- Monday, 29 May 2017
In Iran, the elections have produced a result that inspires hope.
Iran: a hurray for young people!
The outgoing Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, won the presidential elections held in the country with a 56% majority: it’s worth noting how the country is enjoying a level of excitement that hasn’t been seen for 30 years, with young people in the streets, joyfully celebrating Rouhani’s victory, which leads us to 3 considerations:
1) the challenge was no so much between a moderate president and a conservative challenger, Ebrahim Raisi, who came second with 38% of the vote, but it was more akin to a referendum on Rouhani’s administration and his opening up to the West, a position the conservatives are very much against. And the Iranians in the end rewarded him. During his first mandate, the Rouhani government had worked towards engaging in this diplomatic shift that might lead the country away from 30 years of sanctions and isolation and allow it to enter a closer dialogue with the West, ratified by the nuclear accord signed in 2015. Thanks to this important result, Rouhani has managed to reduce inflation from the double-digit levels close to 40% to a more acceptable 9.5%. He has also improved the growth rate to around 6%, after years of recession. He has also enabled exports and oil production to return to pre-sanction levels and drastically increased direct foreign investment. In spite of these results, unemployment is still very high, while the growth in the non-oil sectors is having a hard time taking off;
2) thanks to this victory, the Iranian government will continue to comply with its commitments relative to the nuclear accord, to preserve the economic benefits that the removal of the sanctions have so far produced. Tehran will do all it can to continue to attract international firms into Iran. To this end, it will continue its reform of the country’s banking system, expansion of the private sector and reduction of the role and presence of the Revolutionary Guard in key economic sectors in Iran. At the same time, Rouhani will aim to address the remaining issues that do not allow the removal of sanctions not linked to the nuclear program (and as such, still in place) through dialogue with his American counterparts;
3) the problem, however, is Iran’s position during Rouhani’s second mandate, which will (to a large extent) depend on the attitude towards his country held by the United States. Although the Trump administration is no longer talking of tearing up the nuclear accord with Iran, it’s clear that it will engage in a very strong campaign against Iran, accusing it, as Trump did in Riyadh this week, of being the ultimate instigator of Islamic terror.
Arabia Saudita: terrorist or ally?
What did Trump offer Saudi Arabia, at the start of his trip to the Middle East and Europe that has just ended?
2) Trump identified terrorism as the common enemy and Iran as the “Country of evil”. This means that Trump has made a (final?) choice between Sunnis and Shiites, between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
3) The backing Trump is now offering Saudi Arabia, is a fake withdrawal, seeing as Saudi Arabia has signed an arms deal with the USA worth 110 billion US dollars. To understand the scope of the deal it’s worth mentioning that Lockheed Martin expects to create 18,000 more jobs in the United States because of this contract. What does Trump want from Saudi Arabia in return? Trump has said that the US are prepared to stand beside Saudi Arabia but they can’t wipe out their enemies for them. For Trump, Muslim countries must take on their own responsibilities and engage in “honest confrontations” with what he termed “Islamic extremism”. But will fighting terrorism by strengthening Saudi Arabia, viewed as an anti-Iranian ally, work? It could work: by creating a new strategic bond with Saudi Arabia, granting the latter a new regional legitimacy, even if it should soften the present position against Iran; and providing Riyadh doesn’t continue to fund terrorist groups.
In the end, Trump has wilfully ignored the fact that Saudi Arabia and not Iran is often indicated even by the US Congress as the main source of Wahhabi and Salafi extremisms. The Saudis build mosques and Qu’ran Schools inspired by Wahhabism which foster new generations of radical Islamists. In the end, it may be true that Iran backs Hezbollah in Lebanon, but do you know how many American citizens they have on their conscience? 289. And how many American civilians and military personnel have been killed by al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the other terrorist groups supported by the Sunni entourage and Pakistan? The United States lost 4,486 soldiers in Iraq and 2,345 died in Afghanistan. One million soldiers were wounded in both war zones, which cost around $6,000 billion. To this one has to add the 2,996 unarmed civilians killed and 6,000 wounded at a cost of $10 billion, as well as infrastructure damage worth $3,000 billion in the attacks on US soil, from 11 September onwards.
Trump is starting to swing NATO from the East to the South
On Thursday May 25, Donald Trump attended his first NATO summit. An appointment the White House wanted to be viewed as low key by claiming it was a “meeting” and not a summit. The US President, at times very bluntly, reiterate the need that European partner increase their contributions to the Alliance’s budget, reminding 23 of 28 EU member states that they had not met their commitment to raise their military spending to 2% of GDP. Trump also paid a formal tribute to the crisis in Eastern Ukraine, repeating that Russia must implement the Minsk agreements, but the real news is of a different nature. In spite of strong resistance from France and Russia, the President actually got NATO to formally engage in the fight against Islamic State. NATO, at least initially, will only provide intelligence, logistic support and perhaps training, as well as a few assets that European countries don’t have, but the decision marks a significant shift in the Alliance’s policy, seeing as so far it was always focused on dealing with the Russian “threat”. Trump is therefore starting to impose on NATO the change of focus towards the East and the South that he had first announced during his US electoral campaign.
EUROPEAN UNION - The European Union measures up to Trump
The first official meeting between the heads of European institutions and US President Donald Trump heightened the shifting relationship now on the table between the United States and the European Union compared to the Obama administration. There was expected to be no shortage of embarrassment owing to the statements issued by Trump in recent months, claiming the EU was a “German construct”, Brexit was “marvellous” and asking which would be the next country to leave the Union. The meeting with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Council President Donald Tusk took place without incident and on Brexit Trump appeared more cautious, claiming concern for the possible impact on jobs in America. However, as Tusk indicated, on matters of climate control and international trade, the positions are still very distant. The Union wants to safeguard the Paris Agreement, designed to reduce emissions and slow global warming, while Trump, in his electoral campaign, had promised to take his country out of it. On commercial relations, the United States would prefer sector-by-sector negotiations, while the EU is set on obtaining broader agreements, but any hopes of reviving the TTIP seem to have been dashed. Even on matters of foreign and security policy, Tusk said there’s agreement on the fight against terrorism, but where relations with Russia are concerned he added that “I can’t be one hundred percent certain that we share the same opinion”.