Rising tensions

With Saudi Arabia and Iran, the situation offers a real test of the diplomatic skills of the incumbent leadership

Editorial May 31, 2019

The ongoing year began with rising diplomatic friction between Washington and Tehran. Having pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal in the middle of the previous year and restored economic sanctions on the country, President Donald Trump was confident that Tehran was in trouble and would eventually return to the negotiating table on his own terms. Tehran, on the other hand, continued to resist dialogue, with the tensions between the two longtime foes soaring in the meanwhile. An attack on four oil tankers off the UAE coast on May 2 stepped up the tensions further, with Trump blaming Tehran for the attack and, in an apparent retaliation, deployed an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf. Iran though interprets the move in the context of what it calls Washington’s longtime wish to bring about a regime change in the country.

Some latest happenings risk dragging the conflict into danger zone. Just yesterday, Washington has finally come up with an official declaration that Tehran was ‘almost certainly’ behind the May 2 attack on four oil tankers, including two belonging to Saudi Arabia. US National Security Adviser John Bolton told media persons in Abu Dhabi, “There’s no doubt in anybody’s mind in Washington who’s responsible for this [i.e. the attack on oil tankers].” Only hours later, Saudi Arabia sought support from the 57-member OIC against what it called Iranian interference in the region. At a gathering of OIC foreign ministers in Jeddah, Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf insisted that “Tehran’s support for Houthi rebels in Yemen is a proof of Iranian interference in other nations’ affairs and this is something that Islamic countries should reject.”

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was also in attendance at the OIC summit that came prior to two more regional events – the Arab League summit and the GCC summit – where Saudi Arabia will be better placed to push through its call for support against Iran. At the time of this writing, there is no official word as regards Pakistan’s stance on the Saudi call. With Saudi Arabia on the one hand and Iran on the other, the situation offers a real test of the diplomatic skills of the incumbent leadership.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 31st, 2019.

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