Middle East must choose: peace and prosperity, or Iran’s clenched fist
ABDULLAH BIN ZAYED AL NAHYAN
The Middle East stands at a critical crossroads. The fall of Daesh’s (Islamic State’s) caliphate of terror represents an opportunity to augur a new beginning for the region, but also entails considerable dangers. There are stark alternatives for the future of the region. There is the path of reform and renewal, which seeks to unlock the vast human potential of the Middle East, promotes pluralism, tolerance and women’s rights, and seeks a positive and productive relationship with the international community.
It strives to empower the individual and restore the authority of the state against the centrifugal forces of tribalism, sectarianism and religious intolerance.
This is the path chosen by the leaders of the moderate Arab countries. While it is fraught with challenges and difficulties, we strongly believe that it is the only path forward for the Middle East.
But there is another path and a competing vision for the future of the region. This is the path being pursued by Iran, Hezbollah, the Houthis and their regional allies.
It is based on a backward ideology that subordinates the individual to a radical religious utopia and tramples on the fundamental rights and freedoms deserved by all. It challenges and undermines the power of the state by empowering sectarian militias and sows ethnic and religious discord and division. It is a path of conflict and destruction.
To this end, Iran continues to recruit and arm scores of extremist militias that are responsible for some of the most egregious acts of violence against civilians; Iranian military forces are supplying advanced ballistic missile technologies to the Houthis and other terrorist groups to target innocent civilians in Riyadh and elsewhere; and Iranian proxies block and undermine international efforts to find inclusive political solutions to many of our region’s most dire conflicts.
This is a path that is already littered with countless victims, and one where there can be no winners, only losers. It’s a path that holds dire consequences not only for our people and our region but also our friends and allies abroad, who are also forced to face the consequences of never-ending conflict and destruction.
As many others, we in the United Arab Emirates had hoped that the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with the P5+1 would encourage Iran to unclench its fists and seek a different path.
Instead, it seems to have only encouraged Iran to step up its regional aggression and intimidation. To salvage the JCPOA and preserve its positive elements, a more comprehensive deal is urgently needed; a deal that tempers Iran’s aggressive regional agendas, constrains its ballistic missile program and ensures against nuclear proliferation in the long term.
Such a deal would hold countless opportunities, not least for the people of Iran, who long for the development and prosperity that their leaders have sacrificed in pursuit of geopolitical gains. The international community, including Australia, has a critical role to play when it comes to encouraging Iran to embrace this opportunity for a better future and a new beginning. Iranian leaders must understand that their current path is a dead end, for their people and for the region.
The choice for Iran should be clear: halt its destabilising activities in the Middle East, and in return enjoy a positive and prosperous relationship with its neighbours and the international community. On the other hand, if Iran chooses to continue on its current path, it must understand that this will come at a cost, and that it will remain distrusted by all apart from extremists and those who share in its negative, backward vision.
We in the UAE are unequivocal in our own choice for progress and reform. The rewards are clear. The UAE is a stable country with a vibrant economy, where women are involved in every facet of our country’s ongoing development, and where nationalities from all around the world, including almost 20,000 Australians, live harmoniously alongside their Emirati neighbours.
We believe the UAE represents a vision of what the Middle East can become. This is a vision that should be supported, and one that can prosper and spread only if the international community is clear-eyed about the dangers at hand.
Just as Australians covet stability and peace, so too does the UAE. Our vision is that of a Middle East that is prosperous and peaceful and that is no longer seen as a zone of instability that stumbles from one crisis to the next.
In our efforts to ensure that this vision becomes a reality, the UAE looks to Australia, a strategic partner and ally, to continue to embrace the opportunities that will come by supporting moderation, prosperity, openness and tolerance in the Middle East, while pushing back against those who seek to undermine the great potential of our region.
Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation.
Trump’s habit of shaking up the status quo works in unexpected ways
Donald Trump has made the boldest foreign policy decision of his presidency by choosing to tackle Iran’s nuclear ambitions through aggression rather than negotiation.
Will it work? No, say America’s European allies. But Trump’s unorthodox foreign policy has a habit of shaking up the status quo in unexpected ways.
No one imagined a year ago that Trump would be packing his bags for a summit with North Korea leader Kim Jong-un either.
His decision to withdraw the US from the Iran nuclear deal sends the simple message that Iran cannot be trusted to abide by international norms and must be treated as a pariah.
In doing this Trump is taking a gamble that Iran’s nuclear ambitions are best stopped by challenging the despotic mullahs who run the country rather than making deals with them.
Trump will be accused of stoking the potential for military conflict and further destabilising the region by withdrawing from the deal and slapping sanctions back on Tehran. This, critics argue, will only hasten the desire of the mullahs to build the bomb.
Perhaps so, but the alternative also did not offer much comfort to the US.
The nuclear deal with Iran, well intentioned as it was, was weak. It was riddled with sunset clauses which would have eventually allowed Iran to develop its nuclear capabilities with impunity. In the meantime the inspection regime was more limited than it should have been. What’s more, the lifting of sanctions gave the mullahs a financial reward at a time when they continue to sponsor terrorism across the region and spread their malign influence into Iraq and Syria.
The 2015 agreement did nothing to slow Tehran’s development of a ballistic missile program that could deliver a nuclear weapon and other deadly warheads across the region and more.
Few experts doubt Iran wants a nuclear weapon capability at some point — it was caught secretly building uranium enrichment plants in 2002 and 2009.
At best, the nuclear deal may have slowed Iran’s progression towards a nuclear bomb, but it never changed the calculus that Tehran would eventually get one.
Trump is throwing that model away. He hopes US economic sanctions and political aggression will encourage a popular uprising by Iran’s youth.
Trump’s decision sets the scene for a new era of American confrontation with Iran.
It is a big gamble but the grim alternative was that under the nuclear deal Iran would continue its march — slowly but inevitably — towards becoming a nuclear weapons state.
Trump’s challenge to the mullahs may make that outcome less certain.
Trump’s Iran deal gamble could isolate US from its allies
Donald Trump’s decision to walk away from the nuclear deal his predecessor negotiated with Iran represents a giant gamble, easily the biggest of his US presidency.
More precisely, the move represents a series of gambles — bets that Iran’s leaders, its economy and its people, as well as America’s allies and even the leader of North Korea, will react the way the US President hopes. Trump may well win those bets, but the dangers that would accompany a loss are quite high.
The core of the President’s gamble is that a renewal of full-bore economic sanctions on Iran will be enough to compel its leaders back to the table to renegotiate the nuclear deal completed during president Barack Obama’s term. In fact, Trump flatly predicted Iran’s leaders will do exactly that.
Alternatively, his calculation appears to be that a resumption of full-bore American pressure will so disrupt a weak Iranian economy — already reeling from rising prices, a falling currency and a long drought — that the result will be growing dissatisfaction and internal unrest that threatens the very survival of the regime.
Trump didn’t say he wants his move to bring regime change in Tehran, but with his references to the “murderous” government and his declaration that “the future of Iran belongs to its people” he walked to the edge of calling for it. The risk is that Iranians rally around their government over the renewed threat from America.
The further gamble is that US allies in France, Britain and Germany, who have pleaded for a different course from the President, will co-operate in a new wave of economic sanctions rather than rebel and move out to construct a new relationship of their own with Iran. European defiance could undercut the pressure Trump is trying to create and ultimately isolate the US rather than Iran.
The President’s pledge to impose sanctions on any nation that helps Iran targets US allies as much as the regime in Tehran, and could produce a sanctions fight not just with Iran, but with allies.
In addition, Trump is taking a chance that Iran won’t simply respond by resuming full-bore nuclear activity, turning back on the hundreds of centrifuges it still possesses to produce the enriched uranium that the West fears would put it on the path towards nuclear-weapons capability. European leaders are urging the Iranians to react calmly, without precipitous action, but hardliners in Tehran may instead seize the moment to revive actions they never wanted to halt in the first place.
Trump is further betting that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, with whom he meets in a matter of weeks, will take away from his announcement the lesson the President wants — which is that an Iran-style deal that slows rather than eliminates Pyongyang’s nuclear program won’t be deemed sufficient. The risk is that North Korea will take away an alternative lesson, which is that the US can’t be counted on to live up to deals its leaders make.
Above all, Trump’s decision represents a gamble that the heightened tensions with Iran that now are at hand won’t escalate into conflict — with the US, with Israel or with Saudi Arabia. “The worst case is that Iran restarts selected nuclear activities, and either Israel or the US determines that is unacceptable, uses military force and Iran responds in any number of ways around the region or around the world with all its tools,” said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Those tools include terrorism and cyberwarfare.
Indeed, after Trump’s move, “the ball is now essentially in Iran’s court as to how this crisis evolves”, says Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution.
“I think the likely short-term approach will seek to maximise whatever diplomatic and economic restitution may be on offer from Europe.”
But, she adds, “Tehran has a wide range of options available for demonstrating that its leverage on the ground in conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere across the region is at least as formidable as US economic leverage.”
Finally, Trump is gambling that his tough line on Iran will convince others in the region that the US will remain adamant and unyielding in its insistence that Iran won’t ever be allowed to possess nuclear weapons.
The President said that will help ensure that others in the region don’t set out to acquire nuclear weapons of their own, and seek to beat Iran to the punch as they do so.
The risk there, of course, is that the reverse could happen. Iran could now respond with a burst of new nuclear activity, Haass notes, prompting Saudi Arabia and potentially others to break away from the global Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and begin their own march towards nuclear arms.
The Wall Street Journal