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IRAN Iran and West Asian tensions



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IRAN

Iran and West Asian tensions

The recently concluded Geneva meet among G5+1 (G5 + Germany) and Iran has not only brought temporary ease with regard to Iran’s nuclear programme and partial removal of Western sanctions, but it has also more significance to West Asia.



Repercussions on West Asia:

With U.S withdrawing most of its troops from Afghanistan in 2014, Iran (now being a potentially valuable partner for the US) can help stabilise the country and deter the Taliban. Also Iranian troops had briefly assisted the U.S. in 2001.

With respect to Syria, Iran can play a major role in bringing a settlement in Syria, as Shia President, Bashar al Assad’s adamant stand has prevented a settlement and caused over thousands of deaths in a terrible civil war, over which Western public opinion is strongly opposed to military intervention.

With regard to Iraq, Iran already has considerable influence over PM Nouri al Maliki, where the illegal 2003 U.S-led invasion provided space for revived Sunni-Shia tensions which still cause thousands of deaths every year. Furthermore, Kurdish and even Sunni political groups have for some time now drawn on Iranian advice in forming Iraqi provincial coalition governments and resolving disputes.



Countries which were against the Geneva deal:

However, the Geneva deal has shocked most West Asian leaders. Saudi Arabia, which sees Iran as its greatest rival, has openly expressed its displeasure, but West Asian Arab countries made no attempt to participate at Geneva. Since 2008, proposals by Bahrain, Iran and the former Arab League head Amr Moussa for regional security talks have met a dead-end.

The standard responses to perceived security threats, such as using oil wealth to buy more weapons, even possibly including a nuclear umbrella, will not help the Arab leaders, because Iran is already cooperating with the G6, and increased weapons purchases would worsen a destabilising arms race.

As for Israel, which shares many of the Arab countries’ interests, PM Benjamin Netanyahu has cautioned that he would do ‘anything necessary’ to defend his country, and continues to approve settlements in the occupied territories.

But Mr. Rouhani has unquestionable democratic legitimacy, and even if justice for the Palestinians and democratic reforms in West Asia seem remote at present, it may not be long before those two issues are rightly at the top of the agenda again.

Deal with West not a zero-sum game, Iran reassures Saudi Arabia

Iran has reached out to Saudi Arabia by reassuring its regional rival that Iran’s restoration of harmony with the West in the aftermath of the recently signed Geneva accord would not pose any threat to the Arab nation.

Both the sides working together would promote peace and stability in the region.

This move follows the anticipation in Iran that a break in the 34-year cycle of hostility with the West that began after the 1979 Islamic Revolution may not be far away after the signing of the ice-breaking nuclear deal in Geneva.

However, Iran’s harmony with the West can be undermined if the wealthy Saudi royals continue to use their considerable influence in the region to hurt Iranian interests in countries, such as Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, by playing the sectarian card and encouraging violence.

Iran has assured that the nuclear deal is in favour of the stability and security of the region. This assurance holds significance since prior to the Geneva accord, members of the Saudi establishment had made it clear that they stood opposed to the deal.



Iran opposes Afghan-U.S. pact

Iran has firmly opposed the proposed security pact between Afghanistan and the U.S, highlighting that differences on crucial issues between Iran and U.S will persist, despite the game-changing nuclear deal that was signed in Geneva in November, 2013. (The Iran’s position is exactly opposite to the stance adopted by the West)

According to Iran, the proposed Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between Afghan and U.S. will not serve the government of Afghanistan, its people or the region. (The BSA would give legal backing for a part of American troops(around of 8,000 to 12,000 troops) to stay beyond 2014, in Afghanistan)

The security pact has stimulated a heated debate inside Afghanistan and beyond. It is feared that, the positioning of U.S. forces would have an impact not only on the stability of Afghanistan, but of neighbouring countries as well, including China, Pakistan, India, Iran, the Central Asian Republics and Russia. It might also lead to extremism in Afghanistan.

However, the NATO Secretary General has warned that if Afghan fails to sign the security deal with the U.S., then NATO would also withdraw its training and advisory mission in Afghanistan after 2014.

Afghan’s Prez reaches out to Iran to counter U.S. pressure on pact

Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has reached out to Iran to counter attempts by the U.S to push Afghan to sign a security pact that would keep thousands of U.S. troops on the ground beyond the official withdrawal deadline of 2014.

During the President’s visit to Iran, Mr. Karzai and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani have decided to sign a comprehensive “friendship” pact that would also cover “regional security” issues.

It is said that, Afghanistan has agreed on a long-term friendship and cooperation pact with Iran. The pact would be for long-term political, security, economic and cultural cooperation, and regional peace.

In tune with this decision, Iran has reinforced its opposition to the presence of foreign forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.

The U.S. had earlier warned that it would be ready to exercise the “zero option” implying that no troops would be available after 2014, at a time when Afghan security forces appeared unready. Working in tandem with the Americans, NATO has also threatened that its forces would not supplement U.S troops after 2014, in case a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) was not to be signed.



Iran nuclear deal: Russia, U.S. pushing for a permanent agreement

The Geneva deal was premised on allowing Iran to enrich uranium only below 5% purity in return for limited sanctions relief for a period of six months. Within this time, both sides are to work out the contours of a permanent agreement to ensure the peaceful orientation of the programme in tune with Iran’s sanctions-free accommodation in the international economic mainstream.

The intensive talks during the six months ahead would focus on the parameters of fuel production by Iran to run nuclear power stations, research reactors and others producing isotopes for medical and humanitarian purposes.

The Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has also advocated Iran’s participation in resolving the Syrian crisis.

In U.S, John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, battled Congress to dissuade it from passing another set of stringent sanctions, which were likely to push Iran to walk out of negotiations, as Iran had earlier warned that the Iranian nuclear deal would be dead if the U.S. Congress imposed new sanctions, even if they do not take effect for six months.

Curbs against the spirit of Geneva deal: Iran

Iran has slammed the decision by the U.S. to impose new sanctions, citing it as a step that undermines the spirit of the recently signed Geneva nuclear accord, which has promised to revive Iran’s ties with the West.

Imposition of new sanctions by the U.S. appeared to have been influenced by the hardening advocacy in Congress (U.S. Parliament) of retaining pressure on Iran.

On the other side, Russia has strongly supported Iran’s stand, stating the U.S. decision goes against the spirit of Geneva deal. The latest sanctions have targeted two Singapore based firms – Mid Oil Asia, and Singa Tankers. Mid Oil Asia is accused of supporting National Iranian Tanker Company in making money transfers, while Singa Tankers is charged with helping Tehran to make ‘urgent payments’.



Despite the latest curbs, the West has sent mixed signals to Iran in the post-Geneva phase:

The European Parliament (EP) delegation arrived in Iran, apparently to explore possibilities of deepening ties, especially the European oil companies are to enter Iran’s oil and gas sector.



Italian Foreign Minister has also planned to visit Iran, to discuss commercial and political ties marking the first official outing by an Italian top diplomat to Iran in nearly 10 years.

Mind-Mapping:

  • What was the agenda of the Geneva deal? Was the agenda achieved? What next?

  • What is the significance of the Geneva deal to Iran and other countries across the globe (with also India’s perspective)? Was the deal approved by all? If not which countries opposed the deal and, what was the rationale behind the opposition?

Iran backs deep-sea gas pipeline to India




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