Tillerson on Iran

Rex Tillerson on Iran:

“An unchecked Iran has the potential to travel the same path as North Korea and to take the world along with it,” Mr Tillerson said.

Well, perhaps. Take the region with it, maybe. The world? I’m not so sure. This is neither the time nor subject for hyperbole.

In a statement on Wednesday, Mr Tillerson said a review, which he had announced in a letter to Congress a day earlier, would look at the whole US policy towards Iran – taking in not only Tehran’s compliance with the nuclear deal but also its actions in the Middle East.

This is sensible. Obama’s deal with Iran stank to high-heaven and should have been torn up the day after Trump’s inauguration.

He accused the country of “alarming and ongoing provocations that export terror and violence, destabilising more than one country at a time”.

Which has been the case since 1979.

“Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and is responsible for intensifying multiple conflicts and undermining US interests in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon, and continuing to support attacks against Israel.”

Okay, but perhaps the US would do well to re-evaluate some of those interests. Why is the US so preoccupied with what Iran is doing in Yemen, for example? Sure, it’s engaged in a proxy war with Saudi but why should America be dragged into it? And Syria? Well, I’ve said enough about that already.

As part of a long list of charges, he criticised Iran’s involvement in the Syrian conflict and its support for President Bashar al-Assad.

Look, I’m no fan of either but Iran has every right to support Bashar al-Assad. This is none of America’s business, they should concentrate on defending their clear interests, not engage in woolly moral judgements about who is supporting whom.

America has tried policing the Middle East and it has been an utter disaster, they really ought to quit. Iran is a threat to US interests for the reasons Tillerson has cited, but by including issues in which the US interests are unclear serves only to provide ammunition to those who think Trump’s administration has been captured by neo-cons baying for war.

Everyone knows what Iran is like, we don’t need any more accusations or statements of the obvious. Just state clearly where and how they are in direct conflict with American interests and take firm action in those areas, and leave the rest well alone.


Reality Bites

20th February, morning:

Iran has stopped selling crude to British and French companies, its oil ministry said on Sunday, in a retaliatory measure against fresh EU sanctions on the Islamic state’s major export.

20th February, afternoon:

Iran is “struggling” to find a buyer for its oil output surplus, according to a report, as UN weapons inspectors arrive back in the sanctions-hit country.

22nd February:

Iran has said it may lift its ban on oil exports to France and the UK on the day UN nuclear weapons inspectors were reportedly blocked from visiting one military site.

File under “Didn’t think that one through, did we?”


Fighting in Turkmenistan

Back in May 2006, The Economist ran an article on Turkmenistan which said:

There is, though, much speculation about the 66-year-old Turkmenbashi’s health. He has had heart surgery, and has a team of eight top-notch German doctors constantly on call. This raises other problems, most obviously the lack of a mechanism for an orderly transfer of power, coupled with the lack of any democratic tradition in a conservative, tribal society. Pessimistic Turkmen fear that a lost generation, uneducated beyond the Ruhnama, may fall prey to Islamic radicalism—and create a nasty failed state that could destabilise an already volatile region.

Upon the death of Turkmenbashi 7 months later in December 2006, I recalled that article in this blog post, adding:

Fortunately, I think his death may have come too early for Islamic radicals to move in.  Had Niyazov been around for another decade, education in the country would have been almost eliminated in all meaningful sense. 

Had [Niyazov’s eradication of education] been allowed to continue, or indeed if it does continue, then the country will likely join the likes of Somalia and Afghanistan as fertile grounds in which to establish Islamic fundamentalism.  But with a lot of luck, and in the hope that Russia and the US can cooperate to help get Turkmenistan back on its feet without squabbling to the point where things are left to get worse, the situation should improve. 

There have been mild overtures from both Russia and the west towards enticing Turkmenistan back in from its self-imposed isolation, but events in Georgia and other issues have prevented any definitive actions regarding the gas-rich Caspian state.  And with the current climate between Russia and the US, it is unlikely that there will be much cooperation between the two on anything, let alone ensuring Turkmen development is supported in a bipartisan manner.  I always keep half an eye on the developments in Turkmenistan, and so I noticed this story from the BBC:

There has been heavy fighting in Turkmenistan between Islamist militants and security forces in the capital, Ashgabat, unconfirmed reports say.

Residents told news agencies that at least 20 police officers had died in gun battles on Friday night, and that police were now patrolling the area.

This report generates as many questions as it provides information, the most prominent one being where are these Islamic militants coming from? Turkmenistan borders both Iran and Afghanistan, where Islamic hotheads are not in particularly short supply.  Or are they home-grown?  Or a mixture of both?  I read an account in one of Colin Thubron’s books where the author asked some Turkmen whether militant Islam could take hold in the country.  The wisened son-of-the-desert Thubron addressed the question to said that any such threat would come from Iran and had little chance of being produced domestically.  But it’s probably best not to extrapolate too much from one person speaking to a travel writer passing through the Karakum desert.

However, Russia would do well (and I’m sure they are) to find out pretty sharpish if this story is true and where the troublemakers are coming from.  If it turns out to be Iran, we could see a shift in attitude between Russia and Iran.  For some time the Russians have been gambling that a belligerent Iran poses more of a problem for the US than Russia, even to the point that they seem prepared to extend this assessment to a nuclear armed Iran.  An Iran which can export trouble to Turkmenistan – which also shares doesn’t share (see comments) a border with Russia – might make the Russians reconsider.  They’d do well to make up their minds before Iran advances much further with its nuclear plans.