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Middle East

Resurrecting the Reneged Deal



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Standing tall as a key negotiator, the U.S. has parlayed most of the initial dialogues into historical successes. Whether it comes to sowing seeds of diplomacy with the European Union (EU) or leading efforts to strengthen frayed relations in the Middle East, there are only a few instances where the world power has fallen short in its agenda. What’s congruent in these failures, however, is the lack of flair, overconfidence, and rescinding of the promises made. These pitfalls have costed the U.S. more than the dividends gained. Whether it’s the untimely invasion of Afghanistan, interference in Iraq and Syria, or the economic revolt against the People’s Republic of China, the U.S. failed to capitalize on the gains once envisioned. The otherwise pristine record of the United States’ diplomatic successes, however, is tainted by the infamous rift with the Islamic Republic of Iran: once a valuable ally and now a staunch enemy. A passage of the resolution was missed a few years ago and now it’s more than essential to restore the sour relations. The time, however, stands short.

The Nuclear Deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was a landmark accord signed in July 2015 between Iran and core regional and global powers including the United States. The democrat regime, then led by President Barak Obama, forged the deal along with other countries making up the lobby known as P5+1: five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (Russia, France, UK, China, and the U.S.) and Germany. The deal negotiated a bargain of up to $100 billion in revenue through relaxation in sanctions imposed over Iran. In exchange, Iran committed to forgo its Nuclear Program to the point that if it were to direct efforts to generate nuclear weaponry, it would take at least a year to complete. This would allow the P5+1 ample time to respond. The restriction program under the JCPOA agreement mandated Iran to restrict its Uranium and Plutonium enrichment to a maximum limit of 3.67% whilst simultaneously dismantling its nuclear centrifuges. Moreover, the agreement urged Iran to allow the United Nations’ watchdog, known as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), unfettered access to its nuclear facilities; both declared and undeclared. This clause was intended to ensure that Iran was complying with the limits and restrictions dictated by the JCPOA agreement. With the representatives of the P5+1 making up the review teams of the IAEA inspections, the review allowed the parties to monitor and inspect Iran’s nuclear potential and safeguard against any violation.

The intention underlying the agreement was more urgent than many originally fathomed. What was initially perceived as collusion against Iran was a plan to reform the relations before it was too late. With Iran’s nuclear activity ramping up since 2003, it was only a matter of months before Iran achieved nuclear ammunition, had it intended to build one. Any effort or even a rumour of nuclear activation within Iran could reignite the havoc the world witnessed in the civil wars of Iraq and Syria. A nuclear expedition by Iran could birth a whole new spiral of crises laced with regional disparity. Starting with Israel, the Zionist state would have left very little discretion in its efforts to thump down the nuclear threat. Similar to how Israel has launched drone attacks over the years against the alleged nuclear facilities in Iraq and Syria, it would have most probably opted to decimate the facilities had Iran so much as insinuated inching towards nuclear nukes. Unlike Iraq and Syria, however, Iran would have retaliated with a far destructive power-play of tensile resistance. The possibility of the escalation alone could have tumulted the region to the brink of disaster.

Moreover, the proxy factions, arguably financed by the state of Iran, could have developed into a far graver threat had Iran ventured through to develop nuclear weaponry. Whether it comes to Hezbollah in Lebanon or Irani rebels in Syria, even an inkling of nuclear capability could have plunged the region into another bout of chaotic warfare, deadlier than the aftermath of the Arab spring. Lastly, with Iran sauntering towards nuclear arms, its regional rival i.e., the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, insinuated multiple times of developing nuclear weapons as a safeguard against the Iranian offensive. All in all, letting Iran sail through towards nuclear weaponry could have paved a gully towards catastrophe in the Middle East, potentially morphing the world into warfare similar to the World Wars.  These sinister possibilities made the agreement ever more urgent and significant.

Under the reformist vision of the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, Iran agreed to the deal after years of defiance and outright refusal of a dialogue. Not only Iran limited its Uranium enrichment to the set standards but it also took remedial steps in its nuclear facilities in Arak, Fordow, and Natanz to comply with the set agreement. The nuclear limits were claimed to be used for medical and industrial use whilst controlling the centrifuges from accumulating refined levels of Uranium and Plutonium. It is notable to observe that Iran never officially claimed to be pursuing a nuclear weapon in the first place. The eerie capabilities of refinement, however, implied a heavier truth than the words gave away.

Moreover, Iran reluctantly allowed the IAEA teams to inspect its nuclear facilities and publish quarterly review reports. The unhindered access to the United Nations Security Council was frowned upon in the echelons of Iranian politics, particularly by the right-wing factions of the Iranian parliament. However, President Hassan Rouhani played a crucial role in persuading the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to decree the clauses of the deal for the sake of the welfare of the citizens of Iran living a destitute lifestyle due to the exacerbated sanctions imposed on Iran. The deal reaped sanctions relief for Iran both from the United States and the European Union. While many of the sanctions imposed by the U.S. remained in effect, primarily targeting Iran’s Ballistic Missile program and its alleged involvement in terror financing activities in the region, economic relief flowed through when the U.S. and EU unfroze the $100 billion worth of Iranian assets whilst simultaneously lifting trade embargoes off the oil and weaponry trade. The economic relief allowed a breathing room to Iran and a mark of prosperity to the reformist factions within Iran.

The diplomatic strike of president Rouhani, however, was short-lived as President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Nuclear Deal in 2018, leaving the remaining parties of the P5+1 in utter dismay and disappointment. Coupled with the exit from the JCPOA, the U.S. slammed excessive sanctions on Iran as an offensive to bring down the already dismal economy and rattle the state to the point of submission. The vision, however, backfired. Iran retaliated by boasting its nuclear enrichment from the agreed 3.67% to a whopping 20%. With 90% refinement necessary for a nuclear weapon, Iran hinted to attempt its development by building new centrifuges in the Fordow and Arak facilities. While the EU trend to bypass the U.S. banking system to facilitate Iranian transactions to keep the agreement afloat, the system failed to offer coverage to any ambit besides food and medicine: areas already exempted from the U.S. sanctions.

The situation deteriorated further when the U.S. attacks killed one of the most revered figures of the Iranian Military, Qassim Soleimani, in an airstrike in Iraq. Coupled with expanding sanctions imposed on countries trading with Iran including blacklisting Chinese oil companies dealing with Iran, the Iranian oil exports were brought back to zilch. Iran, in response, rebuked the EU for bowing down to the U.S. unilateralism. Iran played the last straw by impeding the IAEA inspections whilst continuing the refinement of Uranium in its facilities. This brought the world back to the fears that originally framed the need for the JCPOA agreement.

While President Biden was part of the Obama administration, which originally forged the JCPOA in 2016, the time and temperament have significantly shifted. President Biden repeatedly emphasized the importance of returning to the deal if Iran pulled back from the retaliations and violations from the agreement. The Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, clearly stated that “The ball is in their [Iran] court” i.e., if Iran returns to the standards set by the JCPOA, the U.S. would agree to join the deal again. Iran, however, has made it clear that it would only comply once the U.S. lifts the unfair sanctions imposed by the former president. President Rouhani stated: “America was first in breaking with the agreement and it should be the first to return to it”. With the dilemma looming the Nuclear Deal, the time is short. As the clock ticks, president Rouhani is inching towards his departure. Not long before President Rouhani leaves office in June 2021. President Hassan Rouhani would want to forge the deal before his exit since his political acumen was tainted when the U.S. pulled out of the deal and proved the far-right factions right, who even accused Rouhani of betrayal. Thus, the window of dialogue could purge president Rouhani from the failure attributed to his name.

On the other hand, the hard-liners in Iran are expected to ascend to the office in September. Unlike President Rouhani, however, the deal would be intercepted by the right-wing factions in power given their distaste for the U.S. especially after the violations and murders committed by the United States. President Biden could have a hard time negotiating a lucrative deal with the hard-liners as so implied by Mohammad Javed Zarif, Iranian Foreign Minister: “A lot of things can happen between now and September. So, it is advisable for the United States to move fast”. President Biden, however, faces excessive pressure from the echelons of the Republican Party to negotiate a broader agreement providing coverage over Iran’s ballistic missile program and terror financing along with the initial nuclear deal. However, with time running short, President Biden has to reach an agreement in the house fairly quickly and assume the role of a facilitator to reap the trust of Iran to return to the deal. Either a disagreement in the house or failure to bargain a deal by June 2021, the U.S. could potentially run into an impasse and might lose the opportunity to strike a deal indefinitely.

The author is an active current affairs writer primarily analyzing the global affairs and their political, economic and social consequences. He also holds a Bachelor’s degree from Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi, Pakistan.

Middle East

Breaking The Line of the Israel-Palestine Conflict



The conflict between Israel-Palestine is a prolonged conflict and has become a major problem, especially in the Middle East region.

A series of ceasefires and peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine that occurred repeatedly did not really “normalize” the relationship between the two parties.

In order to end the conflict, a number of parties consider that the two-state solution is the best approach to create two independent and coexistent states. Although a number of other parties disagreed with the proposal, and instead proposed a one-state solution, combining Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip into one big state.

Throughout the period of stalemate reaching an ideal solution, the construction and expansion of settlements carried out illegally by Israel in the Palestinian territories, especially the West Bank and East Jerusalem, also continued without stopping and actually made the prospect of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis increasingly eroded, and this could jeopardize any solutions.

The attempted forced eviction in the Sheikh Jarrah district, which became one of the sources of the conflict in May 2021, for example, is an example of how Israel has designed a system to be able to change the demographics of its territory by continuing to annex or “occupy” extensively in the East Jerusalem area. This is also done in other areas, including the West Bank.

In fact, Israel’s “occupation” of the eastern part of Jerusalem which began at the end of the 1967 war, is an act that has never received international recognition.

This is also confirmed in a number of resolutions issued by the UN Security Council Numbers 242, 252, 267, 298, 476, 478, 672, 681, 692, 726, 799, 2334 and also United Nations General Assembly Resolutions Number 2253, 55/130, 60/104, 70/89, 71/96, A/72/L.11 and A/ES-10/L.22 and supported by the Advisory Opinion issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2004 on Legal Consequences of The Construction of A Wall in The Occupied Palestine Territory which states that East Jerusalem is part of the Palestinian territories under Israeli “occupation”.

1 or 2 country solution

Back to the issue of the two-state solution or the one-state solution that the author mentioned earlier. The author considers that the one-state solution does not seem to be the right choice.

Facts on the ground show how Israel has implemented a policy of “apartheid” that is so harsh against Palestinians. so that the one-state solution will further legitimize the policy and make Israel more dominant. In addition, there is another consideration that cannot be ignored that Israel and Palestine are 2 parties with very different and conflicting political and cultural identities that are difficult to reconcile.

Meanwhile, the idea of ​​a two-state solution is an idea that is also difficult to implement. Because the idea still seems too abstract, especially on one thing that is very fundamental and becomes the core of the Israel-Palestine conflict, namely the “division” of territory between Israel and Palestine.

This is also what makes it difficult for Israel-Palestine to be able to break the line of conflict between them and repeatedly put them back into the status quo which is not a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The status quo, is in fact a way for Israel to continue to “annex” more Palestinian territories by establishing widespread and systematic illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Today, more than 600,000 Israeli settlers now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In fact, a number of resolutions issued by the UN Security Council have explicitly and explicitly called for Israel to end the expansion of Israeli settlement construction in the occupied territory and require recognition of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of the region.

Thus, all efforts and actions of Israel both legislatively and administratively that can cause changes in the status and demographic composition in East Jerusalem and the West Bank must continue to be condemned. Because this is a violation of the provisions of international law.

Fundamental thing

To find a solution to the conflict, it is necessary to look back at the core of the conflict that the author has mentioned earlier, and the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to encourage Israel to immediately end the “occupation” that it began in 1967, and return the settlements to the pre-Islamic borders 1967 In accordance with UN Security Council resolution No. 242.

But the question is, who can stop the illegal Israeli settlements in the East Jerusalem and West Bank areas that violate the Palestinian territories?

In this condition, international political will is needed from countries in the world, to continue to urge Israel to comply with the provisions of international law, international humanitarian law, international human rights law and also the UN Security Council Resolutions.

At the same time, the international community must be able to encourage the United Nations, especially the United Nations Security Council, as the organ that has the main responsibility for maintaining and creating world peace and security based on Article 24 of the United Nations Charter to take constructive and effective steps in order to enforce all United Nations Resolutions, and dare to sanction violations committed by Israel, and also ensure that Palestinian rights are important to protect.

So, do not let this weak enforcement of international law become an external factor that also “perpetuates” the cycle of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It will demonstrate that John Austin was correct when he stated that international law is only positive morality and not real law.

And in the end, the most fundamental thing is that the blockade, illegal development, violence, and violations of international law must end. Because the ceasefire in the Israel-Palestine conflict is only a temporary solution to the conflict.

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Middle East

Iran unveils new negotiation strategy



Image source: Tehran Times

While the West is pressuring Iran for a return to the Vienna nuclear talks, the top Iranian diplomat unveiled a new strategy on the talks that could reset the whole negotiation process. 

The Iranian parliament held a closed meeting on Sunday at which Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian briefed the lawmakers on a variety of pressing issues including the situation around the stalled nuclear talks between Iran and world powers over reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The Iranian foreign ministry didn’t give any details about the session, but some lawmakers offered an important glimpse into the assessment Abdollahian gave to the parliament.

According to these lawmakers, the Iranian foreign ministry addressed many issues ranging from tensions with Azerbaijan to the latest developments in Iranian-Western relations especially with regard to the JCPOA. 

On Azerbaijan, Abdollahian has warned Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev against falling into the trap set by Israel, according to Alireza Salimi, a member of the Iranian Parliament’s presiding board who attended the meeting. Salimi also said that the Iranian foreign minister urged Aliyev to not implicate himself in the “Americans’ complexed scheme.”

In addition to Azerbaijan, Abdollahian also addressed the current state of play between Iran and the West regarding the JCPOA.

“Regarding the nuclear talks, the foreign minister explicitly stated that the policy of the Islamic Republic is action for action, and that the Americans must show goodwill and honesty,” Salimi told Fars News on Sunday.

The remarks were in line with Iran’s oft-repeated stance on the JCPOA negotiations. What’s new is that the foreign minister determined Iran’s agenda for talks after they resume. 

Salimi quoted Abdollahian as underlining that the United States “must certainly take serious action before the negotiations.”

In addition, the Iranian foreign minister said that Tehran intends to negotiate over what happened since former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the JCPOA, not other issues. 

By expanding the scope of negotiations, Abdollahian is highly likely to strike a raw nerve in the West. His emphasis on the need to address the developments ensuing the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA in May 2018 could signal that the new government of President Ayatollah Seyed Ebrahim Raisi is not going to pick up where the previous government left. 

This has been a major concern in European diplomatic circles in the wake of the change of administrations in Iran. In fact, the Europeans and the Biden administration have been, and continue to be, worried about two things in the aftermath of Ayatollah Raisi taking the reins in Tehran; one is he refusing to accept the progress made during six rounds of talks under his predecessor Hassan Rouhani. Second, the possibility that the new government of Ayatollah Raisi would refuse to return to Vienna within a certain period of time. 

With Abdollahian speaking of negotiation over developments since Trump’s withdrawal, it seems that the Europeans will have to pray that their concerns would not come true. 

Of course, the Iranian foreign ministry has not yet announced that how it would deal with a resumed negotiation. But the European are obviously concerned. Before his recent visit to Tehran to encourage it into returning to Vienna, Deputy Director of the EU Action Service Enrique Mora underlined the need to prick up talks where they left in June, when the last round of nuclear talks was concluded with no agreement. 

“Travelling to Tehran where I will meet my counterpart at a critical point in time. As coordinator of the JCPOA, I will raise the urgency to resume #JCPOA negotiations in Vienna. Crucial to pick up talks from where we left last June to continue diplomatic work,” Mora said on Twitter. 

Mora failed to obtain a solid commitment from his interlocutors in Tehran on a specific date to resume the Vienna talk, though Iran told him that it will continue talks with the European Union in the next two weeks. 

Source: Tehran Times

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Middle East

Shaping US Middle East policy amidst failing states, failed democratization and increased activism



The future of US engagement in the Middle East hangs in the balance.

Two decades of forever war in Afghanistan and continued military engagement in Iraq and elsewhere in the region have prompted debate about what constitutes a US interest in the Middle East. China, and to a lesser degree Russia, loom large in the debate as America’s foremost strategic and geopolitical challenges.

Questions about US interests have also sparked discussion about whether the United States can best achieve its objectives by continued focus on security and military options or whether a greater emphasis on political, diplomatic, economic, and civil society tools may be a more productive approach.

The debate is coloured by a pendulum that swings from one extreme to the other. President Joe Biden has disavowed the notion of nation-building that increasingly framed the United States’ post-9/11 intervention in Afghanistan.

There is no doubt that the top-down nation-building approach in Afghanistan was not the way to go about things. It rested on policymaking that was informed by misleading and deceitful reporting by US military and political authorities and enabled a corrupt environment for both Afghans and Americans.

The lesson from Afghanistan may be that nation-building (to use a term that has become tainted for lack of a better word) has to be a process that is owned by the beneficiaries themselves while supported by external players from afar.

Potentially adopting that posture could help the Biden administration narrow the gap between its human rights rhetoric and its hard-nosed, less values-driven definition of US interests and foreign policy.

A cursory glance at recent headlines tells a tale of failed governance and policies, hollowed-out democracies that were fragile to begin with, legitimisation of brutality, fabrics of society being ripped apart, and an international community that grapples with how to pick up the pieces.

Boiled down to its essence, the story is the same whether it’s how to provide humanitarian aid to Afghanistan without recognising or empowering the Taliban or efforts to halt Lebanon’s economic and social collapse and descent into renewed chaos and civil war without throwing a lifeline to a discredited and corrupt elite.

Attempts to tackle immediate problems in Lebanon and Afghanistan by working through NGOs might be a viable bottom-up approach to the discredited top-down method.

If successful, it could provide a way of strengthening the voice of recent mass protests in Lebanon and Iraq that transcended the sectarianism that underlies their failed and flawed political structures. It would also give them ownership of efforts to build more open, pluralistic, and cohesive societies, a demand that framed the protests. Finally, it could also allow democracy to regain ground lost by failing to provide tangible progress.

This week’s sectarian fighting along the Green Line that separated Christian East from the Muslim West in Beirut during Lebanon’s civil war highlighted the risk of those voices being drowned out.

Yet, they reverberated loud and clear in the results of recent Iraqi parliamentary elections, even if a majority of eligible voters refrained from going to the polls.

We never got the democracy we were promised, and were instead left with a grossly incompetent, highly corrupt and hyper-violent monster masquerading as a democracy and traumatising a generation,” commented Iraqi Middle East counterterrorism and security scholar Tallha Abdulrazaq who voted only once in his life in Iraq. That was in the first election held in 2005 after the 2003 US invasion. “I have not voted in another Iraqi election since.”

Mr. Abdulrazaq’s disappointment is part and parcel of the larger issues of nation-building, democracy promotion and provision of humanitarian aid that inevitably will shape the future US role in the Middle East in a world that is likely to be bi-or multi-polar.

Former US National Security Council and State Department official Martin Indyk argued in a recent essay adapted from a forthcoming book on Henry Kissinger’s Middle East diplomacy that the US policy should aim “to shape an American-supported regional order in which the United States is no longer the dominant player, even as it remains the most influential.”

Mr. Indyk reasoned that support for Israel and America’s Sunni Arab allies would be at the core of that policy. While in a world of realpolitik the United States may have few alternatives, the question is how alignment with autocracies and illiberal democracies would enable the United States to support a bottom-up process of social and political transition that goes beyond lip service.

That question is particularly relevant given that the Middle East is entering its second decade of defiance and dissent that demands answers to grievances that were not expressed in Mr. Kissinger’s time, at least not forcefully.

Mr. Kissinger was focused on regional balances of power and the legitimisation of a US-dominated order. “It was order, not peace, that Kissinger pursued because he believed that peace was neither an achievable nor even a desirable objective in the Middle East,” Mr. Indyk said, referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mr. Indyk noted that in Mr. Kissinger’s mind the rules of a US-dominated order “would be respected only if they provided a sufficient sense of justice to a sufficient number of states. It did not require the satisfaction of all grievances… ‘just an absence of the grievances that would motivate an effort to overthrow the order’.”

The popular Arab revolts of 2011 that toppled the leaders of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen, even if their achievements were subsequently rolled back, and the mass protests of 2019 and 2020 that forced leaders of Sudan, Algeria, Iraq, and Lebanon to resign, but failed to fundamentally alter political and economic structures, are evidence that there is today a will to overthrow the order.

In his essay, Mr. Indyk acknowledges the fact that “across the region, people are crying out for accountable governments” but argues that “the United States cannot hope to meet those demands” even if “it cannot ignore them, either.”

Mr. Indyk may be right. Yet, the United States, with Middle East policy at an inflexion point, cannot ignore the fact that the failure to address popular grievances contributed significantly to the rise of violent Islamic militancy and ever more repressive and illiberal states in a region with a significant youth bulge that is no longer willing to remain passive and /or silent.

Pointing to the 600 Iraqi protesters that have been killed by security forces and pro-Iranian militias, Mr. Abdulrazaq noted in an earlier Al Jazeera op-ed that protesters were “adopting novel means of keeping their identities away from the prying eyes of security forces and powerful Shia militias” such as blockchain technology and decentralised virtual private networks.

“Unless they shoot down…internet-providing satellites, they will never be able to silence our hopes for democracy and accountability again. That is our dream,” Mr. Abdulrazzaq quoted Srinivas Baride, the chief technology officer of a decentralised virtual network favoured by Iraqi protesters, as saying.

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