US-Iran showdown? | Editorial

Donald Trump has reportedly had second thoughts about putting Tehran under the spotlight at the UN next week. The American president had been expected to hold a special Security Council meeting — in his capacity as its current chair — on what he sees as the Iranian threat to the Middle East, regional stability and international law.
The US administration is rather relieved at this apparent change of heart. After all, the unilateral American withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear pact is in itself in breach of the UNSC resolution that endorsed the accord. And as such, Tehran would be eligible to attend the moot given that it is party to a dispute under consideration. Were this to happen, Team Trump would unwittingly place itself under intense scrutiny. Not least from its European allies that are standing by Iran in this latest standoff. Indeed, Russia has already said that any such discussion should necessarily focus on the US and its non-implementation of the UNSC resolution on Iran.
This U-turn therefore has more to do with avoiding the potential for diplomatic humiliation than putting the brakes on the collision course with Tehran. This week saw the release of the annual State Department report Global Terrorism (2017) in which it denounces the Iranian regime as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. As well as intensifying multiple conflicts while undermining US interests in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Bahrain, Afghanistan and Lebanon. Yet even here, there are mixed signals. For on the one hand, Washington singles out the leader of the Revolutionary Guard; who helped organise Iraqi militias against ISIS. Then on the other, the report notes that worldwide attacks dropped by 23 percent as compared to 2016 due to gains made against ISIS in Iraq.
The White House is intent on presenting itself as the only honest broker in this deadlock. President Trump has repeatedly said he is ready for talks with the Tehran leadership. Yet trying to recast the latter as the veritable party-pooper will prove to be a gross misstep. For as Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reminded the world this week: the IAEA has issued some 12 reports confirming that his country is playing by the nuclear rulebook; with two of these coming after the US withdrawal. Thus the Iranian position remains that the only premise for direct talks is an American return to the multilateral fold.
Washington, for its part, would have the international community believe that it is taking this on board. After all, its current trump card is the call for a weapons treaty with Tehran. One aimed at bringing the latter’s ballistic missiles within a formal framework while tackling Iran’s ‘regional behaviour’. Yet there is no guarantee that the US would honour this any more than it did the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Acton (JCPOA). And renewed manoeuvrings to pin the blame on the Obama administration for failing to muster enough Senate support — which would have made the nuclear accord binding on the US — will not wash. Or does the Trump administration not understand the irrevocable nature of UNSC resolutions?
Thus if Washington is sincere about resolving the Iran nuclear question, it knows what to do: honour its international commitments. That would be the best Trump card of all.
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