Any meaningful political resolution to the turmoil in the Middle East now seems more elusive than ever
Even in the context of a post-truth geopolitical environment run amok, Russian President Vladimir Putin telling his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani over the phone that any further Western strikes against Syria may “lead to chaos in international relations” should at least be seen for what it is; a massive understatement.
According to the Kremlin, Putin and Rouhani agreed that what cynics are calling the F.U.K.U.S. – or France, UK, US – strikes have damaged the chances of achieving any meaningful political resolution in Syria.
That translates into Putin and Rouhani acknowledging that Washington, London and Paris are pulling no punches to be back in the game, directly clashing with the painstaking Astana peace process led by Russia, Iran and Turkey.
Significantly, Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari reminded acting US Secretary of State John Sullivan, also over the phone, about “the necessity to prioritize finding a political solution and that the Syrian people alone should determine their own fate.”
This means essentially that the “4+1” – Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, plus Hezbollah – which were at the vanguard of destroying ISIS, or Islamic State, and other crypto-jihadi outfits in Syria, remain in synch. The counter-terror HQ of the “4+1” was in Baghdad. As much as Baghdad may harbor ideological divergences with Damascus, their common strategy is built upon the fight against Salafi-jihadis of all stripes.
Iraq, alongside Lebanon, was one of the very few nations across the Middle East that condemned the US-UK-France strikes. The GCC petrodollar club – led by the House of Saud – predictably supported it, as their agenda never strayed away from regime change.
Moscow, Damascus, Tehran and Baghdad are showing a united front even as the alleged chemical attack in Douma – the reason for the strikes – is being forcefully debunked. Additionally, pesky questions remain unanswered on why more than 100 missiles were necessary to destroy only three largely empty state-run scientific centers in Damascus and Homs.
Even after Damascus and Baghdad declared victory, the Salafi-jihadi galaxy may be seriously wounded in both Syria and Iraq, but is not extinct. Turkey is still cultivating some nasty connections.
So the key variable in the Astana process – which involves complex economic and military trade offs – remains Ankara, which has no intention of abandoning its sprawling Syrian ops before subduing the Kurdish YPG all around.
Incidentally, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, unlike his partners, supported the strikes on Syria. At the same time, Erdogan is itching for the Russian S-400 missile system to be delivered to Turkey as soon as possible, much to the displeasure of NATO.
The real test for the Astana partners will be Idlib – which is already the subject of fierce negotiations. Iran’s special envoy for Syrian affairs, Ali Akbar Velayati, is on the record as saying the next war objective is in fact Idlib.
Moscow has prodded Erdogan to deliver the Kurdish canton of Afrin – now run by the Turkish military – to Damascus. There’s no evidence – yet – this will be accepted. Russian forces did leave Afrin before the Turkish offensive. So the Turks, in reciprocity, should abandon their bases across Idlib as well.
The key takeaway is that the US-UK-France troika – not to mention the House of Saud – has absolutely no means to influence these developing facts on the ground.
Iran targeted by financial missiles
If the strikes on Syria have de facto added to the “chaos in international relations” alluded to by Putin, that may be just the opening compared to the main course; the fate of the JCPOA, aka the Iran nuclear deal, to be decided next month.
The European Union foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, ahead of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg, was unequivocal: “The European Union has always made it clear that for us, keeping the agreement in place is vital. It is a strategic interest for the European Union and we will stick to it.”
Pointing to what, for all practical purposes, is a Trump administration May 12 deadline, Mogherini added: “We are doing all we can to work with our American friends to make sure that all parties stay fully committed to the full implementation of the agreement.”
Everyone in Brussels knows Tehran is fully complying with the JCPOA, as stated by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 10 successive reports.
Still, France, Britain and Germany are dabbling with the notion of sanctions against Iranian “militias and commanders” fighting on the side of Damascus as a means to appease President Trump. Italy, backed by Austria, is vehemently against it.
The bottom line, as diplomats confirmed to Asia Times, is that Trump’s deadline to “fix” the JCPOA simply won’t be met. What really matters for individual EU nations, as discussed in diplomatic circles, is to increase lucrative business with Iran.
Restricted access to US dollars
All this is happening as Iranian central bank governor Valiollah Seif denounced what amounts to a financial missile strike: “Enemies outside of our borders, in various different guises, are fueling this issue and are going to some effort to make conditions tougher for the people.”
Valiollah was referring to the rial crisis. The Iranian currency was trading at 40,000 to the US dollar in 2017, but has just plunged to 60,000 rials to the dollar. Tehran hastily announced a plan to introduce a currency peg at 42,000 rials.
The widespread view in Tehran is that Wahhabi enemies Riyadh and the Emirates are restricting Tehran’s access to US dollars. Not to mention that some stiff Washington bank financing sanctions remain in effect.
Tehran is facing tough days ahead. Even with the EU remaining committed to the JCPOA, a new batch of Washington sanctions, enthusiastically pursued by John “Bomb Iran” Bolton, could eventually force as many as 500,000 barrels a day of Iranian crude out of the market.
If Washington withdraws – unilaterally – from the JCPOA, or insists on alterations Tehran deems unacceptable, Plan B is already on: Moscow and Beijing are willing and able to help Tehran reboot its civilian nuclear program.
That was discussed already in January by the Deputy Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Mohammad Ahmadian. China is actively considering the possibility of building small nuclear power plants in Iran.
All that points, once again, to the ongoing, massive Eurasia integration project – the cross-pollination of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Eurasia Economic Union (EEU) – featuring, not by accident, the three key nodes: China, Russia and Iran.
And to add it all up, in this case the European arm of NATO even turned off the “aggression” rhetoric; the dogs of war (“Real Men Go to Tehran”) may bark again, but even that won’t force the EU caravan to desist from doing business with Persia.