After Heightening Risks of Asymmetric Attacks, Iran, U.S. Cooling Off?
While there were increasing concerns of a flash point in the Persian Gulf in May which would have had wide ramifications for countries in the region as well as affected energy security of Asia’s major economies China, India, Japan, South Korea and ASEAN, there are prospects of decrease in tensions in the standoff between the United States and Iran.
The pattern is apparent in general from the diplomacy followed by President Donald Trump in dealing with key adversaries North Korea and Iran.
First rattle up pressure and then agree to negotiate.
The United States moved Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group as well as B 52 strategic stealth bombers to the Middle East in May.
The Carrier and amphibious group conducted simulated exercises sending notice to Iran.
Iran was also accused of sabotage of oil tankers in the port of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates and a rocket launch in the Green Zone near the US Embassy in Baghdad.
Iran is also seen behind the drone attacks by Houthi rebels targeting Saudi Arabia.
On the other hand Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has given a deadline of July 7 to set new terms for a nuclear deal or it will enrich uranium at higher levels thus withdrawing from parts of the Joint Comprehensive plan of Action [JCPOA] that limited heavy water and low-enriched uranium stockpiles.
Importantly International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has endorsed Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA so far.
Recent developments indicate that there could be de-escalation
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is due to pay an official visit to Iran.
Abe plans to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on June 12 and Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on June 13 as per Japanese news agencies.
The visit will be the first by an incumbent Japanese prime minister after the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and indicates heavy investment that Prime Minister Abe intends to make in bringing about a compromise between the United States and Iran
This news comes after US President Donald Trump had given a green signal to Abe’s visit during a trip to Tokyo for a Japan United States Summit.
President Trump also publicly stated that Washington was not interested in a regime change in Iran.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is also to travel to Tehran on 10 June, the first in two-and-a-half years.
His trip comes after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared on 3 May that the U.S. is prepared to engage in talks with Iran without pre-conditions.
Pompeo spend three days in Bern, Switzerland, and met with Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis in the beginning of a tour to Europe during which he also travelled to Germany, the Netherlands and Britain. Importantly Switzerland has been the go between for Iran and the United States.
Pompeo also gave a green signal to the Iran European mechanism for making payments skirting US sanctions. “When we think about INSTEX, if it’s aimed at facilitating the movement of goods that are authorized to move, it’s unproblematic,” AP quoted Pompeo.
Meanwhile Russia and China jointly voiced support for Iran and JCPOA during a visit o f the Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Russia where he was hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin on 6-7 May.
In Iran the reactions to these developments have been muted.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei has claimed that President Trump’s comments in Japan, where he said he was not pursuing regime is insincere adding that whenever US has taken an initative, “war, sedition, exploitation, or imperialism has followed.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s bottomline for negotiations with the United States is return of Washington to the JCPOA, which is not likely to happen as it would be a major loss of face for President Donald Trump personally even as the United States Presidential race is heating up.
What compromise emerges thus remains to be seen, but there are very early signs of reduction of a flash point in the Persian Gulf?