By M.R. Josse
NEW YORK, NY: While the familiar political shenanigans in the United States continue, a distinct and pointed focus on Iran is emerging.
As I pen this, the New York Times reports that Iran has announced plans to enrich more uranium violating the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal that the U.S. withdrew from last year.
IRAN ON THE MIND
That only serves to underscore attention to a covey of Iran-related developments including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s 24-hour diplomatic sprint to Tehran.
Marking the first visit by a Japanese prime minister in more than 40 years, it underscored Abe’s hope to ease tension between Iran and the United States – and a long-shot effort to enhance Japan’s global influence.
The patent unreality of those expectations was exposed not only against the backcloth of the Trump administration moving additional troops into the Persian Gulf after having accused Iran of plotting to attack American targets, but also in the context of recent assaults on four tankers in the Gulf of Oman, incidents that the United States blamed on Iran.
What is even more telling is that, as reported by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), there were subsequent attacks on two other oil tankers – including one owned by a Japanese corporation – “just hours after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, met Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to ease the standoff.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared at a joint press conference with Abe: “We have never started a war with any country but we will firmly respond to any aggressor.” President Trump responded, “While I very much appreciate Prime Minister Abe going to Iran to meet Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, I personally think it is too soon to think about making a deal. They are not ready and neither are we.”
In an editorial, WSJ theorized: “The Iranians, under intense financial pressure from American sanctions on their oil exports, were sending the world: pressure the U.S. to lift the sanctions or there will be more of this, and more, to disrupt oil shipments in the Gulf…The assault on the tankers validates the U.S. decision last month, which met with skepticism at the time, to send the aircraft-carrier USS Lincoln to the Gulf with destroyers and cruisers in the expectation that Iran was planning an attack in the region. And it was… The undeniable fact is that Iran remains the primary threat to stability in the Middle East. The U.S. is right to be there, in force, and prepared to defend its interests of itself and its allies.”
Is war between the U.S. and Iran, then, looming just ahead? We shall see.
In the interregnum, there should be no doubt that world chancelleries will be carefully monitoring developments in the volatile Gulf region – and making, where need be, policy adjustments. Perhaps we will some vis-à-vis India, including on Iranian oil imports, when US Secretary of State Mike Pompano visits New Delhi, June 25-26.
India’s not-so-magnificent obsession with Pakistan was projected in garish display, even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi jetted off to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan for a SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) summit.
Put succinctly, this refers to what may be called India’s obvious obsession with, or animus, towards Pakistan, her immediate Western neighbour and co-nuclear weapons power.
As a long-time observer of the South Asian geopolitical landscape, I find it decidedly weird that India’s foreign policy in Modi’s second innings should increasingly take on overtones of a single-point, anti-Pakistan agenda.
It is not only churlish but counter-productive to base it fundamentally on hostility towards Pakistan which she now wishes to isolate internationally.
Whether or how long such a policy can be sustained remains to be seen. But, the world has noted that Pakistan was the only neighbouing country not invited for the Modi II inaugural; that the downplaying of SAARC and BIMSTEC’s elevation has an anti-Pakistan element, as does Modi’s refusal to shake hands with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan in Bishkek, or to avoid over-flying Pakistan airspace; not to mention the effort to poison Sino-Pakistan relations, during a bilateral with China, on the margins of the SCO conclave.
[Incidentally, while former Indian foreign minister Salman Khurshid termed SAARC as a “critical link in a chain” to promote India’s foreign policy, Bhutanese Prime Minister Dr. Lothay Tsering categorically remarked to The Hindu: “It is too early to call off SAARC and say it isn’t relevant or viable.”]
Are such maneuvers the hallmarks of a ‘leading power’ – a self-awarded status India now proclaims? Or, are they, instead, reflections or manifestation of pettiness? Will India’s efforts to demean and isolate Pakistan, a leading member of the Islamic comity of nations, succeed, not least given India’s new image of bigotry and intolerance?
Incidentally, in the final SCO communiqué there was a ringing endorsement for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s flagship BRI initiative with all SCO member-states – India, the exception – roundly supporting it. It was India that was isolated, not Pakistan!
Meanwhile, Prime Minister K.P. Oli has returned to Kathmandu after a nine-day European odyssey with little to show, as he admitted saying London would have no truck for his proposal to amend the 1947 Tripartite Treaty. That Treaty, executed between Nepal, Britain and India, decided on the division of 10 Gurkha/Gorkha regiments in the erstwhile British Indian Army this way: six regiments for the Indian and four for the British army, respectively.
What was equally mind-boggling to note that Oli’s London visit went ahead despite the political fluidity in the UK, consequent to Prime Minister Theresa May’s resignation. It seems that the motto of our Communist government is: have power, will travel!
Equally egregious has been the government’s effort to abolish the age-old “Guthi” institution which is deeply rooted in Nepali soil and history. No wonder, then, that this effort to launch a Nepali version of a “cultural revolution” has met – rightly – with stiff opposition.