US, France adopt tough stance against Iran - GulfToday

US, France adopt tough stance against Iran


Iran is facing renewed pressure from the international community on its nuclear programme.

There is growing pressure from the United States and European powers like France, Germany and the United Kingdom that Iran has to seriously curtail its nuclear programme, and that it should stop ‘destabilising activities’ in the Middle East like the use of drones and missiles by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has been tough and President John Biden is willing to bring the United States back into negotiations with Iran. Former president Donald Trump had pulled out the US from the nuclear deal of 2015 in 2018. Austin, who was attending the Manama dialogue in Bahrain, said, “The United States remains committed to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. And we remain committed to a diplomatic outcome of the nuclear issue. But if Iran isn’t willing to engage seriously, then we will look at all of the options necessary to keep United States secure.” Meanwhile, France Foreign Minister Jean-Ives Les Drian warned Iran not to come up with a “sham” negotiating stance if it wants the revived talks about the agreement that the US and other powers had reached with Iran in 2015. He described the Iranian demand that the sanctions imposed by the US and European countries since 2017 be eased as an unrealistic demand. Referring to the revived talks and the need to move forward from where the talks ended in June, he told in an interview to Le Monde, “If this discussion is a sham, then we have to consider the JCPoA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) empty.” The statements of Austin and Les Drian add a fresh sense of urgency for Iran to seriously consider the terms of engagement.

The question arises is whether Iran can restrain itself from asserting itself in the affairs of the region because it sends out the disturbing signal to the Gulf Arab states that Tehran wants to wield influence in the region and cooperate with elements that are opposing the Arab governments of the day. Apart from the Houthi rebels in Yemen, some states do not want Tehran to lend support to the Shia group Hezbollah in Lebanon and to pro-Iranian Shia partisans in Iraq. Tehran might feel that it is the legitimate national interest to support Shia groups in the region. But by doing so, Iran is disturbing the political equilibrium in the region, and it has not certainly enhanced the prestige and power of Iran in the region. If its bid to assert its influence in the region is counterproductive, it makes sense for the government in Tehran to cooperate with the Arab governments. If the rulers in Iran are keen to keep out the American influence in the region, then the goal can be achieved by forging solidarity with the Arab governments, and Iran should take on the task of defending the region’s interests through show of military strength if necessary.

Sometime back there was such a move to forge close links between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but it did not gain momentum. Iran should be moving closer to its Arab neighbours if it wants to gain influence in the region. Iranian analysts are likely to argue that the US and other Western powers would not back a united Iran-Arab bloc because that would hurt their (the US and the European) interests. The diplomatic success of Tehran can only be gauged by the confidence and trust they gain of the Arab states in the region. Israel has adopted the positive approach of establishing closer links with the Arab states, and Israel would want to keep Iran out because of the perceived hostility between Tehran and Tel Aviv. Iran will have much to think about these issues.

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