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Exclusive - Warsaw: A Step to Deter Iran

Exclusive - Warsaw: A Step to Deter Iran

Saturday, 16 February, 2019 - 06:30
The Warsaw conference. AP photo
London - Amir Taheri
Even before it was announced, the Warsaw Conference on Peace and Security in the Middle East had triggered a tsunami of both positive and negative comments.

Tehran saw the conference as an attempt at isolating it, thus making it more vulnerable to further sanctions or even military punishment.

Russia regarded the conference as an attempt at creating a new coalition of eastern and central European nations plus almost all Middle Eastern countries under US leadership to thwart Moscow’s foreign policy ambitions.

Part of the Iranian opposition welcomed the conference as a clear signal that the current US administration is prepared to at least re-think former President Barack Obama’s strategy of accommodation with the Islamic Republic.

In that context, by dominating the debate on Iran for weeks, the Warsaw Conference has achieved what the Trump administration had hoped for.

The conference also provided an opportunity for assessing the success or failure of Trump’s Iran policy so far.

In the success column is the fact that Trump has seriously tackled the task of dismantling the Obama strategy.

Besides denouncing the so-called “Obama nuke deal”, the new administration has also purged almost all the personnel associated with the “Obama deal” within the State Department, the National Security Council and the Pentagon.

An attempt has also been made to redirect television and radio channels controlled by the US government away from the sympathetic attitude they had adopted under Obama’s direction towards Tehran.

Trump has also succeeded in re-instating most of the sanctions suspended by Obama while adding a few sanctions of his own, without encountering significant opposition either in the US or among Western and regional allies.

The perception that the US isn’t going to endorse Tehran’s regional ambitions, as Obama clearly wanted, has also led to some change of behavior in the region.

More importantly, perhaps, the Trump administration has established a 12-point check-list of what it wants Tehran to do. In that context Washington has achieved its biggest success so far.

It seems that, notwithstanding the usual bluster associate with mullahs, Tehran has been quietly trying to conform with the demands of the American “Great Satan.”

The biggest hint of that came last Monday when President Hassan Rouhani addressed a crowd in Tehran.

In the middle of the 45-minutes long harangue came a well-coded diplomatic message to Washington: As far as missiles are concerned Tehran is going to do exactly what the US wants!

The message was wrapped in a verbiage of defiance with Rouhani saying Iran shall take no orders from anyone on its missiles program. Then he named just the types of missiles to which the US has no objections, pointedly excluding the long-range and ballistic ones that Washington wants to stop.

Interestingly, Rouhani’s coded message was fleshed out through an official checklist of missiles published by the official media in Tehran.

The checklist shows that over the past 40 years Iran has developed and stockpiled 17 missiles, none of which exceeds the 2000-kilometers range fixed by the US. The official checklist also states what exactly each of the missiles Iran has could do. The overall picture is that of an arsenal of “theater” missile and rockets that are of use in the battlefield or for short and medium-range operations.

The official checklist also mentions two rockets capable of launching satellites, a space prober and five surface-to-air defense systems. None of that violates the terms of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2032 on which US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has based his 12-point demands for Iran.

That the Islamic Republic has frozen its missile project below the 2000-kilometer range has also been publicly acknowledged by “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei, National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani and Chief of Staff General Muhammad Baqeri.

In Syria, Tehran has simply swallowed the countless attacks made on its positions by Israel, each time vowing revenge but doing nothing. It has also ordered its Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon to keep quiet.

That Tehran is also forced to lower its profile in Syria is now regarded by most analysts as inevitable. Full withdrawal isn’t easy within a short time because Tehran wouldn’t want to host the 80,000 Lebanese, Afghan, Pakistani, Syria and Iraqi mercenaries it has assembled in Syria. Bringing so many war-hardened men to Iran could prove a major headache for any regime in Tehran.

Tehran has also officially declared the end of its “military advisory mission” in Iraq. Meanwhile, General Qassem Soleimani, the man who heads the project to “export revolution” has been ordered to stay out of sight.

He spent the 40th anniversary of the Khomeinist revolution in his native city of Kirman, far from Tehran, instead of heading the marchers as he always did on similar occasions in the capital.

Last year, Khamenei threatened to “burn the nuclear deal” if the US denounced it. A year later he has not done so. Nor has he ordered “the resumption with full-speed” of the nuclear project.

Instead he has swallowed a humiliating scheme conjured by Britain, France and Germany to let Iran buy food and medical supplies in exchange for crude oil. This is even worse than the food-for-oil scheme imposed by the UN on Iraq under Saddam Hussein if only because the European nations will not buy the oil themselves.

Iran would have to go and find customers and then ask them to make payments to the three European partners.

Tehran’s decision to quietly cancel or lower the profile of its annual Holocaust denial and “End of America” and “End of Israel” may also be regarded as a positive effect of the growing pressure from Washington. Many of the usual suspects in the global anti-American and anti-Semite constituencies were given visas and air tickets to Tehran but, on arrival, were told to content themselves with tourist sorties, often away from the capital.

The recent upsurge of activity by part of the opposition to Tehran may also be regarded as a success for Trump if only because it shows that the message that Obama’s flirtation with the mullahs is over.

However, on the negative side Washington has not succeeded in settling the debate that has plagued it since the mullahs seized power in Tehran 40 years ago. This debate is over whether the US can cajole Iran back into the fold by supporting the so-called “moderates” “reformists” or “New York Boys”.

Pompeo’s 12-point wish-list is being fulfilled by Tehran.

But even if it is, a tactical change of behaviour would not solve the” Khomeinist problem” that has haunted the region for decades. The Islamic Republic could revert to its usual “cheat-and-retreat” tactic, behaving nicely until an adversary is fooled or its attention span is closed. Islamic Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif often talks of “sitting out Trump”, in the hope that the next Democrat administration will revert to Obama’s fantasy of normalization with the Islamic Republic.

Zarif and others still think that, if the worse came to the worst, they could calm down Trump with a photo-op and promises of better behaviour in the future. This is why they are feeding rumours that five counters are brokering a dialogue between Tehran and Washington and that Trump may even send his son-in-law to see Khamenei in Tehran.

Finally, the Trump administration is still far away from reviving the terms of the seven UN resolutions that the Islamic Republic has systematically violated.

The question is whether or not the “Iran problem of which many talk could be solved through a temporary change of behavior in Tehran?”

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