Defusing US-Iran tension via peace diplomacy?

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Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi
THE EU Foreign Ministers met last week on the escalating crisis between Tehran and Washington, but EU executives already have had set the tone — calling for peace dialogue and salvaging the Iran nuclear deal, revoked by President Trump. In a joint statement, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on all parties involved to exercise “utmost restraint and responsibility.’’ But meanwhile, Russia, Turkey, and Pakistan are positively engaged in peace diplomacy to defuse the tensions between Washington and Tehran. The three European powers —Germany, France and the UK — have shown their prompt readiness to talk to Iran directly. “We stand ready to continue our engagement with all sides in order to contribute to defuse tension and restore stability to the region,” the statement said. The trio was expected to discuss the situation on Monday. Separately, EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, invited Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Javad Zarif to Brussels to discuss the crisis. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement that Europe had “reliable channels of communication” to all sides. “We will definitely talk to Iran again,” Maas told Deutschland funk radio.
The US has about 60,000 troops in the region, including about 5,200 in Iraq. And yet in the US, the top Trump administration officials gave Congress a classified briefing on the decision to assassinate Suleimani, but many Democratic lawmakers—and several Republicans—were none too pleased with the briefing. “The worst briefing I’ve seen—at least on a military issue—in my nine years [in the Senate],” Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican, said afterwards. According to the report published by US Congress Research Service, The U.S.-Iran tensions have the potential to escalate into all-out conflict in the wake of Soleimani’s killing. Iran’s materiel support for armed factions throughout the region, including its provision of short-range ballistic missiles to these factions, and Iran’s network of agents in Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere, give Iran the potential to expand confrontation into areas where U.S. response options might be limited. The United States military has the capability to undertake a range of options against Iran, both against Iran directly and against its regional allies and proxies.
Against this backdrop, all the regional peace stakeholders, including Turkey, Pakistan and Russia are also playing their needed role in this regard. Pakistan FM Shah Mehmood Qureshi has already left for Tehran and Washington. Turkey has joined an international diplomatic campaign to defuse tension between the United States and Iran after the assassination of the latter’s top military figure with calls on all related parties to act with restraint and common sense to avoid a larger conflict in an already unstable Middle East.
“Turkey once again calls on all parties to act with common sense and avoid steps that will further escalate tension,” Erdoðan’s chief foreign policy advisor and the presidential spokesman, Ýbrahim Kalýn, said in a televised interview late on January 3 President Recep Tayyip Erdoðan held phone conversations with Iranian President Hasan Rouhani and Iraqi President Barham Salih over the weekend as Tehran vowed to retaliate against the US for the killing of Iran’s military chief Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Turkey and Russia called on the United States and Iran to prioritize diplomacy and de-escalate tensions, warning that the exchange of attacks by Washington and Tehran could lead to a new cycle of instability in the region. The joint call was issued in a statement after a meeting between Presidents Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin in Istanbul.
Meanwhile, President Trump has urged other signatories — the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China — to jettison the “remnants” of the nuclear deal signed in 2015l. He emphasized: They should instead stay in the middle ground, stepping up efforts to find a negotiated solution. The only way to reduce the risks of a Middle East conflagration is to resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions through diplomacy. The events of the past few days may only have made that more difficult. In September last year, Iran announced it has started using more advanced centrifuges that could accelerate the development of an atomic weapon in its latest attempt to pressure European powers to salvage a 2015 nuclear deal. Behrouz Kamalvandi, the Iranian nuclear agency spokesman, told a press conference on Saturday the country did not intend to use the faster centrifuges to enrich uranium to 20% levels – an important threshold on the path to weapons-grade material – but that it had the capacity to do so. “We have started lifting limitations on our research and development imposed by the deal,” Kamalvandi said. “It will include the development of more rapid and advanced centrifuges.
Washington expects that Islamabad should play its role to defuse the ongoing tension. Pakistan rightly believes in notions of peace diplomacy and therefore it engages the pivotal regional actors in this regard. Islamabad wants both the sides — the US and Iran must adopt a policy of ‘prompt restraint’ to prevent the escalation. Pakistan holds a principled stance that it will not allow its territory to be used against anyone. The Trump administration has imposed new sanctions on Iran as Steven Mnuchin, Treasury Secretary, and Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State, said in a joint news conference on last Friday that the new measures would target eight senior Iranian officials involved in “destabilising” activities in the Mideast. Yet, on the other hand, the new legislation passed in the US House is a positive development— urging that for waging war against Iran, US President Trump needs approval from the US Congress.
FM Shah Mahmoud Qureshi has completed his two-day official visit to Tehran and Riyadh. President Rouhani and Zarif advocated that Iran‘s policy is to foster the indoctrination of de-escalation of tensions and preservation of peace and stability in the region. “All sides had responsibilities in this regard,” they were quoted as saying. The Iranian leadership has taken positive note of Prime Minister Imran’s efforts of reducing tensions in the region, saying they had supported Khan’s peace initiative in the past and welcomed the present efforts as well, according to the FO.
—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.