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EU and Iran Inevitable Choice: De-Securitization of Relation

Aliakbar Kiani

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Iran’s deal with great powers in the framework of 5+1 negotiations (or 3+3 as European partners prefer to name it!), leads to Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Both sides seem to be committed to the plan so far; Iran to reduce its nuclear double use technologies and the west to remove international sanctions for that regard. But US election outcome brought a threat to the agreement. Trump since election’s campaign criticized the deal as the worst in the history of the United State. Forgetting how true this claim can be, concerning current trends in the Middle East, he is up to not extend the US partnership in the agreement anymore in the next step.

This happens in the circumstance which Europeans consider the agreement one of the biggest achievements of their approach toward managing global peace and security in order to settle the challenges with dialogue. This stand is normal for pro-EU actors after some severe damages to EU structure like BRIXIT or far right movements’ successes in some domestic elections which remind us the problem of democracy where it was born.

On the other hand some European states had deep good economic and industrial ties with Iran before imposing extensive international sanctions by United Nations Security Council on Iran for its nuclear project in 2010. Therefore Europeans tried to redesign economic contracts with Iran and at the meantime keep US in the deal. German, British and some other’s high officials visited Tehran. The last one was French foreign minister Le Drian diplomatic visit which all are rare event in European-Iranian relations. Announcement of French president Macron plan for an official voyage to Tehran comes to absolutely unique occasion during last four decades which we used to see Tehran’s isolation by western leaders despite mentioned trade connections.

Not like extremists in the US, mostly European civic pioneers believe that with deepen relations with Iran, they can improve democracy and social society in Iranian alive and dynamic community.  Therefore this can serve western global values as well. In spite of Iranian authority demonstrates modest motivation to promote and support this capacity. Does this case show a weakness point in European agenda which has to forget some basic norms it was established for?

But Iranian wise politicians consider the gaps between EU and US. Even though they cooperate with each other in the world’s securitized issues but Europeans are gradually coming out of Americans military shadow. Some plans for establishment of a European military organization embedded in EU not NATO is an evidence. English depart also accelerates this trend. Whereas other competitions in economic and trade fields are severely considerable in two sides of Atlantic.

With no doubt EU has not a unique spirit. New members in particular from eastern part are more interested in business affairs comparing to founders in the west which civic values are still important. Therefore individual members are capable to have different approach in relation with a rich energy state like Iran whiles their bosses in EU trying to teach them lessons of liberal democracy!

Iran’s Rise

After about four decades past from the Islamic revolution, Iran is going to regain its historical place in the region as a leader. Although reemergence of ancient Persian Empire after long term deprivation and current international political system seems not viable, but acting as a regional hegemony is lowest desire. Both world’s great powers and average states in the Middle East (e.g. US and Saudi Arabia) are concerns about Iranians ambitions and have declared that, beside practical measures in counter. But Iran is trying to reduce tensions by de-securitizing the relations in particular with the west explaining that: “this is our “breathing space” and reasonably normal for a power in our size!”. But here are some other facts which must be respected by critics.

Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, European-Iranian relations have fluctuated. US embassy crisis, Iran-Iraq 8 years’ war, Salman Roshdi’s book case, Mykonos court in Germany, Nuclear and Missile file beside human rights problem and some other events during last 4 decades severely damaged bilateral relations. In better word EU-Iran relations followed an action-reaction model instead of initiative productive approach which could serve both side’s interests.

Question is: For a world actor like EU and regional one like Iran, in spite of differences, a productive approach in relations is promising which maximizes achievable interests for both sides?

In some realistic perspective, analyzers believe that two sides’ different ideologies and norms make it difficult to be cooperative partners. But more social security approach proposes an alternative method. In this practical approach, de-securitization of relations is a solution. Most of available affairs are mainly politically oriented and are not security issues at all. Therefore establishment of productive relations is possible. Particularly when we remember in recent decades they had deep good economic relations even after revolution. In this context spillover of Functionalism agenda -which is an interesting approach in EU’s enlargement process – is also applicable.

Roots of Current Situation

Iranian Islamic republic had some essential principles which have been inflexible since the revolution. But various administrations in power -each for period of eight years- had different domestic and foreign policies. Like a spectrum, one based its strategy against west (by conservatives) and another one rather more pro-western at least in case of Europe (by reformists), and it is observable that both trends have their supports in the entire community of Iran. So, could Europeans take a strategy to strengthen one serving their own interests?

Indeed Iran’s strategic situation in the Middle East between Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea and being the leader of Shie’ Muslims, besides Iranian’s challenge with US and Israel, made Iran a crucial actor for EU. Keeping in mind energy resources and Iran’s big economic and trading market capacities never allowed Europe to put this vital state out of EU’s main agenda in the region, if not the world. Iranians also tried to divide US and Europe from the beginning. Europeans kept their strategic economic and political relations and even did not followed unilateral US sanctions imposed on Iran for US’s Embassy hostage in Tehran although they remain alarmed. Till the recent Nuclear file (non proliferation policy which normally EU sees itself more committed) announced by UN Security Council’s resolution, could unify EU and US against Iran.

But we know EU has some internal security challenges in globalized world which Iran can play more efficient role even if being a bad actor. Iran as a regional power and leader for a large branch of Muslims and also active neighboring with countries which almost all are in domestic terrible (e.g. Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, etc); with its energy and trade capacity can be a helpful partner for EU in the Middle East more than many others. Rooted terrorism in the Middle East, migrants and refugees flood, Energy resources (Iran has one the largest stocks in the world), and trade market capacities, environment and last but not the least drug smuggling road (which Iran is first in the world for fighting with Opium planted in Afghanistan) are of both sides main concerns.

More importantly Iran is not anymore same decades ago actor in the world politics. 1979’s revolution brought new young extremist politicians on power. They were against west oriented and pro Muslim community. But imposed war by  Saddam as representative of majority of Arab tyrant states (to prevent export of revolutionary waves) and many years challenge with some neighbors (in particular KSA or UAE and the rest!) made these currently matured politicians more realistic which are considering national interest in higher priority. They are pursuing practical ways to play viable role and gaining respectable position, while not violating revolution’s principles. New young generation as surveys show, is also less anti-western people despite continued propaganda and antagonism.

An opportunity for Europe is that Iran does not like to work with the US officially[1] and correspondingly US administration tries to keep and introduce Iran as a threat for liberal world. Thus with Iran’s leverage, EU can be more active actor in the Middle East; that is important for EU to prevent US unilateralism in the world politics. Internal security concerns and migrations challenge, rising of far right movements -which complains Union’s weak performance- and various other social and economic challenges are threatening European integration future. However Union’s practical capacity in the world politics highlighted among pan-Europeans and Iran could be for one more time the Victory Bridge[2].

Although for an actor like Iran, working with individual European states is more beneficial. Since most of critics against itself are not really in Union’s smaller states domestic interest, but they seems more EU’s general normative concern. Nevertheless in this context, these two actors can establish a regime for cooperation which benefits both sides. De-securitization of relation and focusing on mutual interests in the region with development of economic and trade capacities can shape better future.

Historically, they [EU-Iran] transferred from “critical dialogues” in the first decade of Islamic revolution (1980’s) to “constructive dialogue” in the second decade(1990’s) which synchronized with the proposal of the idea of “dialogue among civilizations” by Iranian reformist president, leads to recent nuclear talks and settlement (2010’s) by E3+3 in 2015. As mentioned earlier, if EU plays a more observable positive role with Iran, this will support reformists to achieve sets in domestic administration and it helps growth of democratic society easier and faster.

It seems today, is the time for long-term connections to de-securitize bilateral relation in order to be supportive partners for common interests in the region. It can assist Iran be a more productive actor in the region respecting more EU and world’s normative order and either being an asset for EU to deal with home challenges.

Conclusion and future Perspective

Iranian-European relation in spite of periodic fluctuation had a module during recent four decades and it inspired by both sides interests and benefits of cooperation and coordination. Although Iran had a more ideological approach and Europe had more economic priorities. Regarding Iran’s capabilities to influence processes of affairs in the Middle East and even beyond, American approach was quiet aggressive and made barriers in the course in particular by securitization the situation around Iran. It happens both in regional and international levels and also in case by case striking (like recent nuclear file).

Therefore, in order to keep the enthusiasm of Iran-EU connections alive, de-securitization of relation is essential in spite of US will. It is clear that both sides do also prefer this trend but till EU cannot get rid of American military shadow, European efforts to reduce Iranian threat perception should be continued since Iran has much fewer tools to enhance this agenda in public environment regarding the importance of media influence in the west.

Construction of this basement will spill over to other sub-fields which can develop bilateral connections. Respecting Iranian community potentials this will lead to improve Iran’s behavior in the framework of European values which by confrontation strategy by the west will reinforce conservatives in Iran and moving in counter way. For a recent US administration which tries to weaken European Union integration, rethinking the relations with a complicated actor like Iran in such a way will be great chance for pan-Europeans.

All in all, reminding the facts of collapse in western community in face of Iran, hence keeping in mind current real chaos in the Middle East and western Asia; US exit from nuclear deal (JCPOA) can divide US-EU more in coming years and encourage Europeans to have their own strategy toward world’s challenges.

[1] To be as one of Islamic revolution’s columns; this introduced USA as an Imperialist state beside Israel as an occupier regime dominates an Islamic state.

[2] Like during Second World War in 1943 for British-Russian joint operations connecting south-north in winning the great battle.

PhD in international relations from Iran. Young guest professor in number of universities and researcher in various think thanks in Tehran including center for Middle East strategic studies and institute for Iran-EU-US researches. Formerly served as expert in the center for Globalization studies dependent to Iranian presidency. Have various papers and international academic experiences in Europe and East Asia.

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Turkey and the time bomb in Syria

Mohammad Ghaderi

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The Turkish attack on northern Syria has provided conditions for ISIS militants held in camps in the region to escape and revitalize themselves.

Turkey launched “Operation Peace Spring” on Wednesday October 9, claiming to end the presence of terrorists near its borders in northern Syria. Some countries condemned this illegal action of violation of the Syrian sovereignty.

The military attack has exacerbated the Syrian people’s living condition who live in these areas. On the other hand, it has also allowed ISIS forces to escape and prepare themselves to resume their actions in Syria. Before Turkish incursion into northern Syria, There were many warnings that the incursion would prepare the ground for ISIS resurgence. But ignoring the warning, Turkey launched its military attacks.

Currently, about 11,000 ISIS prisoners are held in Syria. ISIS has claimed the responsibility for two attacks on Qamishli and Hasakah since the beginning of Turkish attacks.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump said that Turkey and the Kurds must stop ISIS prisoners from fleeing. He urged European countries to take back their citizens who have joined ISIS.

It should be noted that the U.S. is trying to prove that ISIS has become stronger since the U.S. troops pulled out before the Turkish invasion, and to show that Syria is not able to manage the situation. But this fact cannot be ignored that ISIS militants’ escape and revival were an important consequence of the Turkish attack.

Turkish troops has approached an important city in the northeast and clashed with Syrian forces. These events provided the chance for hundreds of ISIS members to escape from a camp in Ayn Issa near a U.S.-led coalition base.

 The camp is located 35 kilometers on the south of Syria-Turkey border, and about 12,000 ISIS members, including children and women, are settled there. The Kurdish forces are said to be in charge of controlling these prisoners.

Media reports about the ISIS resurgence in Raqqa, the former ISIS stronghold, cannot be ignored, as dozens of terrorists have shot Kurdish police forces in this city. The terrorists aimed to occupy the headquarters of the Kurdish-Syrian security forces in the center of Raqqa.  One of the eyewitnesses said the attack was coordinated, organized and carried out by several suicide bombers, but failed.

In response to Turkey’s invasion of Syria, the Kurds have repeatedly warned that the attack will lead to release of ISIS elements in the region. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyib Erdogan denied the reports about the escape of ISIS prisoners and called them “lies”.

European officials fear that ISIS prisoners with European nationality, who have fled camps, will come back to their countries.

Kurdish forces are making any effort to confront Turkish troops in border areas, so their presence and patrol in Raqqa have been reduced.

Interestingly, the Turkish military bombarded one of temporary prisons and caused ISIS prisoners escaping. It seems that ISIS-affiliated covert groups have started their activities to seize the control of Raqqa. These groups are seeking to rebuild their so-called caliphate, as Kurdish and Syrian forces are fighting to counter the invading Turkish troops. Families affiliated with ISIS are held in Al-Hol camp, under the control of Kurdish forces. At the current situation, the camp has turned into a time bomb that could explode at any moment. Under normal circumstances, there have been several conflicts between ISIS families in the camp, but the current situation is far worse than before.

There are more than 3,000 ISIS families in the camp and their women are calling for establishment of the ISIS caliphate. Some of SDF forces have abandoned their positions, and decreased their watch on the camp.

The danger of the return of ISIS elements is so serious, since they are so pleased with the Turkish attack and consider it as an opportunity to regain their power. There are pictures of ISIS wives in a camp in northern Syria, under watch of Kurdish militias, showing how happy they are about the Turkish invasion.

In any case, the Turkish attack, in addition to all the military, political and human consequences, holds Ankara responsible for the escape of ISIS militants and preparing the ground for their resurgence.

Currently, the camps holding ISIS and their families are like time bombs that will explode if they all escape. Covert groups affiliated with the terrorist organization are seeking to revive the ISIS caliphate and take further actions if the Turkish attacks continue. These attacks have created new conflicts in Syria and undermined Kurdish and Syrian power to fight ISIS.

From our partner Tehran Times

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The Turkish Gambit

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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The only certainty in war is its intrinsic uncertainty, something Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could soon chance upon.  One only has to look back on America’s topsy-turvy fortunes in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Syria for confirmation.

The Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria has as its defined objective a buffer zone between the Kurds in Turkey and in Syria.  Mr. Erdogan hopes, to populate it with some of the 3 million plus Syrian refugees in Turkey, many of these in limbo in border camps.  The refugees are Arab; the Kurds are not.

Kurds speak a language different from Arabic but akin to Persian.  After the First World War, when the victors parceled up the Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, Syria came to be controlled by the French, Iraq by the British, and the Kurdish area was divided into parts in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, not forgetting the borderlands in Iran — a brutal division by a colonial scalpel severing communities, friends and families.  About the latter, I have some experience, having lived through the bloody partition of India into two, and now three countries that cost a million lives.   

How Mr. Erdogan will persuade the Arab Syrian refugees to live in an enclave, surrounded by hostile Kurds, some ethnically cleansed from the very same place, remains an open question.  Will the Turkish army occupy this zone permanently?  For, we can imagine what the Kurds will do if the Turkish forces leave.

There is another aspect of modern conflict that has made conquest no longer such a desirable proposition — the guerrilla fighter.  Lightly armed and a master of asymmetric warfare, he destabilizes. 

Modern weapons provide small bands of men the capacity and capability to down helicopters, cripple tanks, lay IEDs, place car bombs in cities and generally disrupt any orderly functioning of a state, tying down large forces at huge expense with little chance of long term stability.  If the US has failed repeatedly in its efforts to bend countries to its will, one has to wonder if Erdogan has thought this one through.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is another case in point.  Forever synonymous with the infamous butchery at Sabra and Shatila by the Phalange militia facilitated by Israeli forces, it is easy to forget a major and important Israeli goal:  access to the waters of the Litani River which implied a zone of occupation for the area south of it up to the Israeli border.

Southern Lebanon is predominantly Shia and at the time of the Israeli invasion they were a placid group who were dominated by Christians and Sunni, even Palestinians ejected from Israel but now armed and finding refuge in Lebanon.  It was when the Israelis looked like they were going to stay that the Shia awoke.  It took a while but soon their guerrillas were harassing Israeli troops and drawing blood.  The game was no longer worth the candle and Israel, licking its wounds, began to withdraw ending up eventually behind their own border.

A colossal footnote is the resurgent Shia confidence, the buildup into Hezbollah and new political power.  The Hezbollah prepared well for another Israeli invasion to settle old scores and teach them a lesson.  So they were ready, and shocked the Israelis in 2006.  Now they are feared by Israeli troops.   

To return to the present, it is not entirely clear as to what transpired in the telephone call between Erdogan and Trump.  Various sources confirm Trump has bluffed Erdogan in the past.  It is not unlikely then for Trump to have said this time, “We’re leaving.  If you go in, you will have to police the area.  Don’t ask us to help you.”  Is that subject to misinterpretation?  It certainly is a reminder of the inadvertent green light to Saddam Hussein for the invasion of Kuwait when Bush Senior was in office. 

For the time being Erdogan is holding fast and Trump has signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Turkish officials and institutions.  Three Turkish ministers and the Defense and Energy ministries are included.  Trump has also demanded an immediate ceasefire.  On the economic front, he has raised tariffs on steel back to 50 percent as it used to be before last May.  Trade negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey have also been halted forthwith.  The order also includes the holding of property of those sanctioned, as well as barring entry to the U.S.

Meanwhile, the misery begins all over again as thousands flee the invasion area carrying what they can.  Where are they headed?  Anywhere where artillery shells do not rain down and the sound of airplanes does not mean bombs.

Such are the exigencies of war and often its surprising consequences. 

Author’s Note:  This piece appeared originally on Counterpunch.org

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Could Turkish aggression boost peace in Syria?

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On October 7, 2019, the U.S. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from northeast Syria, where the contingent alongside Kurdish militias controlled the vast territories. Trump clarified that the decision is connected with the intention of Turkey to attack the Kurdish units, posing a threat to Ankara.

It’s incredible that the Turkish military operation against Kurds – indeed the territorial integrity of Syria has resulted in the escape of the U.S., Great Britain, and France. These states essentially are key destabilizing components of the Syrian crisis.

Could this factor favourably influence the situation in the country? For instance, after the end of the Iraqi war in 2011 when the bulk of the American troops left the country, the positive developments took place in the lives of all Iraqis. According to World Economics organization, after the end of the conflict, Iraq’s GDP grew by 14% in 2012, while during the U.S. hostilities the average GDP growth was about 5,8%.

Syria’s GDP growth should also be predicted. Not right away the withdrawal of U.S., French, British, and other forces, but a little bit later after the end of the Turkish operation that is not a phenomenon. The Turkish-Kurdish conflict has been going on since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire when Kurds started to promote the ideas of self-identity and independence. Apart from numerous human losses, the Turks accomplished nothing. It is unlikely that Ankara would achieve much in Peace Spring operation. The Kurds realize the gravity of the situation and choose to form an alliance with the Syrian government that has undermined the ongoing Turkish offensive.

Under these circumstances, Erdogan could only hope for the creation of a narrow buffer zone on the Syrian-Turkish border. The withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the region is just a matter of time. However, we can safely say that the Turkish expansion unwittingly accelerated the peace settlement of the Syrian crisis, as the vital destabilizing forces left the country. Besides, the transfer of the oil-rich north-eastern regions under the control of Bashar Assad will also contribute to the early resolution of the conflict.

It remains a matter of conjecture what the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia agreed on during the high-level talks. Let’s hope that not only the Syrians, but also key Gulf states are tired of instability and tension in the region, and it’s a high time to strive for a political solution to the Syrian problem.

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