AFTER acting in a berserk manner, President Trump now appears to be softening his approach as far as handling of the Gulf crisis is concerned. In a televised address on Wednesday in response to Iran’s missile attacks, he announced more “punishing” economic sanctions but also extended an olive branch to the “people and leaders” of Iran to work together for “shared priorities”. Iran launched strikes on two US military bases in Iraq in response to the killing of top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike last week.
Though Trump defended his action claiming that Americans should be extremely grateful and happy with the outcome (drone attack killing Iranian general) but there are clear indications that universal disapproval and condemnation of the move has forced the US leader to review his policy that was fast pushing the region to a full-fledged war. The killing was criticized by the UN, European leaders and even closest allies of Washington like Israel adopted a policy of distancing from the act after gauging the massive reaction and mood in Iran and also reaction of the global community. A response from Tehran was due as Iranian leadership cannot afford to sit calmly over killing of a commander seen by majority of Iranians as their hero. However, experts have viewed Iran’s move as a measured response, saying that it had deliberately avoided US military casualties to prevent the crisis from escalating out of control while still signalling Iranian resolve. In an apparent attempt to pacify growing anger of his people over US killing of the general, Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei described the missile strikes on military bases in Iraq as a slap in the face of the US amidst claims that these killed 80 Americans.
Trump confirmed no Americans were harmed in the Iranian attacks and suggested Washington might not carry out immediate retaliation. It is understood that notwithstanding the public mood and sentiments of the Iranian leadership, Tehran cannot afford a direct confrontation with the United States in conventional terms but strategists say it can definitely harm the US interests in the region in a variety of manner. Iran has proxies and also built the largest stockpile of ballistic missiles in the Middle East and its Revolutionary Guards fields a fleet of missile-armed speedboats and midget submarines it can deploy against US military ships or commercial tankers to disrupt the flow of oil in Gulf waters, where Washington says Tehran attacked six tankers last year. However, despite all this, US Vice President Mike Pence claimed in a television interview that “intelligence” indicated that Iran had asked its allied militias not to attack US targets. This policy of restraint at a time of rising domestic anger is appreciable as it would help calm down tension and avoid its transformation into a direct conflict that could have consequences for the entire region and the world beyond. Markets have also responded positively to the lowering of rhetoric with stock markets around the world recovering their previous losses and prices of both oil and gold going down. As for more sanctions on Iran, these are unlikely to serve any additional purpose as Tehran is already under heavy sanctions. These have so far failed to help materialize their stated objectives and instead antagonized Iran further and a situation has reached where the country has scrapped its nuclear accord with world powers.
Trump is calling for negotiations for a new accord but the possibility is remote if Washington does not change its hard stance of giving almost nothing to Iran and demanding too much. Despite indications of some relaxation of tension, the danger is still there due to complexity of the situation and vested interests of some powers. Therefore, it is responsibility of the influential members of the international community and especially neighbouring countries to make coordinated efforts for peaceful resolution of the conflict. Prime Minister Imran Khan has done well by directing the Foreign Minister to visit Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States to contribute towards efforts for easing of the tension. Pakistan would be one of the most affected countries in case a war breaks out and therefore, mere declaration of the intent not to use the territory would not serve our cause. Contacts should also be established with countries like China, Turkey and Russia for consultation on ways and means to avoid escalation of the conflict.