White House steps up pressure on Iran, hoping for 'deal of the century'

The White House asked the Pentagon last year to draw up war plans against Iran and plans an anti-Iran meeting in February where it hopes to link up Tehrans arch-enemies Israel and Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Iran says it will go on with a satellite launch, something Washington regards as a provocation.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani ©REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid

The request from the White House National Security Council, headed by John Bolton, was reported by the Wall Street Journal last Sunday. It came after an attack in September on the US Embassy in Baghdad by a militant group aligned with Iran.

According to newspaper, Mira Ricardel, the former deputy national security adviser, called the incident "an act of war," and said that the US needed to respond accordingly.

"It is always important to have at your disposal as many tools as possible as foreign policy,” says professor Eithan Gilboa, of Bar Ilan University, who was contacted by RFI.

“One of the biggest mistakes of the Obama administration in the negotiations with Iran is that he removed military action from the table.


“So just having the option is helping negotiations...overall I think that it might keep the Iranians a little bit nervous on what the US plans are."


Sceptical Iran


But in Iran, the reaction was sceptical.


“The feeling here is that the US political establishment and the military in the US knows quite well that if there is any attack on Iran, Iran will hit American targets across the board, in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere,” says Mohammed Marandi, a political scientist with University of Tehran.


“And it will be seen as an act of war. And there won’t be any token retaliation. And it will be very harsh.


According to Marandi, “the only way to keep the Americans at bay is to be firm. Since the American military knows that it is unlikely that Bolton will ever be able to get his way.”


Meanwhile, On 11 January, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced during an exclusive interview with Fox News that the US will host an international summit “to promote stability and freedom in the Middle East.”


He said that one of the ingredients for this would be making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence.


“Here you have a combination of means used by the United States to increase the pressure on Iran,” says Gilboa.


“Because Trump cancelled the [Nuclear] agreement, imposed harsh sanctions, and as  these perhaps were not enough he wants to increase the pressure.


"So you mention a potential military action and you also have this diplomatic conference, which I think will demonstrate more than anything else the alliance between the Sunni pro-American Arab countries and Israel.”


Marandi argues that this is what the meeting is all about: a rapprochemant between two traditional foes - Saudi Arabia and Israel. 


He thinks, Iran is being used in an “ enemy of your enemy is your friend" way of thinking as an excuse to make it work.


“The real objective is to get the Israelis and these Arab regime leaders together," he says.


“This has more to do with the ‘deal of the century’ than it really has to do with Iran.


Meanwhile, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zariff called the meeting a “desperate circus” that will “marginalize the participants.”

Tehran called the Polish chargé d’affaires to Iran to the Foreign Ministry and criticized him for planning the meeting, but Poland reacted this by saying that the international community has the right to discuss various regional and global issues.”

Announced satellite launch adds to tensions


On Monday, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani re-iterated that Iran will launch its “Payam” satellite into a 600 km orbit “in the near future.”


The official Mehr News Agency said that the satellite was designed to “send daily information about the country’s climate and agricultural lands and that it will pass over Iranian airspace six times a day. 


But the US sees a possible launch as another step by Iran to increase its capability to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles that may be able to carry nuclear warheads.


Earlier on, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had reacted to Iranian media reports in November that Iran planned to launch three satellites “within a few months.”


Pompeo said that the United States would not stand by and "watch the Iranian regime’s destructive policies place international stability and security at risk"  


He told Tehran to “..reconsider these provocative launches and cease all activities related to ballistic missiles in order to avoid deeper economic and diplomatic isolation.”


Pompeo said the space launch vehicles used to put satellites into orbit “incorporate technology that is virtually identical to that used in ballistic missiles” and stated that launching them would violate UN Security Council resolution non the Iranian nuclear deal.


Pompeo did not specify what steps the US would take if Iran would go ahead with its planned launch.

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