Donald Trump's threat to 'obliterate' Iran could be the spark that sets West Asia aflame; negotiations must be reopened

Much truth is said in jest and US president Donald Trump’s cheerful admonishment to Russian president Vladimir Putin not to interfere in the 2020 election in the United States underscores a cheerful nexus between the two. As the Cold War antagonists buddy up and exchange jokes they even sweetened their friendship with a dollop of nostalgia with Putin inviting Trump as a special guest next year to mark the 75th  anniversary of the Allied victory and Nazi surrender, a brief, shining moment when the two giants were on the same side.

 Donald Trumps threat to obliterate Iran could be the spark that sets West Asia aflame; negotiations must be reopened

File image of US president Donald Trump. AP

But all this is essentially dross and the window dressing cannot conceal the fact that the G20 is still not capable of getting a handle on the crisis in West Asia and the tamping down the Trump shrillness in handling Iran over the ‘come to heel’ command ‘or else we will destroy you’ diktat that colours the global rescue act of the nuclear pact and demands Tehran’s compliance.

The fear is that Trump’s bully rhetoric and his increasingly threat to obliterate Iran, voiced so often in the recent past, could create an impasse in the region and bring the drums of war into earshot. Trump’s undiplomatic ‘sound and fury’  approach to Iran, motivated largely by his need to show up Barack Obama and strut about playing cowboy, is worrying to nations in the region who, though wary of Iran, have no call to turn it into an active enemy.

That Trump may up the ante by making the region a battle terrain is a matter of extreme concern. Trump has been pilloried for his bumbling and often contradictory and hectoring Iranian policy. Washington, without thinking it through, imposed sanctions on Iran severe enough to hurt it badly. But will giving that nation agony resolve the problem of getting it to comply on the international demands regarding its nuclear plans and missile technology development?

If anything, the $50 billion loss in oil revenue may not only send Iran to the mattresses, but also spark off a tanker war in the Straits of Hormuz, especially since there is no guarantee even now that the Houthi attacks on merchant shipping will not occur again.

Recently, the UAE, a small nation with a big say in the region’s decision making process, called for a return to the table and the healthier alternative of talks. By the same token it also recommended the need for military escorts for civilian shipping because that danger has not ended. Whether the Iranians encourage the Houthis and to what extent that backing exists, the fear is they still are active.

Nobody in the region wants a wounded Iran and the latest gun in its back with the oil export embargo could backfire badly on Trump’s most major international gambit. He has no face-saving exit policy as the confrontation ramps up and the spark that sets things off could well occur by this default.

The fallout from boots on the ground option and the threat to annihilate a nation makes the Iran-US issue the most vital, well ahead of the trade war with China. Does Trump even realise the implications of conflict in West Asia now brought closer after the US is taking steps to choke off 100 percent of Iran’s oil exports? Perhaps before the doomsday clock strikes midnight it would make sense for all sides to back off and reopen negotiations as the UAE suggested.

Updated Date: Jun 29, 2019 21:32:19 IST