US Iran relations are at best of times tepid and at its worst, “satanic,” a phrase or its metaphor that has been used many times by leaders on both sides. Iran’s quest for regional dominance and acquisition of nuclear weapons capability has led the US to impose very stringent sanctions on Iran which have been replicated by many other countries including Japan and the European Union. Yet President Obama's administration has permitted 10,000 deals with US companies to go through under the clause of waiver which include food giants Kraft and Mars while at the same time is thinking of another round of fresh sanctions. Iran and US Naval commanders are reported to have attended an anti piracy meet in Colombo recently. So how do we see US policy on Iran?
The nuclear talks between Iran and P5 + 1 [US, Russia, China, UK and France + Germany] are going on at a parallel level with the backroom channels now open, however there are conflicting trends as well with many sources indicating the possibility of imposing new sanctions on Iran. This may be to pose more pressure on the country, but may as well back fire as it will harden the stand of the leadership which is already smarting under the sanctions. The political pressure on the regime internally may also lead it to turn it on external sources; thereby a backlash on the talks may be evident.
America’s Iran policy is possibly lacking focus and direction as there are a number of flip flops that would create problems for the Iranian leadership in justifying a possible rapprochement with the country. If the Americans are keen for a detente and negotiate the nuclear issue, than these would have to be calibrated with the sanctions, at present it is evident that the US is attempting to impose sanctions with a view to increase pressure on Iran as they have come for talks on the nuclear issue, but this may not necessarily work.
While the president is also providing some relief as was brought out in earlier reports. This is sending different and confusing signals to Iran and the anti compromise lobby is using the same to increase resistance to any concession planned by the regime. While generally it is felt that there is no common approach by Iran’s negotiators and there are many different voices within the system, in this case it appears that the US policy on Iran is also not as cohesive as it ought to be or at least that is the impression created in the past few days.
The American laws are flexible enough for the President to grant a waiver even when sanctions are in place and this has been used in the past when humanitarian assistance is required and also to provide some diplomatic leverage. What is more than likely is that the large anti Iran lobby in the United States will make this a hot button issue in the days ahead and place the administration under pressure. The Administration in turn may try to use this as a leverage to bring down the rhetoric on Iran and allow the nuclear talks in Turkey to proceed smoothly in January. The Iranian response overtly is likely to be that of rejection of any American aid and assistance though it is more than likely that such aid was sought privately and also obtained. All these issues should pave the road for a compromise with Iran on the nuclear issue if the cards are played right and the country is provided an honourable solution that it can sell to the citizens. These are the key uncertainties that are likely to prevail in the days ahead.
The fate of the Iraqi government of al Maliki will be secure as it has the support of the Iranians who see in the Prime Minister a leader who will further their cause. To that extent Iran would feel that it has achieved one of the aims that it determined for itself in Baghdad and should be satisfied on this account. Another of Iranian aims of seeing the US out of the region may also be fulfilled with the US now comfortable with an inclusive government of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds after more than seven years of war which may pave the way for troops to leave Iraq in what has been one of the most controversial deployments in US history. What happens then, will Iraq return to its old factional ways, will Iran then try to topple the government and may be only waiting for such an opportunity remains to be seen.
On the other hand is Iran’s role as a regional player in Afghanistan which has an endemic political and security deficit. The Iranian role has come under fire from time to time as it along with Pakistan is the largest neighbours of the country and both have had to suffer a massive refugee influx from Afghanistan over the years. While there are efforts by both the countries to play an important role in bringing about stability, the inherent conflicts of Iran with the US and Pakistan with India has brought about their own dynamics and it remains to be seen if this will be resolved through a dialogue by the two countries in conflict or there would be continued differences which would impact their role and contribution to Afghanistan. The latter at present appears to be the way out.
Iran Afghan government to government relations have been reasonably stable in spite of a number of issues and particularly so with frequent allegations of Iranian role in supporting the Taliban from time to time. The Iranians have provided the refugees in the country adequate facilities which have come for some praise from the UNHCR in the past. There is also good progress in trade particularly in the Western Herat province. The problem areas apart from frequent interventions supposedly by groups within Iran to support the Taliban, relate to many prisoners in the country from Afghanistan who are dealt under the Iranian laws which are far harsher than the Western jurisprudence system that Afghanistan has now adopted. There are also concerns of stoppage of trucks and convoys carrying fuel and this issue may be increasingly in focus in the days ahead as Iran imposes subsidy cuts in its own country. The Iranians are also impacted by the drug flow from Afghanistan and have been asking for stringent measures to cut the same with limited success so far.