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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Obama’s flirtation with Iran raises suspicions

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© APimages

Evidence is mounting that the Obama White House cannot be trusted to preserve the interests of Gulf states or their Arab allies. Were an Arab country perceived to be hostile to the US or the international community, it would be attacked without hesitation. On the other hand, this Administration is treating its ‘favourite enemy’ with a silk glove instead of the iron fist it deserves. This sure feels like a pro-Iranian Administration.

US prompted negotiations with Tehran to limit its nuclear enrichment program have borne fruit. Both sides have displayed exceptional commitment and now a nuclear framework agreement has been sealed. It’s easy to understand Iran’s willingness to make concessions when sanctions have bit hard. But why the Obama Administration has made supreme efforts to shake hands with America’s long-time foe is perplexing.

US Secretary of State John Kerry behaves as though he’s on his life’s mission, even as Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei still calls “Death to America” while negotiations are underway. Far from being perturbed, Kerry is seen linking arms with his Iranian counterpart, Mohamed Zarif, as though he’s reuniting with an old school pal.

Added to this lovefest was a video greeting from Obama to the Iranian people on the occasion of the Persian New Year. Iran should seize this moment marking “a new chapter in the history of Iran and its role in the world,” he urged. It’s not so much Iran’s “role in the world” I’m concerned about but rather its energised role in the Middle East region with a view to recreating a new Persian Empire.

Then, last month, both Iran and its Lebanese arm Hezbollah were mysteriously omitted from the US National Intelligence terrorism threat report - and this at a time when Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah fighters are hand in glove with the Assad regime in Syria and while Iranian backed Shiite Houthi militias are on the rampage in Yemen!

Most astonishing of all, is the news that US airpower is currently giving cover to an Iranian-led assault on Iraq’s Sunni heartland Tikrit to rid the city of ‘Islamic State’ terrorists. The Daily Showsʼ Jon Stewart nailed this anomaly on the head, saying, “Iran is…I don’t want to say our ally, let’s go with battle buddy.” It was a battle directed on the ground by Iran’s Quds Force commander General Qasem Soleimani, said by The Guardian newspaper to be “secretly running Iraq”.

I find it extraordinary that President Barack Obama is bulldozing ahead seemingly unfazed by the legitimate concerns of America’s friends in the region. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is practically tearing his hair out trying to prevent what he terms “a bad deal”, which, he says, should be conditional upon Iran changing its aggressive behaviours. While I have no love for the Israeli Prime Minister, in an accident of fate, Israel and Sunni Arab states find themselves on the same page vis-à-vis the Iran threat.

Netanyahu does enjoy support from some members of Congress; a few are coming up with extreme solutions. Senator John McCain, for instance, is openly advising Israel “to go rogue” - to bomb Iran and force the US to come to its defense. The letter signed by 47 Republican senators warning that President Obama’s term is drawing to an end and, moreover, any agreement signed without Congressional backing could be ripped up by his successor, further evidences Republican discontent.

Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Arab allies are similarly piqued that they’ve been left out of the loop on the details of this potential détente. The Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, recently spelled out the Kingdom’s stance. “It is impossible to give Iran deals it does not deserve,” while accusing Iran of conducting “aggressive policies, and interfering in the countries of the region…”

In response Obama has launched a charm offensive to persuade the GCC to come on board. He called the Saudi Monarch, King Salman bin Abulaziz, and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to invite GCC leaders to discuss the deal with Iran at an upcoming Camp David Summit. This invitation should have been forthcoming before the preliminary negotiations were finalised, not after the fact.

We are Iran’s neighbours in the potential firing line, not the US or the Europeans. If they were truly our allies, they should have prioritised our demands; beginning with the West’s recognition of the term Arabian Gulf, instead of the Persian Gulf, when the coastlines of Arab States cover 80 per cent more area than Iran’s. The GCC is being treated as an afterthought instead of a main player and partner, which is not only insulting but dangerous.

Should the GCC leaders accept Obama’s invitation, I would urge them to show a united front by appointing just one head of state to represent all at Camp David. I reject the idea that the US President can just click his fingers; our kings, emirs, sheikhs and Sultan are not at his beck and call. Moreover, whatever the approach the GCC decides to take to protect our interests, its resolve should be absolute and immovable. While it’s my hope that Congress succeeds in blocking this foolishness, if that doesn’t happen, we should be given the right to appoint our own Arab weapons inspectors to observe the work of the nuclear watchdog, the IAEA.

So, let’s analyse what’s really happening. The Obama Administration is ready and willing to seriously antagonise not only Israel, but also its major Arab allies, as well as a significant chunk of Congress, in order to conclude a pact that would leave Iran a threshold nuclear weapons state in ten years, when the agreement is set to expire. On a cost/ benefit analysis, the US has more to lose than it has to gain. Could we be missing something here?

When the pieces of the puzzle are fitted together, a picture emerges giving credence to what was once mere speculation - the idea that a geopolitical ‘Grand Bargain’ is being cemented to the detriment of predominantly Sunni States, which President Obama is throwing under a bus, one by one.

If George W. Bush handed Iraq to Iran, Obama has gift wrapped it with a pretty bow. It’s the same story with Syria. US assistance to the largely Sunni opposition is starting to look like a major bluff when, just last month, John Kerry announced that he would be willing to talk face-to-face with Assad. Until recently, the White House almost treated Egypt, battling terrorism in its cities and on the Sinai Peninsula, as a pariah state, while continuing to cuddle the Muslim Brotherhood.

It’s no secret that during the start of Obama’s presidential journey, sections of the US media were raising the possibility that President Obama, whose Kenyan father and Indonesian stepfather were both Muslims, might not be a Christian. Well, a few days ago, I watched a guest on an Arab television station argue that the US President is secretly a Shiite. I certainly wouldn’t go that far, but what I would say is that the White House’s Middle East policies look like they’ve been lifted straight out of the ayatollahs’ playbook.

We are used to dealing with Administrations that are more respectful to their Arab allies, while this administration is headed by individuals, such as John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden, who’ve both been defending Iran’s case for decades. Obama pledged to talk to the Iranians when he was still on the campaign trail so it’s perhaps natural that the President would select like-minded senior figures.

The President’s faith is not at issue. Islam respects Christians and Jews as the Peoples of the Book. And please do not mistake my words as an attack on Shiite Arabs; they are our brothers who share the same home. My criticism is reserved for individuals with allegiance to trumped-up human beings in Qom and especially those who connive to topple our governments.

The bottom line is this: Arab leaderships must be alert to plots and should use their best endeavours to seek political and military independence, along with new alliances. A Joint Arab Force, currently under discussion is a good first step when our security and territorial integrity is under threat from a terrorist-supporting would-be hegemonic power that gets a White House red carpet.

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