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US Foreign Policy in Crisis

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Following the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is the third multilateral agreement that the current United States administration has withdrawn from. The administration has also put in jeopardy other multilateral arrangements such as NAFTA, the global trade system, and parts of the United Nations system, thus inflicting considerable damage to multilateralism, and the prospects for resolving disputes through diplomacy.

The announcement on 8 May 2018 of United States’ withdrawal from the JCPOA and the unilateral and unlawful re-imposition of nuclear sanctions — a decision opposed by majority of the American people — was the culmination of a series of violations of the terms of the accord by this administration, in spite of the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency, as the sole competent international authority had repeatedly verified Iran’s compliance with its commitments under the accord. The U.S. decision was rejected by the international community and even its closest allies, including the European Union, Britain, France and Germany.

On 21 May 2018, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a baseless and insulting statement, issued a number of demands of and threats against Iran in brazen contravention of international law, well-established international norms, and civilized behavior. His statement reflected a desperate reaction by the US administration to the overwhelming opposition of the international community to the persistent efforts by the White House to kill the JCPOA, and the ensuing Washington’s isolation. Mr. Pompeo, in his statement, attempted to justify the US’ withdrawal from the JCPOA and divert international public opinion from the unlawful behavior of the United States and its outright violation of UN Security Council resolution 2231; a resolution drafted and proposed by the US itself and adopted unanimously by the Council. Mr. Pompeo’s 12 preconditions for Iran to follow are especially preposterous as the US administration itself is increasingly isolated internationally due to its effort to undermine diplomacy and multilateralism. It comes as no surprise that the statement and the one made by the US president on Iran were either ignored or received negatively by the international community, including by friends and allies of the United States. Only a small handful of US client states in our region welcomed it.

I seriously doubt that had the US Secretary of State even had a slight knowledge of Iran’s history and culture and the Iranian people’s struggle for independence and freedom, and had he known that Iran’s political system—in contrast to those of the American allies in the region—is based on a popular revolution and the people’s will, would he have delivered such an outlandish statement. He should, however, know that ending foreign intervention in Iran’s domestic affairs, which culminated in the 25-year period following the US-orchestrated coup in 1953, had always been one of the Iranian people’s main demands since well before the Islamic Revolution. He should also be aware that in the past 40 years the Iranian people have heroically resisted and foiled aggressions and pressures by the US, including its coup attempts, military interventions, support of the aggressor in an 8-year war, imposition of unilateral, extraterritorial and even multilateral sanctions, and even going as far as shooting down an Iranian passenger plane in the Persian Gulf in 1987. “Never forget” is our mantra, too.

The Islamic Republic of Iran derives its strength and stability from the brave and peace-loving Iranian people; a people who, while seeking constructive interaction with the world on the basis of mutual respect, are ready to resist bullying and extortions and defend in unison their country’s independence and honor. History bears testimony to the fact that those who staged aggression against this age-old land, such as Saddam and his regime’s supporters, all met an ignominious fate, while Iran has proudly and vibrantly continued its path towards a better and brighter future.

It is regrettable that in the past one-and-a-half years, US foreign policy—if we can call it that—including its policy towards Iran has been predicated on flawed assumptions and illusions—if not actual delusions. The US President and his Secretary of State have persistently made baseless and provocative allegations against Iran that constitute blatant intervention in Iran’s domestic affairs, unlawful threats against a UN Member State, and violations of the United States’ international obligations under the UN Charter, the 1955 Treaty, and the 1981 Algiers Accord. While rejecting these fictitious allegations, I would like to draw the attention of U.S. policymakers to some aspects of their nation’s current foreign policy that are detrimental to the entire international community:

Impulsive and illogical decisions and behavior of the US President—and efforts by his subordinates to find some justification to persuade a reluctant domestic and foreign audience—have already surfaced as the main feature of the decision-making process in Washington over the past 17 months. This process, coupled with ill-conceived and hasty explanations to justify outcomes, usually lead to contradictory statements and actions. As an example, in his role as CIA Director, Mike Pompeo once in a Congressional hearing emphatically stated: “Iran has not violated its commitments.” Later, and following the US President’s decision to withdraw from the accord, now Secretary of State Pompeo in his statement on May 21 emphatically stated that “Iran has violated its commitments.”

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that some aspects of US foreign policy have been put up for auction—far beyond the routine lobbying practices. It is, for instance, unprecedented that a US president should choose the very country he had called “fanatic and a supporter of terrorism” during his election campaign as the destination for his first foreign visit as president, or to publicly make aspects of his foreign policy positions contingent on the purchase by one or another country of arms and other items from the United States. It has also been reported that in some other cases, mostly illegitimate financial interests have been the main basis for the formulation of mind-bogglingly ill-conceived US policy positions.

Contempt for international law and attempts to undermine the rule of law in international relations have been among the main features of the current administration’s foreign policy. To the extent, according to media reports, that the US negotiators in the G7 Summit were even insisting on deleting the phrase “our commitment to promote the rules-based international order.” This destructive approach began by showing contempt for the fundamental principle of pacta sunt servanda, which is arguably the oldest principle of international law. The US withdrawal from some international agreements and undermining others, coupled with efforts to weaken international organizations, are examples of destructive moves so far by the US government, which have unfortunately darkened the outlook for the international order. Obviously, the continuation of such policies can endanger the stability of the international community, turning the U.S. into a rogue state and an international outlaw.

Predicating decisions on illusions is another aspect of this administration’s foreign policy. This has been especially evident with respect to West Asia. The illegal and provocative decision regarding al-Quds al-Sharif, blind support for the cruel atrocities committed by the Zionist regime against Gazans, and aerial and missile attacks against Syria are some of the more brazen aspects of such an unprincipled foreign policy.

The statement made by Mr. Pompeo on May 21 was the culmination of a delusional US approach to our region. Ironically, the U.S. Secretary of State tried to set preconditions for negotiations and agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran at a time when the international community is doubtful about the possibility or utility of negotiation or agreement with the US on any issue. How can the US government expect to be viewed or treated as a reliable party to another round of serious negotiations following its unilateral and unwarranted withdrawal from an agreement which was the result of hundreds of hours of arduous bilateral and multilateral negotiations, in which the highest ranking US foreign affairs official participated, and which was submitted to the Security Council by the US and adopted unanimously as an international commitment under Article 25 of the Charter?

Recent statements and actions by the U.S. president, including reneging on his agreement with the G7 while in the air flying back from the summit, are other examples of his erratic behavior. His remarks immediately following his meeting with the leader of the DPRK regarding his possible change of mind in 6 months are indicative of what the world is facing—an irrational and dangerous US administration. Does the US Secretary of State really expect Iran to negotiate with a government whose president says: “I may stand before you in six months and say, ‘Hey, I was wrong. I don’t know if I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse”? Can such a government really set preconditions for Iran? Isn’t it actually confusing the plaintiff for the defendant? Mr. Pompeo has forgotten that it is the US government that needs to prove the credibility of its words and legitimacy of its signature, and not the party that has complied with its international obligations and sticks to its word. In fact, the truth is that all US administrations in the past 70 years should be held accountable for their disregard for international law, and their violations of bilateral and multilateral agreements with Iran. A short list of the rightful demands of the Iranian people from the US government could include the following:

The US government must respect Iran’s independence and national sovereignty and assure Iran that it will end its intervention in Iran’s domestic affairs in accordance with international law in general, and the 1981 Algiers Accord in particular.

The United States must abandon its policy of resorting to the threat or use of force – which constitute a breach of the preemptory norms of international law and principles of the Charter of the United Nations – as an option in the conduct of its foreign affairs with or against the Islamic Republic of Iran and other States.

The US government should respect the State immunity of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is a fundamental principle of international law, and, while rescinding previous arbitrary and unlawful financial judgments, it should refrain from executing them in the US and extra-territorially.

The US government should openly acknowledge its unwarranted and unlawful actions against the people of Iran over the past decades, including inter alia the following, take remedial measures to compensate the people of Iran for the damages incurred, and provide verifiable assurances that it will cease and desist from such illegal measures and refrain from ever repeating them:

its role in the 1953 coup that led to the overthrow of Iran’s lawful and democratically-elected government and the subsequent 25 years of dictatorship in Iran;

unlawful blocking, seizure and confiscation of tens of billions of dollars of assets of the Iranian people after the Islamic revolution, or under various baseless pretexts in recent years;

direct military aggression against Iran in April 1980, which was a blatant violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iran;

provision of massive military and intelligence assistance to the Iraqi dictator during the 8-year war he imposed on the Iranian people inflicting hundreds of billions of dollars of damages on Iran and its people;

responsibility in the enormous suffering that Iranians have incurred over the past 3 decades as a result of the use by Saddam of chemical weapons, whose ingredients were provided by the US and some other western countries;

the shooting down of an Iran Air passenger plane by the USS Vincennes in July 1988—a flagrant crime that led to the murder of 290 innocent passengers and crew, and the subsequent awarding of a medal to the captain of the ship rather than punishing him for his war crime;

repeated attacks against Iran’s oil platforms in the Persian Gulf in the spring of 1988;

repeated and unwarranted insults against the Iranian people by calling the entire nation “an outlaw and rogue nation” or “a terrorist nation”  and by including Iran in the so-called “axis of evil;”

unlawful and unreasonable establishment of a bigoted list of the nationals of some Islamic countries, including Iranians, prohibiting their entry into the US. The Iranians are among the most successful, educated and law-abiding immigrants in the US and have done great service to American society. They are now prohibited from seeing their loved ones, including even their aging grandparents;

harboring and providing safe haven to anti-Iranian saboteurs in the USA, who openly incite blind violence against Iranian civilians, and supporting criminal gangs and militias and terrorist organizations, some of which were listed for years as terrorist groups by the US and later removed from the list following intense lobbying by those who have received money from them. Some of those lobbyists  now occupy high-ranking positions in the Trump administration;

support provided to Mossad for the multiple terrorist assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists;

sabotage of Iran’s nuclear peaceful program through cyber-attacks;

fabrication of fake documents to deceive the international community over Iran’s peaceful nuclear program and to create an unnecessary crisis.

The United States government must cease its persistent economic aggression against the Iranian people which has continued over the past four decades; nullify the cruel and extensive primary and extraterritorial sanctions, rescind hundreds of legislations and executive orders aimed at disrupting Iran’s normal development which are in flagrant contravention of international law and have been universally condemned, and compensate the Iranian people for the enormous damages to the Iranian economy and its people.

The US government should immediately cease its violations and breaches of the JCPOA, which have caused hundreds of billions of dollars in direct and indirect damages for disrupting trade with and foreign investment in Iran, compensate Iranian people for these damages and commit to implement unconditionally and verifiably all of its obligations under the accord, and refrain (in accordance with the JCPOA) from any policy or action to adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran.

The US government should release all Iranians and non-Iranians who are detained under cruel conditions in the US under fabricated charges related to the alleged violation of sanctions, or apprehended in other countries following unlawful pressure by the US government for extradition, and compensate for the damage inflicted on them. These include pregnant women, the elderly and people suffering from serious health problems; some of whom have even lost their lives in prison.

The US government should acknowledge the consequences of its invasions and interventions in the region, including in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf region, and withdraw its forces from and stop interfering in the region.

The US government should cease policies and behavior that have led to the creation of the vicious DAESH terrorist group and other extremist organizations, and compel its regional allies to verifiably stop providing financial and political support and armaments to extremist groups in West Asia and the world.

The US government should stop providing arms and military equipment to the aggressors—who are murdering thousands of innocent Yemeni civilians and destroying the country— and cease its participation in these attacks. It should compel its allies to end their aggression against Yemen and compensate for the enormous damage done to that country.

The US government should stop its unlimited and unconditional support for the Zionist regime in line with its obligations under international law; condemn its policy of apartheid and gross violations of human rights, and support the rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to self-determination and the establishment of an independent Palestinian State with al-Quds al-Sharif as its capital.

The US government should stop selling hundreds of billions of lethal—not beautiful—military equipment every year to regions in crisis, especially West Asia, and instead of turning these regions into powder kegs it should allow the enormous amount of money spent on arms to serve as funding for development and combating poverty. Only a fraction of the money paid by US arms customers could alleviate hunger and abject poverty, provide for potable, clean water, and combat diseases throughout the globe.

The US government should stop opposing the efforts by the international community for the past 5 decades to establish a zone free from weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. It should compel the Zionist regime—with its history of aggression and occupation—to de-nuclearize, thus neutralizing the gravest real threat to regional and international peace and security, which emanates from the most destructive arms in the hands of the most warmongering regime in our time.

The US government should stop increasingly relying on nuclear weapons and the doctrines of using nuclear weapons to counter conventional threats—a policy that is in flagrant contravention of its commitment under Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, the 1995 NPT Review Conference Declaration, and UN Security Council resolution 984. The U.S. should comply with its moral, legal and security obligations in the field of nuclear disarmament, which is a near unanimous demand of all United Nations Member States, and virtually all people across the globe, including even former US Secretaries of State. As the only State that is stamped with the shame of ever using nuclear weapons itself, it is incumbent on the US to relieve humanity from the nightmare of a global nuclear holocaust, and give up on the illusion of security based on “mutually assured destruction” (MAD).

The US government should once and for all commit itself to respect the principle of pacta sunt servanda (agreements must be kept), which is the most fundamental principle of international law and a foundation for civilized relations among peoples, and discard in practice the dangerous doctrine which views international law and international organizations as merely “a tool in the US toolbox”.

The aforementioned US policies are examples of what has resulted in Iranians distrusting the American government. They are also among underlying causes of injustice, violence, terrorism, war and insecurity in West Asia. These policies will bring about nothing but a heavy toll in human lives and material assets for different regions of the world, and isolation for the US in world public opinion. The only ones benefitting are and will be lethal arms manufacturers. If the US government summons the courage to renounce these policies in words and deeds, its global isolation will end and a new image of the US will emerge in the world, including in Iran, paving the path to joint efforts for security, stability, and inclusive sustainable development.

I admit that regrettably, it is not realistic to harbor a hope for such a change in US behavior. Thus, at the global level the Islamic Republic of Iran has for years promoted inclusion, multilateralism, dialogue, respect for the rule of law and nuclear disarmament through initiatives such as Dialogue among Civilizations and WAVE (World Against Violence and Extremism), and participated actively in international efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament and a rule-based international system. We have also presented practical proposals and engaged in serious diplomatic efforts to end regional conflicts in Syria and Yemen through diplomacy from the earliest stages of these unfortunate conflicts, sadly, to the deaf ears of the United States that continues to support aggressors and terrorists in every conflict in our region. And following the United States’ withdrawal from the JCPOA, Iran has earnestly engaged with the remaining JCPOA Participants (EU/E3+2) in a good faith effort to salvage this unique global diplomatic achievement. We continue to do so as of this writing.

Nationally, Iran has ensured its security and stability in the past 4 decades on the basis of its inherent domestic capabilities and its reliance on the great Iranian people, not on any foreign power’s benevolence or patronage. Despite foreign pressure and while expending comparatively the least amount in the region on armaments, it has become stronger, more stable and more advanced by the day.

And regionally, in contrast to the US and its foreign policy, Iran—in accordance with its constitution—neither seeks to dominate nor will it ever submit to domination. It believes that the era of regional and global hegemony has long passed, and any effort by any power to achieve it is futile. Instead of yielding to foreign domination or trying to dominate others, countries in our region should seek to create a stronger, more prosperous and more stable region. We in Iran view our security and stability as inseparable from those of our neighbors. We have a common history and culture as well as indivisible opportunities and challenges, and can only enjoy security and stability at home, if and only if our neighbors enjoy internal and international stability and security. We expect other regional countries to adopt a similar approach, and instead of insisting on the failed experiment of “trying to purchase or outsource security,” concentrate on dialogue, mutual understanding, confidence building, and cooperation with neighbors.

The Islamic Republic of Iran views the establishment of a “Regional Dialogue Forum” in the Persian Gulf as the best means to resolve regional crises and create a stronger region. We can begin adopting confidence-building measures to bring regional countries closer to each other on the basis of such principles as the sovereign equality of states, non-resort to the threat or use of force, peaceful settlement of disputes, respect for territorial integrity of other States, inviolability of international boundaries, non-intervention in domestic affairs of others, and respect for the right of peoples to self-determination. By fostering common understanding about threats and opportunities at the regional and global levels, we can move towards achieving a non-aggression pact and creating common mechanisms for regional cooperation. We firmly believe that we, regionally—as the inheritors of the richest civilizations the world has ever known—should stand tall and can solve our own problems amongst ourselves and secure a better future for all of our children without outside interference and patronage, both of which come at a heavy cost to our collective dignity as well as our future development.

First published in our partner MNA

Middle East

Saudi Arabia and Iran want to be friends again

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Eventually the ice-cold relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia began to melt. The two countries sat at the negotiating table shortly after Biden came to power. The results of that discussion are finally being seen. Trade relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have already begun to move. Although there has been no diplomatic relationship between the two countries since 2016, trade relations have been tense. But trade between Iran and the two countries was zero from last fiscal year until March 20 this year. Iran recently released a report on trade with neighboring countries over the past six months. The report also mentions the name of Saudi Arabia. This means that the rivalry between the two countries is slowly normalizing.

Historically, Shia-dominated Iran was opposed to the Ottoman Empire. The Safavids of Persia have been at war with the Ottomans for a long time, However, after the fall of the Ottomans, when the Middle East was divided like monkey bread, the newly created Saudi Arabia did not have much of a problem with Iran. Business trade between the two countries was normal. This is because the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Iran at the time were Western-backed. That is why there was not much of a problem between them. But when a revolution was organized in Iran in 1979 and the Islamic Republic of Iran was established by overthrowing the Shah, Iran’s relations with the West as well as with Saudi Arabia deteriorated. During the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini called for the ouster of Western-backed rulers from the Middle East. After this announcement, naturally the Arab rulers went against Iran.

Saddam Hussein later invaded Iran with US support and Saudi financial support. After that, as long as Khomeini was alive, Saudi Arabia’s relations with Iran were bad. After Khomeini’s death, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatemi tried to mend fences again. But they didn’t get much of an advantage.

When the Bush administration launched its invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran’s influence in Shiite-majority Iraq continued to grow. Since the start of the Arab Spring in 2011, Iran’s influence in the region has grown. Saudi Arabia has been embroiled in a series of shadow wars to reduce its influence. It can be said that Iran and Saudi Arabia are involved in the Cold War just like the United States and the Soviet Union. Behind that war was a conflict of religious ideology and political interests. Diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran came to a complete standstill in 2016. Iranians attack the Saudi embassy in Tehran after executing Saudi Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimar al-Nimar.  Since then, the two countries have not had diplomatic relations.

Finally, in April this year, representatives of the two countries met behind closed doors in Baghdad. And through this, the two countries started the process of normalizing diplomatic relations again. The last direct meeting between the two countries was held on September 21.

Now why are these two countries interested in normalizing relations? At one point, Mohammed bin Salman said they had no chance of negotiating with Iran. And Khomeini, the current Supreme Leader of Iran, called Mohammed bin Salman the new Hitler. But there is no such thing as a permanent enemy ally in politics or foreign policy. That is why it has brought Saudi Arabia and Iran back to the negotiating table. Prince Salman once refused to negotiate with Iran, but now he says Iran is our neighbor, we all want good and special relations with Iran.

Saudi Arabia has realized that its Western allies are short-lived. But Iran is their permanent neighbor. They have to live with Iran. The United States will not return to fight against Iran on behalf of Saudi Arabia. That is why it is logical for Iran and Saudi Arabia to have their ideological differences and different interests at the negotiating table. Saudi Arabia has been at the negotiating table with Iran for a number of reasons. The first reason is that Saudi Arabia wants to reduce its oil dependence. Prince Salman has announced Vision 2030. In order to implement Vision 2030 and get out of the oil dependent economy, we need to have good relations with our neighbors. It is not possible to achieve such goals without regional stability, He said.

Saudi Arabia also wants to emerge from the ongoing shadow war with Iran in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon to achieve regional stability. The war in Yemen in particular is now a thorn in the side of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are unable to get out of this war, nor are they able to achieve the desired goal. Saudi Arabia must normalize relations with Iran if it is to emerge from the war in Yemen. Without a mutual understanding with Iran, Yemen will not be able to end the war. That is why Saudi Arabia wants to end the war through a peace deal with the Houthis by improving relations with Iran.

Drone strikes could also have an impact on the Saudi Aramco oil field to bring Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table. Because after the drone attack, the oil supply was cut in half. The Saudis do not want Aramco to be attacked again. Also, since the Biden administration has no eye on the Middle East, it would be wise to improve relations with Iran in its own interests.

Iran will benefit the most if relations with Saudi Arabia improve. Their economy has been shaken by long-standing US sanctions on Iran. As Saudi Arabia is the largest and most powerful country in the Middle East, Iran has the potential to benefit politically as well as economically if relations with them are normal.

While Saudi Arabia will normalize relations with Iran, its allies will also improve relations with Iran. As a result, Iran’s political and trade relations with all the countries of the Saudi alliance will be better. This will give them a chance to turn their economy around again. The development of Iran’s relations with Saudi Arabia will also send a positive message to the Biden administration. It could lead to a renewed nuclear deal and lift sanctions on Iran.

Another reason is that when Saudi Arabia normalizes relations with Iran, it will receive formal recognition of Iran’s power in the Middle East. The message will be conveyed that it is not possible to turn the stick in the Middle East by bypassing Iran. Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran need to be normalized for peace and stability in the Middle East.

But in this case, the United Arab Emirates and Israel may be an obstacle. The closeness that Saudi Arabia had with the UAE will no longer exist. The UAE now relies much more on Israel. There will also be some conflict of interest between Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Prince Salman wants to turn Saudi into a full-fledged tourism and business hub that could pose a major threat to the UAE’s economy and make the two countries compete.

Furthermore, in order to sell arms to the Middle East, Iran must show something special. Why would Middle Eastern countries buy weapons if the Iranian offensive was stopped? During the Cold War, arms dealers forced NATO allies to buy large quantities of weapons out of fear of the Soviet Union. So it is in the Middle East. But if the relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia is normal, it will be positive for the Muslim world, but it will lead to a recession in the arms market.

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Turkey and Iran find soft power more difficult than hard power

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The times they are a changin’. Iranian leaders may not be Bob Dylan fans, but his words are likely to resonate as they contemplate their next steps in Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Lebanon, and Azerbaijan.

The same is true for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The president’s shine as a fierce defender of Muslim causes, except for when there is an economic price tag attached as is the case of China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims, has been dented by allegations of lax defences against money laundering and economic mismanagement.

The setbacks come at a time that Mr. Erdogan’s popularity is diving in opinion polls.

Turkey this weekend expelled the ambassadors of the US, Canada, France, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden for calling for the release of philanthropist and civil rights activist Osman Kavala in line with a European Court of Human Rights decision.

Neither Turkey nor Iran can afford the setbacks that often are the result of hubris. Both have bigger geopolitical, diplomatic, and economic fish to fry and are competing with Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well as Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama for religious soft power, if not leadership of the Muslim world.

That competition takes on added significance in a world in which Middle Eastern rivals seek to manage rather than resolve their differences by focusing on economics and trade and soft, rather than hard power and proxy battles.

In one recent incident Hidayat Nur Wahid, deputy speaker of the Indonesian parliament, opposed naming a street in Jakarta after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the general-turned-statemen who carved modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire. Mr. Wahid suggested that it would be more appropriate to commemorate Ottoman sultans Mehmet the Conqueror or Suleiman the Magnificent or 14th-century Islamic scholar, Sufi mystic, and poet Jalaludin Rumi.

Mr. Wahid is a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and a board member of the Saudi-run Muslim World League, one of the kingdom’s main promoters of religious soft power.

More importantly, Turkey’s integrity as a country that forcefully combats funding of political violence and money laundering has been called into question by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international watchdog, and a potential court case in the United States that could further tarnish Mr. Erdogan’s image.

A US appeals court ruled on Friday that state-owned Turkish lender Halkbank can be prosecuted over accusations it helped Iran evade American sanctions.

Prosecutors have accused Halkbank of converting oil revenue into gold and then cash to benefit Iranian interests and documenting fake food shipments to justify transfers of oil proceeds. They also said Halkbank helped Iran secretly transfer US$20 billion of restricted funds, with at least $1 billion laundered through the US financial system.

Halkbank has pleaded not guilty and argued that it is immune from prosecution under the federal Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act because it was “synonymous” with Turkey, which has immunity under that law. The case has complicated US-Turkish relations, with Mr.  Erdogan backing Halkbank’s innocence in a 2018 memo to then US President Donald Trump.

FATF placed Turkey on its grey list last week. It joins countries like Pakistan, Syria, South Sudan, and Yemen that have failed to comply with the group’s standards. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned earlier this year that greylisting would affect a country’s ability to borrow on international markets,  and cost it an equivalent of up to 3 per cent of gross domestic product as well as a drop in foreign direct investment.

Mr. Erdogan’s management of the economy has been troubled by the recent firing of three central bank policymakers, a bigger-than-expected interest rate cut that sent the Turkish lira tumbling, soaring prices, and an annual inflation rate that last month ran just shy of 20 per cent. Mr. Erdogan has regularly blamed high-interest rates for inflation.

A public opinion survey concluded in May that 56.9% of respondents would not vote for Mr. Erdogan and that the president would lose in a run-off against two of his rivals, Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas and his Istanbul counterpart Ekrem Imamoglu.

In further bad news for the president, polling company Metropoll said its September survey showed that 69 per cent of respondents saw secularism as a necessity while 85.1 per cent objected to religion being used in election campaigning.

In Iran’s case, a combination of factors is changing the dynamics of Iran’s relations with some of its allied Arab militias, calling into question the domestic positioning of some of those militias, fueling concern in Tehran that its detractors are encircling it, and putting a dent in the way Iran would like to project itself.

A just-published report by the Combatting Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy West Point concluded that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) faced “growing difficulties in controlling local militant cells. Hardline anti-US militias struggle with the contending needs to de-escalate US-Iran tensions, meet the demands of their base for anti-US operations, and simultaneously evolve non-kinetic political and social wings.”

Iranian de-escalation of tensions with the United States is a function of efforts to revive the defunct 2015 international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program and talks aimed at improving relations with Saudi Arabia even if they have yet to produce concrete results.

In addition, like in Lebanon, Iranian soft power in Iraq has been challenged by growing Iraqi public opposition to sectarianism and Iranian-backed Shiite militias that are at best only nominally controlled by the state.

Even worse, militias, including Hezbollah, the Arab world’s foremost Iranian-supported armed group, have been identified with corrupt elites in Lebanon and Iraq. Many in Lebanon oppose Hezbollah as part of an elite that has allowed the Lebanese state to collapse to protect its vested interests.

Hezbollah did little to counter those perceptions when the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened Lebanese Christians after fighting erupted this month between the militia and the Lebanese Forces, a Maronite party, along the Green Line that separated Christian East and Muslim West Beirut during the 1975-1990 civil war.

The two groups battled each other for hours as Hezbollah staged a demonstration to pressure the government to stymie an investigation into last year’s devastating explosion in the port of Beirut. Hezbollah fears that the inquiry could lay bare pursuit of the group’s interests at the expense of public safety.

“The biggest threat for the Christian presence in Lebanon is the Lebanese Forces party and its head,” Mr. Nasrallah warned, fuelling fears of a return to sectarian violence.

It’s a warning that puts a blot on Iran’s assertion that its Islam respects minority rights, witness the reserved seats in the country’s parliament for religious minorities. These include Jews, Armenians, Assyrians and Zoroastrians.

Similarly, an alliance of Iranian-backed Shiite militias emerged as the biggest loser in this month’s Iraqi elections. The Fateh (Conquest) Alliance, previously the second-largest bloc in parliament, saw its number of seats drop from 48 to 17.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi brought forward the vote from 2022 to appease a youth-led protest movement that erupted two years ago against corruption, unemployment, crumbling public services, sectarianism, and Iranian influence in politics.

One bright light from Iran’s perspective is the fact that an attempt in September by activists in the United States to engineer support for Iraqi recognition of Israel backfired.

Iran last month targeted facilities in northern Iraq operated by Iranian opposition Kurdish groups. Teheran believes they are part of a tightening US-Israeli noose around the Islamic republic that involves proxies and covert operations on its Iraqi and Azerbaijani borders.

Efforts to reduce tension with Azerbaijan have failed. An end to a war of words that duelling military manoeuvres on both sides of the border proved short-lived. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, emboldened by Israeli and Turkish support in last year’s war against Armenia, appeared unwilling to dial down the rhetoric.

With a revival of the nuclear program in doubt, Iran fears that Azerbaijan could become a staging pad for US and Israeli covert operations. Those doubts were reinforced by calls for US backing of Azerbaijan by scholars in conservative Washington think tanks, including the Hudson Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

Eldar Mamedov, a political adviser for the social-democrats in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, warned that “the US government should resist calls from hawks to get embroiled in a conflict where it has no vital interest at stake, and much less on behalf of a regime that is so antithetical to US values and interests.”

He noted that Mr. Aliyev has forced major US NGOs to leave Azerbaijan, has trampled on human and political rights, and been anything but tolerant of the country’s Armenian heritage.

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Process to draft Syria constitution begins this week

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The process of drafting a new constitution for Syria will begin this week, the UN Special Envoy for the country, Geir Pedersen, said on Sunday at a press conference in Geneva.

Mr. Pedersen was speaking following a meeting with the government and opposition co-chairs of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, who have agreed to start the process for constitutional reform.

The members of its so-called “small body”, tasked with preparing and drafting the Constitution, are in the Swiss city for their sixth round of talks in two years, which begin on Monday. 

Their last meeting, held in January, ended without progress, and the UN envoy has been negotiating between the parties on a way forward.

“The two Co-Chairs now agree that we will not only prepare for constitutional reform, but we will prepare and start drafting for constitutional reform,” Mr. Pedersen told journalists.

“So, the new thing this week is that we will actually be starting a drafting process for constitutional reform in Syria.”

The UN continues to support efforts towards a Syrian-owned and led political solution to end more than a decade of war that has killed upwards of 350,000 people and left 13 million in need of humanitarian aid.

An important contribution

The Syrian Constitutional Committee was formed in 2019, comprising 150 men and women, with the Government, the opposition and civil society each nominating 50 people.

This larger group established the 45-member small body, which consists of 15 representatives from each of the three sectors.

For the first time ever, committee co-chairs Ahmad Kuzbari, the Syrian government representative, and Hadi al-Bahra, from the opposition side, met together with Mr. Pedersen on Sunday morning. 

He described it as “a substantial and frank discussion on how we are to proceed with the constitutional reform and indeed in detail how we are planning for the week ahead of us.”

Mr. Pedersen told journalists that while the Syrian Constitutional Committee is an important contribution to the political process, “the committee in itself will not be able to solve the Syrian crisis, so we need to come together, with serious work, on the Constitutional Committee, but also address the other aspects of the Syrian crisis.”

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