US-Iran mutual retaliation elevates tensions in Middle East

Sunday, 2019-01-20 15:22:58
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Iran’s nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, gestures as he speaks to Reuters during an interview in Brussels, Belgium in November 2018. (Reuters)
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NDO – A recent US report said Iran possesses the largest ballistic missile power in the Middle East, stating that “Iran’s desire to have a strategic counterbalance with the US motivates their launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)”. In fact, the “threat” from Iran has been repeatedly touched upon by the US and its Western allies. In reply to this message, Iran has taken equally tough steps, leading to increasing tensions between the two sides.

Immediately from the beginning of January 2019, the US warned Iran not to pursue a plan to launch three space missiles, which was accused by Washington of violating a UN Security Council resolution because Tehran used ballistic missile technology. Constantly claiming that Iran is a “threat to the US”, President Donald Trump’s administration has taken increasing moves to put pressure on Tehran. Most recently, the Washington administration assigned Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to visit a series of Middle Eastern countries with the view of discussing measures to cope with Iran with regional allies, while preventing the influence of Tehran in the region. The US said it would hold an international summit in Poland in mid-February, aiming to table the Middle East issues. Referring to a number of important issues in the region, such as terrorism, extremism, rocket development, trade and maritime security, the US did not hesitate to say that the Poland conference seeks to consider regional threats, including an important element of ensuring that Iran is not a destabilising factor.

The aforementioned move showed Iran’s stance of not surrendering to the rising US pressure. The Islamic nation once eliminated the possibility of negotiating with the US concerning its military capacity, especially the missile programme. Tehran said Iran’s missile programme merely serves the purpose of defence, while rejecting the accusation that these missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Polish chargé d'affaires in Tehran to protest Warsaw’s co-hosting of a global summit with Washington to discuss the Middle East situation, especially the Iran issue. Tehran considered the decision as a “hostile action against Iran”, while warning of possible retaliations.

The current US economic sanctions against Iran are “the strongest measures in history”. The US plans to tighten its sanctions until the Tehran administration changes its policy that is said by Washington to be threatening the US and the international community. The US has confirmed it will not renegotiate after withdrawing from the nuclear deal Iran signed with the P5+1 powers. Instead, Washington put forward 12 claims for a new nuclear deal aiming to keep closer control over Tehran’s nuclear programme. However, the claims from the US side were immediately denied by Iran. Tehran said that Washington is repeating its “useless” tactics that were already used in the past.

The US has increased pressure on Iran, only to receive a corresponding response from Tehran’s tough attitude. After the US withdrew from the nuclear deal and re-imposed its sanctions, Iran announced that it would carry on with its aerospace programme. The head of Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) Ali Akbar Salehi recently declared that Tehran is taking its first steps towards enriching uranium with a 20% purity to produce fuel for nuclear reactors. AEOI revealed that Tehran can enrich uranium to 20% purity within just four days. In a recent report, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium and heavy water has increased slightly, but still lies within the allowable limits under the nuclear agreement. Iran’s newest move aims to send a message that the Islamic nation could quickly expand its uranium enrichment programme if the nuclear deal is broken.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani once warned the US not to “play with the lion’s tail”. The Islamic nation has taken “tit for tat” moves for any action from the US. The Washington administration constantly issuing “aggressive” statements and policies against Tehran and using a “hard” approach aiming to isolate Iran has elevated tensions in a region which has already had too many sensitive issues.