Crunch Time to Seal a Nuclear Deal with Iran
Iran is engaged in a low-level tit-for-tat conflict with the United States as it seeks to build credibility with Russia and China, reestablish relations with Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia, and deflect attention from its domestic unrest. Reports have surfaced that Iran plans to escalate attacks against U.S. troops in Syria, and Iran has been seizing tankers in the Persian Gulf. But the U.S. can bridge its differences with Iran and close a deal that sufficiently satisfies both countries. Secretive talks in Oman are currently taking place in an effort to facilitate a deal and it seems both sides now want to reach an agreement.
In recent years, starting in mid-2019, Iran significantly escalated military tensions with the United States. The escalation was triggered by a series of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, which the U.S. attributed to Iran. Iran further heightened tensions by shooting down an unmanned U.S. drone that it claimed was operating in its airspace. Later that same year, Iran was accused by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia of launching a drone and cruise missile attack on Saudi oil facilities.
With tensions already high, the situation reached a critical point in early January 2020. The violence in Iraq between U.S. forces and Iranian-backed Shiite militias continued to intensify, prompting former U.S. President Donald Trump to authorize a drone strike that killed Iran’s top military leader, General Qassem Soleimani, as he arrived in Baghdad.
While the killing of Soleimani reduced Iran’s ability to spread its influence and engage in building its terror networks, it has not stopped it completely and has likely only set it back a few years. Iran is capable of acting without Soleimani and recent events have proven this. But changing global conditions, such as Russia’s war in Ukraine, have prompted Iran to change tactics. Tehran is now supplying Russian President Vladimir Putin with Shahed-136 ‘kamikaze’ weapons which are being deployed to kill Ukrainian citizens. Iran also signed 10 new cooperation agreements with Russia for the oil sector alone on May 18, and China also recently signed new cooperation agreements with Iran on May 23. In addition, Iran will soon have a new hypersonic missile after conducting all the necessary tests, according to Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force.
At the same time, Iran seeks to draw closer to Gulf nations, instead of just threatening them. The tensions between Iran and Gulf nations are complex and have deep roots in historical, religious, and political contexts. The ongoing disputes over territory, nuclear programs, and proxy wars have contributed to the escalation of tensions in the region. The ultimate outcome of these tensions is uncertain, but it is clear that they pose a threat to regional stability and security.
Regardless, Ali Shamkhani, the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, recently visited the United Arab Emirates in a sign of rapprochement. Iran is working to improve relations with the surrounding countries to reduce tensions and ease pressure from as many directions as possible as it focuses on pushing back against the U.S. and Europe, both of which have applied debilitating economic sanctions.
Iran currently seeks to strengthen its international standing by collaborating with Russia and China, befriending the Gulf nations, especially Saudi Arabia, and working to assert control over Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. With diminishing power at home, highlighted by the ongoing protests, Iran’s leadership seeks to shore up its capabilities outside its borders and strengthen its international power.
Iran simultaneously seeks to join Russia and China in their effort to convert the current unipolar global system to a multi-polar global system with the role of the United States diminished. As part of this effort, Iran seeks to join the BRICS group to counter the influence and strength of the U.S. dollar on world markets.
The economic bloc, which comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, is pushing to expand global influence, and 19 countries have either filed an application to join the BRICS or have expressed interest to join. The BRICS nations have been ramping up their de-dollarization efforts and settling trades in national currencies, and are also working to create a new common currency that would replace the U.S. dollar. This move could potentially destroy or at least severely curtail U.S. influence around the world.
Furthermore, Iran joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) which was established in 2001 as a political, economic, and defense alliance; it is the world’s largest regional organization. Iran recently became the ninth full member of the SCO, joining China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The group also has observer states (Afghanistan, Belarus, and Mongolia) as well as dialogue partners (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia).
It is clear that Iran is pushing back strongly against Western economic sanctions and shoring up relations with surrounding nations to solidify its global position. While some leaders and activists have already begun preparing for the Iran regime’s downfall, it is clear that this is a misplaced idea. Iran’s regime is fully capable of asserting its power. Much of what lies ahead depends on what Iran decides and how successful it will be in repositioning itself as a global leader together with Russia and China. The U.S. and Europe must rethink their strategies and understand that the Middle East is changing along with the rest of the global order.