US-IRAN RAPPROCHEMENT?

US-Iran rapprochement?

-Dr. Abdul Ruff

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The nuclear deal signed by US led west and Iran remains the top story around which  heated debates are taking place as to the deal is really significant  and its implications for Iran, USA, Israel and Europe as well as world peace in general.

There is also a general global appreciation of West-Iran nuclear deal concluded recently and the recognition by International community of the beginning of a new future for the world by slowly shedding rifts.

Can the USA and Iran now build upon this agreement to improve their relations more broadly?

Needless to say this question stirs the strategic minds of USA, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, among others.  While Israel, already threatened by the American nuclear deal with Iran, Saudi would not like realignment of US-Iranian ties to further weaken US-Arab relations, Iran is wondering as to what is in store in USA for Tehran and what exactly the powerful US Jews and Israel would do to obstruct any real rapprochement between them that would have serious ramifications for Israeli super power status in Mideast including protection of its illegal interests in USA and Europe.

Considering how bad Iranian-American relations have been for so many years up until recently, Israel did not in fact expect that these two governments were able to reach a nuclear agreement at all. Western media reports and even manufactured opinions, seeking to empower Israel in Mideast and world at large by maintaining everlasting military-technology – diplomatic ties with USA, are now keeping their fingers deadly crossed as USA and other UNSC veto powers signed a historic nuclear deal with Iran, thereby paving smooth way for their mutual contacts and ties.

European powers, Russia, and China are already moving forward with Iran based on an assumption that the nuclear deal is done and sanctions on Iran will start to be lifted by the fall. Most Americans seek peace not by wars but through fruitful deals.

Leaving aside these problems, USA and Iran rapprochement to reach back to pre-Iraq-Iran war, could be problematic as there are significant obstacles to this.  One, of course, is that there are influential forces at work even in both countries that want to scuttle the nuclear deal altogether. But even though these could not succeed in blocking the deal, there are still other important differences between the two countries over several issues, including ongoing regional conflicts, US shield for Israeli regime and its nukes, Iranian relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states, and human rights issues. Also, as the 1970s-era Soviet-American cold war standoff shows, continued differences over regional security issues can halt progress toward rapprochement. The pessimistic argument is that there is no credible reason for any real US-Iran patch up. They wish ill of Iran and well of Israel.

On the positive side, some observers point out the growing new US-China economic and political ties to show that the US-Iran rapprochement may not be acutely problematic as China and America were able to embark on rapprochement in 1971 despite important differences between them, including ongoing Chinese support for Vietnamese communists fighting American forces in Indochina and for the spread of Marxist revolution in general. Consequently, over the years since Mao, Chinese foreign policy changed and Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, even broke with Mao’s revolutionary worldview, opting, instead,  for mixing communism with capitalism. This economic code mixing has generated plenty of billionaires to successfully complete with US rich men. Now China readily finances US capitalism against American efforts not to subsidize communism or socialism in any manner.

US President Barack Obama said after the deal was signed: “My hope is that building on this deal, we can continue to have conversations with Iran that incentivize them to behave differently in the region, to be less aggressive, less hostile, more cooperative…. Obama however cautioned “No one suggests that this deal resolves all the threats that Iran poses to its neighbors of the world. Moreover, realizing the promise of this deal will require many years.”

When Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivered his prayer sermon to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, just days after conclusion of the landmark Iran nuclear deal, the hostile rhetoric rang as usual. Khamenei, just days before the July 14 deal between Iran and six world powers led by the United States, said that Iran’s fight against “arrogance” was “never-ending,” and that the USA “is the very epitome of arrogance”. This rhetoric had played its own positive role in bringing about the nuclear deal.

Earlier, as the terror bond between USA and Israel against, Iran, Palestinians and other Arabs increased in velocity and as both targeted Iran by calling the Islamic nation as a rouge state and Axis of evils, the supreme leader also praised Iranians who chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” decried “evil plots of the enemies” across the Middle East, and said US policies were “180 degrees” opposite those of the Islamic Republic. “Our policy toward the arrogant government of America will not change in any way despite these negotiations and the document that has been prepared,” Ayatollah Khamenei said, feeling the pinch of illegal western sanctions for Iranian nation only to appease Israel. USA knows for sure Iran ahs no nuke agenda.

In his prayer sermon, for example, Khamenei said there was “no injustice worse” than US labeling of the Iran-backed, Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah as “terrorists,” instead of “resistance” forces. “This is while they support the terrorist child-killing government of Zionism Israel,” he said.

It was the supreme leader, after all, who called for “heroic flexibility” in 2013 for nuclear deal, and thereby bolstering Iran’s negotiating team while giving them unprecedented support as “sons of the revolution.”

Put the records straight: in order to ease tensions with USA, Tehran had democratically replaced anti-US-Israel firebrand, but the highly popular president Ahmadinejad with a new president so that Washington could feel at ease with relations with Iran. USA became confident thanks to the regime change in Iran to enable fearless deal with Tehran.  Signals emanating from White House indicate that USA is on its way to remove Iran from the blacklist of rogue states and Axis of evils. President Obama has already shelved the “rogue state” concept for dealing with countries like Iran and instead framed it as an “outlier on international law” – an approach more to the liking of the international community.  The deal is expected to bring in the Iranian government’s transformation over the coming decade.

Iranians often differentiate between their warmth for the American people and their dislike for Washington’s policies, even during events such as Qods Day, which attracts mostly conservative, ideological crowds in cities across Iran to denounce Israeli policies toward Palestinians. But anti-Americanism and anti-Israeli sentiments have been pillars of Iran’s ideological outlook since 1979. If Khamenei is scathing toward the USA in his latest speeches, he is obviously implacable in his hatred for Israel.

Iranians themselves are often described as among the most pro-American populations in the region. In one small but typical example: During the annual Qods Day rally in Tehran on July 10, chants of “Death to America” rang out repeatedly. Israel, America’s close Middle East ally, was also pilloried and its natural end predicted in graphic posters and banners. But when one man asked this reporter where he was from and heard the reply, “America,” he opened his arms and gave a hug.

That tangled love-hate paradox lies at the heart of decades of mutual US-Iran hostility and efforts to undermine the other. Rhetorically, therefore, at least, the distance that still needs to be traveled is significant. But the nuclear agreement offers a possible path forward. “Of course the nuclear deal is a test for both sides, both for Iran as well as the United States, and both sides can show their faithfulness to their commitments,” says Gholam-Ali Haddadadel, a conservative former parliament speaker and presidential candidate who is close to the supreme leader. Logically, everything is possible, but practically it seems very difficult. Israel does not want that.

The challenges Iran is still facing are evident already. Even as the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution that codifies aspects of the nuclear deal, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard commander Mohammad Ali Jafari was quoted in Iranian media as saying that parts of it “have clearly crossed the Islamic Republic’s red lines, especially in Iran’s military capabilities”.

Iran’s historical grievances include the CIA-orchestrated coup in 1953, US support for the pro-West shah and opposition to the revolution, and support for Saddam Hussein in the 1980s Iran-Iraq War. These and other events have “blurred” the vision of Iranians toward the USA. Americans too have a long list of grievances. If the deal is interpreted by Washington to “give permission for the US to come in and meddle again, it will never happen. If it is thought that this deal is the beginning of a future in which the walls of mistrust between Iran and the US will become lower and lower, this is possible, depending upon the behavior of the USA.

Meanwhile, the USA could find itself on the outs with the rest of the world if, after years of painstaking negotiations with other world powers, it ends up rejecting the Iran nuclear deal because that would essentially means America’s rejection of world peace, particularly peace in West Asia. Rejection of the deal would leave the US and Israel isolated, both in the region and internationally. That is especially true as Gulf Arab states appear to be coming to a consensus of support for the deal.  So, after its acceptance elsewhere as a fair deal if the USA rejects this agreement – the USA, not Iran, will become the issue again.

Repeated polls show a preference by US public for US-led diplomacy over go-it-alone super power military intervention. US Secretary of State John Kerry has been quick to issue warnings about the threat of America’s isolation, arguing within days of the deal’s signing in Vienna on July 14 that if Congress were to vote down the deal, “Our friends in this effort will desert us.” Kerry obviously has a very valid point.

A word world 

Holy month of Ramadan gave the world a golden opportunity to strive toward global peace by a historic nuclear deal. The deal allows both USA and Iran to shed the past and move on. While USA could emerge stronger, regaining a portion of its prestige lost since Sept-11 hoax, greater Iranian contact with the rest of the world will also empower those Iranians who see their country’s destiny as being part of the modern world, not in opposition to it.

Speculation grows inside and outside Iran that the nuclear deal could be a catalyst for broader US-Iran cooperation between the arch foes on other mutual interests, such as combating the self-described Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. There is a growing expectation in some quarters that the nuclear deal will ultimately transform Iran’s relations with the outside world, particularly with the USA.

As Iran overcomes its international isolation causing severe economic problems for Iran now, Israel, international isolation owing to its expansionist genocides in Gaza Palestine, is gradually slipping into worst ever occupational crisis as Washington and EU are now no more on its side on Palestine issue than  their “traditional ally” Israel. While EU is not at all favoring Israeli occupational tactics and crimes, USA has already begun moving away from Tel Aviv.  Israel’s predicament could eventually lead to help resolution of Mideast crisis resolution by establishing much delayed Palestine state at long last.

The deal marks “a new paradigm in the world” and “ends the cold war between Iran and the US, and they will come to know each other more realistically. The nuclear agreement would therefore be a starting point for Iran to play new roles in the region and the world which makes a new responsibility for this country regarding global peace

China’s unilateral action on South China Sea drives Pacific nations to seek US protection!

China’s unilateral action on South China Sea drives Pacific nations to seek US protection!

-Dr. Abdul Ruff

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Part-I

Asia-pacific region remains a flashpoint as China is gradually trying to expand its control over the common sea territories in South East Asia. China’s aggressive project to build small islands in the South China Sea region, ignoring territorial claims of fellow nations in the region, is hitting Pacific nations at a more visceral level, bringing anxiety over security. China’s creation of small military installations, including a 10,000- ft. landing strip, on various tiny atolls in the Western Spratly Islands seems to have ratted Washington to pay more attention on the issue rattling the region for quite some time.

 

The Pacific countries Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam and Brunei have long had their own competing territorial disputes in the South China Sea. To complicate the issue further, now China claims over hundreds of mostly uninhabited small islands, reefs, and rocks in the 1.4-million square mile South China Sea. Using traditional symbols to describe  one’s position in a given situation, China says it controls the territory within a U-shaped maritime boundary, known as the 9-dash line and also referred to as “the cow’s tongue,” since the line appears in a large curvature far below the mainland.

China claims a whopping 90 percent chunk of the South China Sea. Its maps draw a “nine dash line” to mark its claims, some of which are nearly 1,500 kms from China but close to the coastlines of nations that ring the line, like the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam.  However, China’s claim does not stand up under existing international law, as laid down in the United Nations Law of the Sea. China enjoys such rights because its fishermen have cast their nets in those distant waters for centuries. Those claims give China “indisputable sovereignty” over the land features and waters inside the line, Beijing insisted in a document presented to the UN in 2009. That sovereignty is, in fact, disputed. The Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Brunei all claim some or all of the rocks, atolls, reefs, islands, and water that China says belong to it. The Philippines has taken China to an international court at The Hague to challenge the legitimacy of the “nine dash line,” though Beijing has said it does not recognize the tribunal’s right to rule on the matter. Beijing evidently hopes that its recent land reclamation drive has changed the facts on the ground – or in the sea.

In order to showcase its prowess to  neighbors, Chinese naval forces have already denied the Philippines access to explore oil and gas deposits and have harassed Philippine fishing fleets from places like the Scarborough Shoals, which sit about 100 miles off Philippine shores.  The Chinese Coast Guard occasionally blasts Filipino fishermen with water cannons after they sail too close to the tiny island outposts. Such unilateral action by China could spiral out of control, or a misunderstanding” could result with a military clash, killing people.

Chinese engineers using dredgers have turned seven reefs and atolls in the Spratlys into artificial islands. Some are large enough to support garrisons, land fighter jets or to dock large naval vessels.  Satellite images show cement factories and multi-story buildings being constructed and identifiable state- owned enterprises racing to make the new islands habitable. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of PRC says these outposts would also help China “better safeguard national territorial sovereignty” and serve “military defense” purposes. Uses include helicopter bases for anti-submarine operations, aircraft refueling facilities, naval harbors and radar and missile installations that could one day help China’s air force impose an Air Defense Identification Zone over the South China Sea, as it has tried to do over the East China Sea in its dispute over island ownership with Japan. Those prospects worry both the USA and regional powers.

In addition to boosting defense funding, Manila is preparing to reopen a former American naval base in Subic Bay where it will station new fighter jets purchased from South Korea. Repairs are also being made to a rusting World War II-era cargo ship now beached in the Spratlys that serves as the country’s most western military outpost.

China’s expansion and reclamation of islands in the South China Sea has escalated tension among Southeast Asian countries, and coordination between Japan and the Philippines may be perceived in Beijing as tacit support from Japan that the Philippines have rights to contested ocean territory. Japan, Asia’s second-biggest economy after China, receives a cut of the $5 trillion in cargo that passes through the shipping routes of the South China Sea each year.

The increase in activity in the region comes at a time when Southeast Asian leaders are jockeying for control over a swath of ocean that provides a tenth of the fish caught by global companies, Japan does not have any direct territorial interests in the South China Sea, but Japan’s own national security will be greatly affected by any instability and conflict there, making it a legitimate stakeholder.

Meanwhile, a Japanese surveillance plane with crew from the Philippines flew over areas of the South China Sea that the Philippines are in dispute with China over.  The flight path taken by the Japanese plane was close to the Spratly Islands, which the Philippines claim, and where China is constructing man-made islands.

Japan and China also face a direct standoff over disputed sea territories.

The monopoly strategy of China, equipped with military prowess and a UN veto seat, has prompted an everlasting increase in military spending by the regional nations. The Philippines announced a 25 percent increase in military spending over 13 years aimed at bolstering naval defenses and effectively countering China’s claims.

As Asia’s super power China is pushing its agenda in the region, the Pacific nations are exploring diplomacy with the global super power USA, new defense options, and even international legal recourse to stop China from extending its sphere of influence just off their shores.

The Hague tribunal admittedly has no enforcement mechanism and Beijing has signaled it has no plans to uphold an international ruling. But the hearings may provide the Philippines additional arguments in future negotiations. A decision on whether the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration has jurisdiction to rule comes this fall.

Part-II

Obviously, UNSC‘s veto members have certain prerogatives, rights and advantages and China is taking full advantages of being a permanent member on the discredited UNSC.    USA and other veto members or NATO have not taken the military steps on fellow veto members Russia and China.

Even as Russia, China’s senior strategic partner, annexed Crimea and reportedly moved into Ukraine its military to defend the ethnic Russian there, China also built seven artificial islands in the strategically sensitive and economically critical South China Sea, alarming its neighbors and risking confrontation with the USA, because it believes it can get away with the nervy move and bolster an old desire for regional dominance.

The Chinese mainland lies nearly 1,000 miles away from its most distant claims.  Beijing’s full claim over the sea would give it control of shipping routes touching half of all global trade through the region. Earlier this summer China said authoritatively that it would stop expanding the number of islands it is reclaiming but would continue to build in places where it has started work. China’s land reclamation efforts have taken place in an area that constitutes nearly 80 percent of its exclusive economic zone, a 200-mile radius that extends from national territory under the UN Law of the Sea.

China seems to have laid the groundwork to move its land power south … expanding the area of competition with the United States. In fact, China has wanted to do this for a long time. Now it has the dredging vessels, the money and the people. China tentatively turned in that direction in June, announcing that it had nearly finished its land reclamation drive.

China counts the South China Sea land reclamation project a success and it has strengthened its position in sovereignty disputes with its neighbors in Southeast Asia and it has projected its power into the heart of a waterway that sees five trillion dollars worth of trade each year.

The regional powers say China is causing a big and imminent threat to security” in Southeast Asia.  The rise of China’s economic power has given rise to its military power and the regional rivals cannot in any way stop or weaken the economic muscle of Beijing.

The Philippines is also fighting back in court. A case at The Hague argued on July 13 sought to have an international court rule on the legality of China’s territorial claim. That case is causing a stir here and in Vietnam, off whose shores China parked an oil rig last year, bringing clashes at sea and at home between ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese.

The Philippine military is limited compared with China’s. But under a decades-old mutual defense pact, the US is obliged to aid its former colony if it is attacked. Yet how far Washington will take action in the sea is unclear.  However, there are lingering doubt and unwarranted expectations in Manila. Filipinos have a tendency to place excessive or misplaced expectations in America’s commitment to protect the Philippines.

Vietnam is also looking for similar assistance to confront China on the high seas. Earlier this month, Hanoi’s Communist Party Chairman Nguyen Phu Trong, who met with President Obama in the Oval Office, told a forum in Washington that his country plans to expand military partnerships with the USA. The Pentagon said it will provide Vietnam with $18 million to purchase coast guard vessels.

Australia is considering sailing the sort of Freedom of Navigation patrols that the US navy runs regularly through the South China Sea to challenge any Chinese sovereignty claims it considers excessive. Even India has voiced concerns over possible threats to free navigation on major trade routes, including in the Indian Ocean.

The Chinese are acting as if they are stronger than they are. Caught in the middle of this big power maneuvering are a clutch of Southeast Asian nations that nurse territorial claims to rival China’s. Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei sell most of their exports to China, and China is a growing source of investment for them. Beijing’s recent moves have frightened their governments who are looking to Washington for regional balance.

As China’s interests and horizons expand, so will its impulse to exert physical control. China is moving beyond being a great power.  The secretive and determined methods Beijing is using to turn rocks and atolls into potential military bases, and its bland dismissal of other nations’ claims to those specks of island turf, is causing worry beyond just the Pacific Rim.

China’s activities in the South China Sea have sparked doubts about its intentions. China now appears to have altered a long-professed policy of “peaceful rise” and shown another face in the Pacific, and in so doing has driven a number of Pacific nations towards an American embrace.

Regional powers expect China to make good on its promises that all the civilian facilities it builds will be open to all. It seems that increased international attention on China’s activities has slowed down its military buildup. When under strong international pressure, China tends to adjust its strategy.  In recent days China has adopted a more conciliatory tone, saying it will build fishing havens, weather stations, and light houses on the islands, though the Philippines and its Southeast Asian neighbors are dubious.

World’s perceptions on China being a sensible nation with its ‘peaceful rise’ policy” have changed.  As China focused on building its economy and infrastructure it talked to neighbors about peace. But now China is trying to make peace effort as the subject of other countries to consider.

President Xi Jinping of China has emphasized closer trade and investment ties with Southeast Asia. The emphasis, called “One Belt, One Road,” is a centerpiece of his foreign policy, but China’s strategies on the South China Sea and on “One Belt, One Road” are in conflict.

Clearly, China’s unilateral action on South China Sea drives Pacific nations to seek US protection and Washington, still struggling with its Asia pivot agenda, might, as speculated by analysts, showcase an assertive stance on their behalf.

But will USA, fighting many battles around simultaneously, show any real inclinations for spending extra energy in the region?