Western Europe Stands Up for Iran

July 12 2018

Last week, the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia, and Iran met to devise a way to protect the last-named country from the recently renewed U.S. sanctions. Clifford May comments:

French, British, and German leaders . . . continue to insist that the nuclear deal is a reasonable bargain. In exchange for economic benefits, Iran’s theocrats have promised to slow—not end—their illicit nuclear-weapons program. [Although] Iran’s theocrats don’t actually acknowledge having a nuclear-weapons program, . . . they are threatening to accelerate it if the Europeans don’t fully compensate them for economic losses caused by the re-imposition of American sanctions.

Just prior to last week’s meeting, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani phoned France’s President Emmanuel Macron and told him that the [proposal being considered by the Europeans] “does not meet all our demands.” . . . In what kind of negotiation does one side make “demands” of the other? . . .

On Sunday, the German publication Bild reported that Germany’s central bank plans to turn over to Iranian officials 300 million euros in cash that will then be flown to Iran. That Iran’s rulers are in need of bundles of cash only highlights how weak their economy has become. Decades of mismanagement and corruption are the primary reasons. But re-imposed American sanctions—with new rounds to hit in August and November—are taking a toll. . . .

Meanwhile, . . . Belgian authorities have detained an Iranian diplomat in connection with a plot to bomb a rally in France organized by an Iranian opposition group. . . . At present, however, British, French, and German leaders appear loath to offend Iran’s rulers and anxious to accommodate them. Which raises this question: if appeasement is the European policy toward the Islamic Republic now, what will it be if the regime achieves its ambition of becoming the nuclear-armed hegemon of the Middle East?

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More about: France, Germany, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy, United Kingdom

Russia Has No Interest in Curbing Iran in Syria—Despite Putin’s Assurances

July 20 2018

In his joint press conference on Monday with Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump stated that in their meeting he had brought up U.S. concerns about the Islamic Republic’s malign influence in the Middle East, and that he’d “made clear [to Putin] that the United States will not allow Iran to benefit from [America’s] successful campaign against Islamic State.” It does not appear, however, that any concrete agreements were reached. To Alexandra Gutowski and Caleb Weiss, it’s clear that agreements will do little, since Putin can’t be trusted to keep his word:

In late June, Russia began to unleash hundreds of airstrikes on [the southwestern Syrian province of] Deraa, in flagrant violation of the U.S.-Russian cease-fire agreement that Trump and Putin personally endorsed last November. While Russia struck from the air, forces nominally under the control of Damascus conducted a major ground offensive.

Closer examination shows that the dividing line between Assad’s military and Iranian-aligned forces has become ever blurrier. Before the offensive began, Lebanese Hizballah and other Iranian-backed militias staged apparent withdrawals from the region, only to return after donning [Assad]-regime uniforms and hiding their banners and insignia. Tehran is also directly involved. On July 2, a senior commander of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) died in Deir al-Adas, a village in northern Deraa province along the strategic M5 highway. Persian sources describe him as the commander for the province. [In fact], forces nominally under the control of Damascus are permeated with troops that are at least as close to Tehran. . . .

It’s also becoming clear that Russian aircraft are supporting the efforts of Iranian-backed units nominally under the control of Damascus. . . . Russia has also now deployed military police to hold terrain captured by Iranian-aligned forces, demonstrating a level of coordination as well as Russia’s unwillingness to use its forces for more dangerous offensive operations. These terrain-holding forces free up Iran-aligned actors to continue undertaking offensives toward the Golan.

Reported meetings between militia commanders and Russian officers suggest these operations are coordinated. But even without formal coordination, Russian air cover and Iranian ground offensives are mutually dependent and reinforcing. Iran can’t be in the sky, and Russia refuses to put significant forces on the ground, lest too many return home in body bags. Thus, Putin requires Iran’s forces on the ground to secure his ambitions in Syria.

President Trump should remain highly skeptical of Putin’s interest in serving as a partner in Syria and his ability to do so. The humanitarian relief Putin proposes [for postwar reconstruction] is designed to fortify the regime, not to rehabilitate children brutalized by Assad. Putin also has limited interest in curtailing Iran’s deployment. Russia itself admits that Iran’s withdrawal is “absolutely unrealistic.” Trump should not concede American positions, notably the strategic base at Tanf which blocks Iran’s path to the Mediterranean, for empty promises from Russia. Putin can afford to lie to America, but he can’t afford to control Syria without Iranian support.

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More about: Donald Trump, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy, Vladimir Putin