BY M.R. JOSSE
KATHMANDU: Iran continues to cast an ominous and increasingly large shadow on American foreign policy, the latest manifestation of which is the curt rejection by Tehran of any possibility to talks between the US and Iran during the UN General Assembly opening next month in New York.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made that abundantly clear last week, even as Tehran sidled up to fellow US sanctions targets, Russia and Turkey. This came after the US announced a doubling on steel and aluminum tariffs on Ankara as part of an on-going row over the detention of an American pastor, and other issues.
Apart from his most explicit rejection of even back-channel talks with Washington in New York, Zarif tweeted: “(US President Donald) Trump’s jubilation on inflicting economic hardship on its NATO ally Turkey is shameful…The US has to rehabilitate its addiction to sanctions (and) bullying or entire world will unite – beyond verbal communication – to force it to.”
While it, of course, remains to be seen how far Zarif’s dire prophesy will be validated by events on the ground, for the moment, the fresh round of acrimony and vitriol in the rhetoric between the United States and Iran has set off ripple effects, far and wide.
That includes the possibility that Iran could launch cyberattacks on America within two to four months.
On another plane, according to agency reports, American sanctions on Iran are likely to directly benefit China National Petroleum Corp. which is “expected to take the lead on a $ 5 billion project to develop Iran’s share of the world’s gas deposit, talking over from France’s Total SA, which halted operations after US President Donald Trump re-imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic.”
The US, for its part, has increased pressure on the UK to ditch support for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – which Trump rejected – and instead join hands to counter the global threat that it says Iran poses. Woody Johnson, American ambassador to the UK, in an article in the Sunday Telegraph, wrote: “It is time to move from the flawed 2015 deal. We are asking global Britain to use its considerable diplomatic power and influence and join us as we lead a concerted global effort towards a genuinely comprehensive agreement.”
Though, at the time of writing, the UK has ruled out Britain going along with the US on that score, a large number of British firms doing business in Iran have quietly cut back on their Iranian operations, not wanting to torpedo their much larger business stakes in the United States. The same is true for many other European countries.
It may also be mentioned that, in a move that was applauded in the UK, the American government announced new sanctions against Russia later this month for illegally using a chemical weapon in an attempted assassination of a former spy and his daughter in Britain earlier this year.
Nearer home, the Russia-US relationship came in for close scrutiny – in a quite different context. Specifically, according to a Press Trust of India news story in the Indian Express, relations between the United States and Pakistan, which had nose-dived after President Trump last January accused Islamabad of giving nothing to Washington but “lies and deceit” and providing “safe haven” for terrorists, have taken a new turn with increasingly warming of relations between Pakistan and Russia.
Indeed, days before the Trump administration ordered the suspension of more than a decade-long military training programme of Pakistan military personnel at US institutions, Islamabad and Moscow signed an agreement to allow Pakistan officers to receive training at Russian defence centres.
According to Michael Kugelman, a Pakistan expert at the Wilson Center in Washington: “This is an unfortunate and ultimately counter-productive decision. This move could squander what little goodwill and trust remains in the military-to-military relationship and it reduces the likelihood that Pakistan will act in ways that Washington would like it to act.” Many, I believe, would share that sentiment.
What’s striking is that these developments took place just days before a new Pakistan Prime Minister was sworn-in.
This columnist could not have been more intrigued than to learn that Prachanda is planning to visit India and China in September since, as an unnamed NCP apparatchik explains to the Himalayan Times, “Chinese and Indian leaders have been wanting to hold talks with Dahal (Prachanda) on the latest political development in Nepal and the government’s future plans since (PM) Oli’s visit to the two neighbours.”
While one can well commiserate with Prachanda’s desire to visit India before his China junket – after all, the ‘Jana Yudda’ was launched with Indian sponsorship, not that of Zhongnanhai – what is most enigmatic is that he should rush there even before the dust raised by Oli’s recent official visits has settled down.
Does that not raise eyebrows, if not a lot of awkward questions?
I raise that query, among other considerations, for the following:
The first has to do with the claim by ‘Nepal expert’ Dr S. Chandrasekran that “Oli does not seem to be getting any support from his party colleagues either – and even active Maoist leaders like Dahal (Prachanda) are mostly silent and perhaps enjoying the discomfiture of the Prime Minister.”
The second relates to a write-up in the Rising Nepal wherein a columnist spills the beans, thus: “It seems that Oli’s nationalist voice has not found consonance with some party stalwarts with divergent ideas and interests. The ruling Communist Party of Nepal is still in the making and this interregnum has also affected the government’s functioning.”
Dotting the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘t’s, it would thus appear that the “powerful” K.P. Oli government may truly be “creaking.” Despite a two-thirds majority in parliament could we be witnessing the beginning of its end?
Clues to that conundrum will possibly be provided in New Delhi and Beijing – when Prachanda visits!