Why Iran’s Strategic Autonomy vis-à-vis US Matters
Melkulangara BHADRAKUMAR 28.04.2017 11:45

The meeting of the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which took place in Vienna on April 25, witnessed the United States representative going along with the stance of the other five participants of the so-called E-3 +3 (China, France, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom) plus Iran who vociferously advocate the raison d’etre of the July 2015 agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

Thus, all seven participants have «noted their continued adherence to JCPOA commitments and stressed the need to ensure its full and effective implementation».

This is brilliant news. It exposes that Donald Trump administration has indulged in sophistry. It becomes threatening now and speaks of scuttling the Iran nuclear deal, while in reality it sees the writing on the wall, namely, that there is no realistic option but to live with the nuclear deal, given the scale of world opinion favouring the deal.

However, it cannot and should not be taken as theatrics only. There is also an American agenda here to intimidate and threaten Iran. In a communication to the US Congress on April 18 certifying Iran’s compliance with the implementation of the JCPOA, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also linked it to a US National Security Council-led «interagency review» that Trump apparently has ordered to «evaluate whether suspension of sanctions related to Iran pursuant to the JCPOA is vital to the national security interests of the United States, given Washington’s concerns over Iran’s alleged «role as a state sponsor of terrorism».

Washington often uses the word «terrorism» in a geopolitical sense. What could be the precept here? It appears that the US allegations regarding terrorism are intended to put pressure on Iran from a geopolitical perspective in regard of the latter’s foreign policies.

When Washington alludes to Iran’s support of terrorism with Iran, it would have principally the conflict in Syria in mind. (Yemen figures occasionally too, but as afterthought.) The fact of the matter is that Iran’s comprehensive support for President Bashar Al-Assad has been a significant obstacle to the US’ regime change agenda in Syria in the past 5-year period.

Second, the Russian-Iranian military role in Syria has been highly effective in vanquishing the extremist groups operating in that country, many of whom enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) covert American backing. The Syrian government forces on their own steam, with limited resources at their disposal, couldn’t have withstood the US-led onslaught against the regime. But Iranian and Russian help made the critical difference to the resistance.

Thirdly, Iran and Russia strongly support the unity of Syria. The US’s hidden agenda seems to be to balkanize Syria into «spheres of influence» under the control of various foreign countries allied to the US that have intervened in Syria and now claim to be stakeholders.

Trump’s generals seem to be reviving the moribund regime change agenda in Syria. As part of this agenda, a concerted plan is afoot to create a «buffer zone» in the southern region of Syria which would be under the control of extremist groups. The plan serves the interests of Israel, which hopes to have «friendly» extremist groups control the swathe of land adjacent to the illegally occupied territories of Golan Heights. Israel is opposed to any presence of the Shi’ite militia or the Hezbollah in southern Syria.

Quite obviously, there has been a western campaign to drive a wedge between Moscow and Tehran over the situation in Syria. This campaign spectacularly failed, as is evident from the acceleration of the Russian-Iranian all-round cooperation in the recent weeks and months.

However, fundamentally, the US’ grouse against Iran is what Trump himself articulated when he told the Wall Street Journal recently that Tehran is «not living up to the spirit» of the JCPOA. The point is, whereas the US had expectations that Tehran might realign its foreign policies in a «pro-West» direction in the post-JCPOA period since July 2015, this has not happened.

Iran has diversified its foreign relations and is integrating with the international community so that it can reap maximum benefits out of the nuclear deal, but there has been no revisionism as regards the underlying ideology of its independent foreign policy. If anything, Iran’s orientation toward Russia and China has become pronounced. In the broader Eurasian backdrop, Iran regards Russia and China as its natural allies. The US’ mindset, on the other hand, militates against countries that strive to preserve their strategic autonomy.

Suffice it to say, Russian-Iranian relations form a crucial template of the geopolitics of Eurasia and the US remains extremely wary of a Russia-Iran-China axis in that region in the period ahead. The keen interest that Russia is taking to induct Iran into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as full member must have set off alarm bells in Washington.

The early signs are that the Trump administration is aligning the US more closely with the Sunni-led Gulf states and promoting a more confrontational stance vis-à-vis Iran in the Middle East as a concerted strategy to revive the American hegemony in the region. The Pentagon under the new leadership is inclined to ascribe more importance to the use of force. Demonstrations of force also seem to be designed to designed to reassure the US’ traditional allies in the region.

This has a number of implications, given the Pentagon’s enduring hostility toward Russia and Iran. Overall, an insatiable demand for US weaponry among Washington’s traditional allies in the Gulf helps sustain the military-industrial complex back home. Thus, the Trump administration’s projection of Iran as the greatest long-term threat to the US interests in the region, coupled with the deeply ingrained antipathy toward Iran (and Russia) amongst the neocons who are steadily gaining ascendancy on foreign-policy issues – there is even talk that neocons may yet find a home at the State Department – need to be taken seriously.

Suffice it to say, in the New Cold War climate in world politics of late, Iran has a crucial role to play. Therefore, a coordinated Russian-Chinese approach toward Iran is needed, in parallel with the «thaw» in Russia-Pakistan relations. Drawing Iran into the matrix of the Eurasian Economic Union, SCO, One Belt One Road and BRICS – and even the Collective Security Treaty Organization – in appropriate partnership formats will be a step in this direction.

The strengthening of Iran’s strategic autonomy to withstand US pressure – politically, militarily and economically – will be in the overall interests of regional security and stability and can only reinforce the processes leading to multipolarity in the world order.