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M K Bhadrakumar |

There is an old impish yarn that Noah was stunned to see the two cats he’d put in the Ark trooping out with a bunch of kittens at the end of the tumultuous existential journey. Seeing the old sage’s puzzled look, the adult male shot back, ‘You thought we were fighting?’ This in some ways captures the noisy, implausible games that Iran and the United States play with each other, growling at each other and making us feel worried at times.

Trump and his Iran policies

The Trump administration has twice certified to the Congress that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal – an agreement he vowed to tear up.

President Donald Trump is having a difficult time to differentiate his Iran policies from Barack Obama’s. The Trump administration has twice certified to the Congress that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal – an agreement he vowed to tear up. But, while doing so on Monday, with an eye of the Israeli lobby, it separately imposed sanctions against a clutch of Iranian personalities and entities – so that the optics look appropriately ‘tough’.

Read more: Trump shows realism toward Iran

The Trump administration understood perfectly well what it implied – namely, that things can overnight hot up for the US on the ground in the Syrian and Iraqi theater.

Tehran had conveyed a red line to Washington in the weekend that there shall be no sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (which is spearheading Iran’s operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria). The Trump administration understood perfectly well what it implied – namely, that things can overnight hot up for the US on the ground in the Syrian and Iraqi theater. (For the uninitiated, IRGC-backed militia and American military advisors tacitly collaborate in the liberation of Mosul.)

Tehran’s understanding

In fact, Majlis passed a finance bill Tuesday increasing the budget allocation for the missile program and Quds Force each by $260 million.

Tehran understands that Trump is a bluff master. Read the Iranian Foreign Ministry statement here. Clearly, no one is losing sleep in Tehran. Iran’s missile program is indigenous; nor will US sanctions frighten IRGC’s elite Qud’s Force under the command of its charismatic general Qassem Soleimani to give up the ‘axis of resistance’ in Syria and Lebanon (and Gaza.)

Read more: U.S Iran nuclear deal: what will be its implications

The Middle East is witnessing a long sunset of the US hegemony. And Iran senses it. So, Tehran is playing its cards astutely through an admixture of strategic defiance and taunts with unspoken overtures seeking meaningful conversation.

Mohammed Javed Zarif and his point of view

Read the transcript, here, of a fascinating interview by National Interest magazine with Iranian FM Mohammed Javed Zarif who is visiting New York. (Zarif already addressed the CFR and was interviewed by CNN’s Fareed Zakariah and the PBS, amongst others.)

Read more: No carrots, all sticks: Washington upping the ante against Iran

Indeed, Zarif virtually choreographed an Iran policy for Trump. Look at his tantalizing remarks:

  • “It took the U.S. longer to clear the purchase of Airbus airplanes than it took for the purchase of Boeing airplanes.”
  • “If it comes to a major violation, or what in the terms of the nuclear deal is called significant nonperformance, then Iran has other options available, including withdrawing from the deal.”
  • “We need to be more careful about the signaling, because we’ve seen that wrong signaling in the past few weeks in our region, particularly after the Riyadh summit, has caused a rather serious backlash in the region—not between U.S. allies and Iran, but among U.S. allies.”
  • “At this stage, we are content with simply implementing that (nuclear) agreement… we wanted that agreement to be the foundation and not the ceiling. But in order for that to serve as a solid foundation, we want to make sure that the obligations by all sides have been fully and faithfully implemented. And if we get that, then we have an opening to further progress.”
  • “We don’t see the situation in our region as a winning or losing battle… we believe that the situation in today’s world is so interconnected that we cannot have winners and losers; we either win together or lose together. Obviously, if an administration or a government or a country defines its interests in terms of exclusion of others, then it is defining the problem in a way that is not amenable to a solution.”
  • “We have had a consistent policy of fighting extremism and terrorism, whether it was in Afghanistan during the reign of the Taliban, or, even during the time that the United States was in occupation of Iraq, against terrorist elements who were instigating terror inside Iraq.”
  • “Well, it all depends on the approach that the United States will try, the current administration will try to adopt vis-à-vis Iran. It has to look at Iran as the only country in the region where people stand in line for ten hours to vote. It has to put aside those self-serving assumptions that some members of this administration have repeatedly stated.”
  • “We have a very sober understanding of the situation in the region where we are located, and we hope that the United States can also have such a sober understanding.”

Read more: Identifying the common enemy: Is Trump missing a chance

Iran is doing just fine. The genius to optimally put diplomacy to use, with maximum cost-effectiveness, has been Iran’s strategic asset in the politics of the Middle East.

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

 

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”.

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