to wage war. And, these forecasts can never be pleasing. Now, a reinforced commitment to bring entire NATO focus on the Middle East will only arouse insecurities for all stakeholders in the area. And, most insecure of them all would be Iran who is believed to be pressurising Iraq to push the US out as it houses a 5400-strong US contingent. Iraq's dilemma is what is likely to keep the impasse intact. It was Iraq which had invited the US back to the region in the wake of the Islamic State's rise in 2014 after the US had left in 2011. Now, any resurgence of IS will only make matters worse and Iraq will want to avoid that. Further, the US has provided $5.8 billion in military aid to Iraq since 2014. What Iraq decides is definitely instrumental in the Iran-US impasse but it would be very difficult to decrease US presence in the region given the latter's allies in Saudi, UAE, Kuwait, etc. Further, Iraq can also anticipate a set of sanctions imposed on itself should it seek to help its neighbour by banning the US.

While the de-escalation and oncoming stand-off will ensure no serious tensions, the nuclear deal remains a bone of contention. Iran's statement following Soleimani's assassination that it is no longer bound to follow the nuclear deal it signed with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany back in 2015 is not something which will please the Trump administration. The deal put restrictions on Iran's uranium enrichment and stockpile levels — aiming to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Unaccountable, Iran can revitalise its research and development wing to build a nuclear warhead, irritating the US further. And, given the impasse and punitive sanctions the US prepares for Iran, a rejuvenated effort on the latter's end to create a nuclear warhead seems more likely. If Iran really wishes to pursue that, US intervention will be inevitable. The world is well-versed with 'US intervention' by now and it is only better if dialogues between conflicting parties resolve the matter rather than unforeseen situations and unwanted steps to bring regional peace.

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