Next North Korea in Making?

US decision to pull out of Iran deal may tantamount to new alignment where Iran seems standing with China leaving India the ultimate loser as its Chabhar project has been jeopardized

By Mridu Kumari

On May 8, US President Donald Trump announced pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal which his predecessor Barack Obama along with leaders of five powerful countries had signed in 2015. The US President, the bitter critic of the deal, also gave a body blow to Iran by re-imposing sanctions on it. He did it despite advice from his European allies. French President Emmanuel Macron a few days ago the US announcement, had advised Trump through his interview with German daily Der Spiegel that the withdrawal would lead to a war. “Trump would be opening a Pandora’s Box, which is tantamount to war. I don’t think Donald Trump wants war,” the French President said.

It proved true as both Israel and Iran attacked each other’s military infrastructure in Syria just a day after the US announcement of walking out of the Iran’s nuclear deal. On May 9 Iranian forces fired rockets from inside Syria towards Israel, triggering a robust military response from Israeli military—targeting Iranian military assets in Syria. The incident shows that Tehran has suspended its strategic restraint. If it is so, the likelihood of further confrontation between Tehran and Tel Aviv is sure.

In fact, for Israel, the US move on the Iran deal has served its dream moment. They appear to be working in concert—the US wants to exert pressure on Iran through sanctions and Israel through military attack on Iranian interests in Syria. Tel Aviv has been eyes and ears and not Europe in making Trump frame his mind about Iran as the non-trustworthy country. And it is clear in the speech of the US President who cited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent presentation on Iran’s alleged secret nuclear weapons programme as a prime example of why Iran could not be trusted.

Yet it is Tehran which has won international support. Even India said that all parties involved in the nuclear deal should respect the country’s right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy and work together to resolve the matter through dialogue and diplomacy.  “India has always maintained that Iranian nuclear issue should be resolved peacefully through dialogue and diplomacy by respecting Iran’s right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy and international community’s strong interest in exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme,” the Ministry of External Affairs said. It further added that all parties should engage constructively to address and resolve issues that have arisen with respect to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”

However, before India expressed its unhappiness over Trump’s action, British Premier Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a joint statement expressing their “regret and concern” over the US move to walk out of the Iran nuclear deal. Instead of toeing the US’ call, France, Germany and the UK maintained that they were considering counter measures to allow their firms to keep trading with Iran. As this rebuke was not enough, US State Department’s top expert on nuclear proliferation resigned in the aftermath of President’s abrupt decision to scrap the Iran nuclear deal.  Richard Johnson, a career civil servant who played a key role in bringing Iran, US and five other countries on the table and working out a successful deal with Tehran, quit his job. He didn’t give a specific reason for his departure. But in a farewell email to colleagues and staff, he stressed that the 2015 agreement Trump was ditching had successfully curbed Tehran’s nuclear deal programme.

This speaks volume of Trump’s failure as a leader to guide his nation to a successful foreign policy path. His efforts on North Korea, especially in managing communications with Kim Jong-un who is arriving in Singapore in June for the talks, may have earned him some brownie points. Yet it is his brusque move on the Iranian nuclear deal and subsequent escalation of tension in the Middle-East region have washed off whatever gains he achieved on North Korea; it dampened the mood of his supporters who were sure Trump would be able to establish America as the world leader. Instead, the US-Israel tango has pushed Iran to look towards India, Europe, China and Russia for succor.

To this effect, China’s launch of new freight train service connecting Bayannur in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region with Iran has served as a message to the US that Beijing will continue its trade relations with Tehran. “We will continue with our normal and transparent practical cooperation with Iran on the basis of not violating our international obligations,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a regular press briefing on May 9. In response to a poser from a journalist whether China would order its companies to withdraw from Iran to avoid US sanctions, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Beijing might defy the Trump administration. “I want to stress that the Chinese government is opposed to the imposition of unilateral sanctions and the so-called long-arm jurisdiction by any country in accordance with its domestic laws,” he said.

India, which has significant investment in Iran, has said it will take necessary measures to offset any adverse impact on its interests due to US President Trump’s decision to walk out of the Iran nuclear deal. “We are closely monitoring the developments. We are assessing the implications which it might have on our interests,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said. In the meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he hoped Iran would stay in the agreement. “If the remaining five countries continue to abide by the agreement, Iran will remain in the deal despite the will of America,” he said. Earlier, Iran has threatened to resume “industrial scale” uranium enrichment “without any restrictions” if it does not get guarantees that the trade ties which have been established with Europe since the deal was signed will be maintained.