The White House readout of US President Donald Trump’s phone call to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday highlighted that the latter “thanked” Trump for his “strong leadership uniting the world against the North Korean menace.” Modi must be the only world leader who has given such fulsome praise to Trump for his performance vis-a-vis North Korea. And, Trump naturally felt elated.
In reality, though, it wasn’t particularly difficult for Modi to say such a strange thing, because India has no role to play in resolving the North Korea problem. What the readout betrays is Washington’s craving for endorsement by the world community for its incoherent approach to the North Korean problem. However, Modi has taken a risk here by raising new expectations in Trump’s mind. The point is, Trump is getting into a collision course with Iran.
Trump has tried to outsmart Tehran by not tearing up the Iran deal but instead undermining it systematically. But Tehran has decided to draw the ‘red line’ and challenged Trump to cross it. On Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani threatened Trump that if his administration imposes any further sanctions on Iran, Tehran will restart its nuclear programme. Period. Significantly, Rouhani issued the stark warning to Trump while addressing the Iranian Majlis:
The new U.S. officials should know that the failed experience of sanctions and coercion compelled their previous governments to eventually come to the negotiation table. If they want to try those experiences again, Iran will definitely revert to a far more advanced situation than it had before the negotiations, not in a matter of weeks or months but in a matter of days or hours.Top Iranian officials have also been lately articulating a demand that Iran should restart industrial scale uranium enrichment. Notably, Ali Akbar Salehi, president of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization and a moderate voice in the establishment who had been a consistent supporter of the nuclear deal with the US, said recently that the country could go up to 20 percent enrichment to “surprise the Americans and their supporters.” Of course, if Iran starts enriching uranium up to the level of 20 percent, it will be a step toward building a nuclear weapon.
All the same, a military showdown with Iran would have catastrophic consequences not only for US interests all across the region but also for Israel. Rouhani’s remarks came only two days after Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei directly attacked Trump. In a language reminiscent of the past hostility between Iran and the US, Khamenei said:
Those in power in the United States, wishfully and naively, are still suffering from the illusion that they rule the world. They talk in a manner as if they are dictators over the entire earth! And there are some who obey them out of fear and low self-esteem. Today, the Islamic Republic stands in full power against the United States and tells those in power, who do you think you are? If you are a powerful state, then go manage your own country! If you really care, then tackle the insecurities and violence on the streets of Washington DC, New York City, and Los Angeles! If you really care, go fix racial discrimination and the disastrous violations of human rights for both whites and blacks in your own country! Mind your own business, rather than meddling with other nations’ affairs!Trump is unused to being spoken to like this. Even those world leaders who think poorly of Trump – such as Germany’s Angela Merkel or Turkey’s Recep Erdogan – speak in innuendos. For sure, this may turn out to be an entanglement that Trump will rue – like in the case of Jimmy Carter. The UN Security Council will never go along with a move by the Trump administration against Iran.
Trump’s credibility is abysmally poor, including among those who may flatter him — like Modi. The US will not even get regional allies to fight its war with Iran. As the 3-day visit by the chief of staff of Iran’s armed forcesGen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri to Turkey testifies — an event without precedent, by the way — the US is pretty much isolated in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, the regional alignment involving Russia, Iran and Turkey has jelled, finally, and it binds Trump’s hands. The three countries have just signed a mega $7 billion deal to drill for oil and gas in Iran.
Reprinted with permission from Indian Punchline.