Sunday 16 June 2019

Kim Sengupta: 'The conflict the US president doesn't want but may have to fight'

US President Donald Trump. Photo: AFP/Getty
US President Donald Trump. Photo: AFP/Getty

Kim Sengupta

A threat based on intelligence reports; deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers to the Middle East with reports of ground troops to follow; a dramatic rise in diplomatic tensions and warnings of retribution from Washington.

All this as the Iran crisis escalates may well seem like a reprise of what unfolded before the disastrous last Iraq war. There is, however, one vital difference. Donald Trump, unlike George W Bush, is not seeking a war, he is not a warlike president, despite his warlike tweets.

Indeed, just as his "fire and fury" tweets on North Korea went on to two summits with Kim Jong-un, he appears to believe he can use his (self-proclaimed) dealmaking powers to get Iran to accept a deal which takes matters way beyond the agreement Tehran signed with international powers on its nuclear programme - the one Trump is trying to sabotage.

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The Iranian perspective, at the moment, is that a conflict is not imminent. A few days ago, the supreme leader wanted to stress that his country did not seek a military conflict and neither, he believed, did the US. "There won't be any war. We don't seek a war, and they don't either. They know it's not in their interest to do so," said Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

There is, however, a factor present which was not there during the run-up to the Iraq war. The seeming desire of a number of regional states to see a confrontation between the US and Iran, that certainly is the other Iranian perspective.

One of the country's most senior diplomats, naming the leadership of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as the instigators, Hamid Baeidinejad, the ambassador to London, said: "Unfortunately, there are people in the region advising Donald Trump, those our ministers call the 'B team', who have adopted a policy of confrontation and initiatives to drag the US into a confrontation with Iran ... The question is whether there are people in Washington who would be able to avoid falling into this trap."

The theme of agents provocateurs has been a recurring one in Iran. Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the head of the country's National Security Foreign Policy Committee, stated: "Iran and the United States can manage the crisis by themselves. But there are third parties who might make the atmosphere of the region more sensitive in terms of security by making deviant moves. There are different groups whose goal is to make the region unsafe.

"Therefore, there must be red lines between Iran and the United States in the management of the events which prevents third parties from making crises."

Returning to the Iraq war, the one common factor is John Bolton, the president's latest national security adviser after one was indicted and the other resigned. Bolton, like Trump, a Vietnam draft-dodger, has always been keen on sending American troops into battle.

Bolton remains a fervent supporter of the Iraq invasion. He has been sceptical of Trump's attempted rapprochement with Kim Jong-un, but to the Iranians he is a genuine threat, having advocated bombing the country and calling for regime change.

Irish Independent

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