On the morning of May 12, unidentified perpetrators attacked four oil tankers off the Fujairah port in theof Oman. Two of the tankers belonged to , the national oil company of . The attacks occurred during Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s state visit to Tehran, which was intended to ease regional tensions.
The international response was swift. The sabotage attack,” while the United States immediately blamed . The , , and Norway launched a joint investigation into the attack, concluding that a “state actor” was behind it.described the incident as a “
The events triggered a series of dangerous incidents around the US and Iran shooting down each other’s drones, and the detention of Iranian and European tankers by both sides. Most recently, on September 14, oil facilities in eastern were struck in drone and cruise missile attacks. Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed responsibility, but the US and blame . The Iranians deny any involvement in the attack., including two further attacks on tankers in June, the
As world leaders gather in New York for the 74th, tensions remain high in the Gulf as continues waging its campaign of “maximum resistance” against the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” agenda that a handful of other Western states have been behind to varying degrees. Despite nuclear disarmament and arms control being key aspects of the ’s agenda, the is unlikely to play an integral role in reducing tension between the US and , given the strong-willed nature of these countries.
Nevertheless, it remains the vital interest of all parties to prevent US-one-fifth of the world’s oil passes. Any interruption of international shipping through this narrow strait would have a seismic impact on the global economy, as well as a drastic rise in oil prices.brinkmanship from erupting into war, especially one that so directly involves some of the world’s most powerful militaries and has been playing out around the Strait of Hormuz, a highly-strategic chokepoint in the Gulf through which
Since May 2018, when the US withdrew from the Joint(JCPOA) over a host of issues, including non-nuclear ones like Iranian conduct in the Middle East (i.e., support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Syrian regime) and its ballistic missile activity, the US has re-imposed sanctions on . Such sanctions threaten European businesses that deal with and have resulted in European firms pulling out of the Islamic Republic despite their keenness to enter Iranian markets after the JCPOA’s watershed passage and implementation in mid-2015 and early 2016, respectively.
The Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign has strained the Iranian economy. With the reimposition of US sanctions, 3.9% in 2018. Additionally, at the start of last year, ’s crude oil production peaked at 2.8 million barrels per day (bpd). By March 2019, that dropped to 1.1 million bpd.’s GDP contracted by
Although Tehran stuck to its nuclear commitments under the JCPOA by practicing a policy of “strategic patience” that rested on the assumption that European countries could circumvent US sanctions from excessively harming all kinds” of faster centrifuges, a direct violation of the deal.’s interests, Iranian officials have concluded that such an approach has not succeeded. Consequently, has gradually pulled back from its commitments under the nuclear deal. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani recently announced that has begun working on “
Within this context,has left the West worried over its nuclear plans as it looks East to Asian countries to export its oil. Giorgio Cafiero, the CEO of Gulf State Analytics, a Washington, DC-based political risk consultancy group, describes the strategy’s economic aspect, saying, “Given that a number of countries, most importantly China, are still buying Iranian oil, it seems difficult to imagine the US policy aimed at bringing ‘s oil exports to zero as proving successful.” As many experts see it, Washington’s maximum pressure agenda maxed out over the summer, raising questions about what else the US could do outside of military action to pressure into changing its conduct.
With the Iranian government undeterred by US actions, the burden of maintaining what is left of the nuclear deal rests with European partners and their efforts to ease the blow of US sanctions on. This comes at an especially difficult time as the United Kingdom deals with the Brexit saga and right-wing, populist and nationalist governments in mainland Europe challenge the EU’s capacity to promote global cooperation.
The efforts to incentivizeto uphold its end of the bargain under the JCPOA have been unsuccessful, given the country’s recent nuclear developments. Addressing the European role in the tensions since the 2018 pullout, Cafiero says, “Because the US dominates the global banking industry, European states have been unable to chart an independent course in relation to and the nuclear deal.”
A War of Words
With rising tensions between the US, Europe and, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members have effectively found themselves in the crossfire during this summer’s series of detained and attacked tankers. That said, it is important to recognize that Arabia’s approach vis-à-vis has not been subdued.
Last year at the 73rd stating: “ continues its terrorist activities and hostile behavior. The kingdom expresses its support to the new American strategy in dealing with … Achieving peace and stability in the Middle East requires deterring ‘s expansionist and subversive policies.”, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir condemned ,
Similarly, he said, “Certain countries, particularly , are prone to attacking the security of the region, spreading chaos, violence and sectarianism.”Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed cited ’s “nefarious” interventionist policies, attributing it to the region’s escalation in violence. In his address last year,
The Iranian side also traded bellicose rhetoric at last year’s General Assembly, foreshadowing the rise in tensions that erupted a year later. President Rouhani delivered harsh statements directed at the United States. He said that “by violating its international commitments, the new US administration only destroys its own credibility and undermines international confidence in negotiating with it.” He also condemned the rhetoric launched against the Iranian regime, describing it as “ignorant, absurd and hateful … filled with ridiculously baseless allegations.”
As the parties gather for this year’s according to a source close to Bolton, Trump and his now-former national security adviser were at odds over the president’s apparent suggestion of lifting sanctions on as a negotiating incentive., the rhetoric and addresses are somewhat unpredictable, especially after US President Donald Trump recently fired John Bolton, his third national security adviser since 2017. Bolton, known for his hawkish foreign policy on — which included pushing for regime change and war — was a chief proponent of the maximum pressure strategy. However,
With Bolton’s departure, Washington’s foreign policy toward
That said, the recent attacks targetin co facilities in easter ia, which resulted in the state-owned oil company’s production being halved, may cut the prospects for diplomatic outreach between Washington and Tehran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s tweet attributing the strikes t an raises questions about whether hardline figures in the Iranian regime may have provoked the perpetrators to carry out these attacks, with the aim of derailing any potential diplomatic outreach between the US an an in the aftermath of Bolton’s ouster.
The Iranian leadership’s rhetoric at the General Assembly will be highly informative in terms of understanding Tehran’s approach to dealing with the Trump administration. Depending on if and how US foreign policy shifts, as well as how suspicious Tehran regards any potential change in Washington’sstrategy, the Islamic Republic may continue its criticism of the US, Israel and , as it has done during previous gatherings.
Moreover, the other address to keep a close eye on at this year’s assembly is the scaling down of support for Trump’s maximum pressure campaign. This comes at its realization that continued backing of the increasingly hostile US approach toward may lead to a war in the , in turn jeopardizing the ’s own regional interests.’s, given its recent
Notable examples of Abu Dhabi’s shift in Iranian foreign policy include its cautious response to the May 12 tanker attacks, labeling them as “sabotage” by a “state actor” but not directly pointing fingers at outreach to in July. Whether or not these shifts will be reflected publicly at the ’s General Assembly address remains to be seen.. Additionally, the initiated diplomatic
Overall, with this buildup of tensions involving such strong-willed countries that lack permanent status in the UN Security Council (UNSC), it is unlikely that thewill be able to foster any sort of multilateral rapprochement.
If anything, thewill most likely just pay lip service to the mounting tensions in the Gulf and verbally demand a de-escalation.
*[Gulf State Analytics is a partner institution of Fair Observer. Updated on September 24, 2019: An earlier version of this article contained comments by Karen Young, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, which have been removed at her request.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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