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Thursday Aug 29 2019

Iran: Make a viable deal

‘Here you go’ said the Border Control Officer after stamping my passport at the international airport in Houston. He looked for the next family in the que, thinking I would leave, collect luggage and visit the city. But, I didn’t.

To the officer’s surprise, I sought permission to ask a few questions. He politely zoomed in his eyes. ‘For visiting Iran as a pilgrim in December 2018, shouldn’t’ I even be questioned’, I exclaimed. He kept looking at me.

‘For visiting Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan or DPRK, travellers are subjected to improved visa waiver program’, I continued. ‘And, this development has spread rumours that visitors from other countries who have a valid visa, but travelled to Iran, will be haunted’, I explained. A sober smile was the only answer.

My mind remained captivated with the list of high profile personalities who were denied entry for visiting the ‘complicated countries’. Among the dignitaries was the former NATO secretary-general Javier Solana. The Spanish diplomat was refused an electronic visa waiver in June 2018 for attending the inauguration of President Rouhani.

Solana, as EU’s foreign policy, had helped negotiate Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, famously called Iran Nuclear Deal or JCPOA. Yet, he met the fate that scores of other scholars, parliamentarians and businessmen unfortunately had.

Thanks for playing a charity match in Iran, even Dwight Yorke, the former Manchester United and Aston Villa striker was stopped. This was all thanks to an Obama era legislation.

Come President Trump and some of the blacklisted countries were painted even darker. The Republican imposed a ninety-day entry ban for nationals of Iran and six other Muslim-majority countries.

Unlike Jimmy Carter who took exceptional measures against Tehran during the hostage crisis, Trump came to the White House with an established mind-set.

As vowed, Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from JCPOA, leaving the other signatories in a fix. Had Washington made the deal to set the limit and raise the threshold later? At least, the circumstantial evidence supports this argument.

One can’t doubt the sincerity of those who tried best to resuscitate the spirit of the deal. But, it’s a fact that all such efforts were doomed to fail.

Long before even touching Tehran, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe found himself in an awkward position. As a result, his historic visit couldn’t bear fruit.

Now French President Macron has taken upon himself to pursue a freeze for freeze plan. Hassan Rouhani appreciated the effort by sending Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif to G-7 Summit to weigh the offer.

Yet, Tehran is convinced, it’s not the time to rejoice. Sooner or later, the United States will find an excuse.

So, what is the bone of contention and how will this hostility end? Former US Foreign Minister Henry Kissinger has elaborated it in black and white. In his book, World Order’, published September 2014, Kissinger dedicated a chapter on the very topic.

The astute diplomat recalls that the lines were drawn in 1979. It was time when Iran embraced Islamic revolution under Ayatollah Khomeini. Kissinger says, ‘when Iran, an accepted state in the Westphalian system, turned itself into an advocate for radical Islam, the Middle East regional order was turned upside down’.

Instead of rooting the relationship on the principles of national interest, Khomeini advocated spiritual grounds. And the successors followed his command that ‘must strive to export our Revolution throughout the world.’ For them, Islam is the champion of all oppressed people.

By opting that path, Iran is accused of forming a crescent that stretches from parts of Saudi Arabia to Lebanon. Every decade of this new millennial has reinforced its position. At first, liberated Iraq fell to Iran. And, then for rescuing the regime, bond with Syria strengthened. By such steps, Iran proved itself as a formidable force of the region.

It paid a price, too. Sanctions crippled its economy. The chaos along its frontiers increased manifold. As far as JCPOA was concerned, it had a little life anyway as the deal failed to clip the spanning Iranian wings.

The irony is that the adversarial actions solidified conservative in Iran. The supreme leader emerged more farsighted than ever. For Ayatollah Khamenei, unilateral withdrawal was an answer to all those who repeatedly asked him, ‘why don’t we negotiate with the US, or why don’t we develop relations with the US?’

In this scenario, offers of mediation from various Presidents and Prime Ministers are mere lip service. Mediation is only achieved when both warring factions are ready to accept the offer. Even France that hosted founder of the Iranian Revolution is in no position to offer its good offices.

Recently, the French President claimed that leaders agreed on his role as G-7 messenger to Iran. But, when Trump denied agreeing to anything, Macron chewed his words and admitted Trump as ‘the president of the world’s number one power.’

With such animosity, can the views of the United States and Iran, be reconciled? The answer is NO. The conflict is more strategic than psychological in nature.

Kissinger advises involvement, not withdrawal. He recommends that Washington reach a geopolitical understanding with Tehran on the basis of Westphalian principles of non-intervention and develop a compatible concept of regional order. At the same time, he asks Iran to choose whether it is a country or a cause.

Well, Kissinger’s recipe for States is rejected by Trump. The President is pursuing an even more aggressive policy of intimidation coupled with sanctions. It’s an appeasement dose to his right-wing base. That very lot had brought him to power. Taking a U-turn, during re-election bid, will only equip his democrat rivals with a sophisticated arsenal.

On the other hand, Iran will also not limit itself to its geography. Over the years, it got benefited by flexing muscles and spreading tentacles. The country was requested help by the ‘elected leaders’ who faced extermination by ‘usurpers’. For Tehran, defending them was ‘legitimate’.

Keeping in view such opposing arguments there is every chance that the conflict will continue. Yet, it may not end up in a full-fledged war. The real question is who will gain more or lose?

There is every possibility that by imposing biting sanctions, the United States may further isolate modernists in Iran. It's every damaging action will provide oxygen to the conservatives who consider Iran as a cause more than a country. The only solution is a viable deal.