Thursday, May 10, 2018

Business Recorder Editorial May 10, 2018

Trump’s folly

As widely anticipated, US President Donald Trump has withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal and threatened the reimposition of sanctions that were incrementally eased under the accord, and even fresh sanctions. He optimistically argues for a better agreement and what he calls a comprehensive, lasting solution to the so-called Iranian threat. In a television address to announce the decision, Trump called the Iran deal “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the US has ever entered into”, which he argues could not prevent the development of nuclear weapons by Tehran nor limit/eliminate its ballistic missile programme. He also seeks to curb Iran’s alleged support to militant groups in the Middle East and beyond and its perceived military advances in Syria. Boiled down to its essentials, this is a package to effect regime change in Iran, a project fully backed by Israel (already harbouring an undeclared arsenal of nuclear weapons) and the US’s Gulf allies. In contrast with this narrative of Trump, his transatlantic allies in Europe, amongst whom Germany, France and the UK tried till the last minute to dissuade Trump from his course, have come out in support of the Iran deal as the best way to prevent Tehran acquiring nuclear weapons. Europe is also worried about the effects of Washington’s decision on European businesses’ investments in Iran, the impact on the oil market if Iran once again cannot easily sell its oil, and the potential escalation of tensions and conflict in an already roiled Middle East. The fallout for the upcoming summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un regarding the latter’s nuclear and missile arsenal could prove negative, reinforcing North Korea’s view since the 1990s agreement for nuclear restraint by Pyongyang in exchange for easing of sanctions was reneged on by Washington that the US’s word cannot be relied upon. Iranian President Rouhani too, who had considerable political capital invested in the 2015 deal amongst six countries (P5+1) – the US, UK, Germany, France, Russia and Iran – has recalled the track record of the US’s reneging on various agreements and its interventions in Iran’s affairs starting from the coup against Iranian leader Mosadeq in 1953. Rouhani has vowed to work with the other member countries of the agreement, but instructed his nuclear scientists to keep their powder dry in case the deal completely collapses, leaving Iran free to return to the enrichment of uranium without limit. Iran has already rejected any notion of negotiating a fresh agreement. The EU too has come out strongly against Trump’s decision and pledged to work to ensure the deal survives. Some reports are likening this unprecedented disagreement amongst the western allies as a transatlantic rift. But it remains to be seen what the fallout for the western alliance will turn out to be in reality.
The immediate impact for Pakistan will be felt in making the prospects of the already stalled Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline dimmer. Trade and business with Iran will also be affected by the restoration of the old and the imposition of new sanctions by Washington. The geopolitics of the region have suddenly become more dangerous since it is no secret Israel and the Gulf countries would like to see the back of the regime in Tehran with the help of the US. The sectarian and other conflicts raging in the region could become bloodier and bitterer and even cause spillover effects on neighbouring countries and the region as a whole. Trump’s reneging on an international agreement ratified by the UN Security Council puts, as French President Macron has said, the nuclear non-proliferation regime at stake. The negative effects of Trump’s folly are bound to be felt in the Middle East, North East Asia and the rest of the world. Brace yourselves.

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