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September 24, 2019

Staving off war


September 24, 2019

Tensions in the Gulf have grown as Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani warned that it is being threatened by foreign forces which have entered the region. His reference is clearly to the US, which is sending more troops to Saudi Arabia in a buildup which analysts say could become dangerous. The crisis follows an attack earlier this month on two Saudi oil facilities. While responsibility for this has been claimed by Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are waging a guerrilla war in the country against Saudi-backed troops, the US and Saudi Arabia both blame Iran for the strike. The question of drafting a new Gulf peace initiative is to be put forward by Iran at the UN as it prepares to hold its General Assembly. Tensions between Iran and the US have worsened since President Trump came to power in 2016. In 2018, he unilaterally cancelled an agreement on nuclear facilities with Iran, which had been signed in 2015 by a number of nations, including many major European countries. These nations remain committed to the agreement and have not followed Trump.

Angry rhetoric is worsening the situation. President Trump, not known for cautious diplomacy, had warned Iran the US was ‘locked and loaded’ immediately after the strike. Saudi Arabia, which has a traditional regional rivalry with Iran based on both sect and politics, has been more cautious and has deferred from using harsh language. It has sent a small number of troops sent in by the US to bolster its traditionally limited military, which seems eager to avoid a full-fledged conflict in the region. Such a conflict could be disastrous given Iran’s nuclear power and the delicate dynamics of the region.

What is important is that all the parties involved show maximum restraint and that other nations with influence move in to ensure this. Even the minor misinterpretation of an action or statement from one side could trigger a far more serious situation. President Rouhani says he wants to put forward a peace initiative at the UN. But he has not provided details of what this will involve so the wait will continue to see if peace can be maintained in the region. President Trump’s gung-ho approach to a problem that needs to be handled with kid gloves is also inflaming the situation. If this is not resolved, there could be a very real crisis and the danger of other players jumping in with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the UK now saying his country would back the US, although the UK had in the past refrained from any such commitment.

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