Trump and China Risk Sparking Dangerous Middle East Arms Race

US Defense Secretary James Mattis and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
US Defense Secretary James Mattis and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

by James M. Dorsey

Forced to acknowledge that Iran is complying with the nuclear agreement it concluded two years ago with the world’s major powers, US President Donald J. Trump appears to be groping for ways to provoke Iran to back out of the deal. If successful, Mr. Trump could spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East at a time that a Chinese agreement to build a drone manufacturing plant in Saudi Arabia could initiate a similar drone race that threatens to take hostilities in the region to a whole new, more dangerous level.

Mr. Trump’s strategy stems from the realization that the United States would render itself impotent if he were to unilaterally terminate the agreement with Iran. America’s European allies as well as Russia and China would condemn termination, uphold their end of the agreement, and refuse to adhere by punitive measures the United States might adopt. With other words, termination would significantly reduce the United States’ ability to influence Iran.

As a result, Mr. Trump, who has described the nuclear agreement as “one of the worst deals I’ve ever seen” and vowed to “dismantle” it, has since coming to office taken steps to lower incentives for Iran to continue to adhere to the accord. The outcome of May 12 elections in Iran could play into Mr. Trump’s hands if a hardliner rather than incumbent President Hassan Rouhani were to emerge victorious.

At the same time, sticking to his desire to remain unpredictable, Mr. Trump has not ruled out terminating the agreement. Asked point blank by the Associated Press whether he would stick to the deal, Mr. Trump replied: “It’s possible that we won’t.”

The president, besides charging that Iran has violated the spirit rather than the letter of the agreement and ordering a 90 day review that in the words of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will “evaluate whether suspension of sanctions related to Iran pursuant to the JCPOA is vital to the national security interests of the United States,” has also aligned the United States squarely alongside Saudi Arabia, which charges that the Islamic republic is the world’s foremost source of political violence. JCPOA is the acronym for the nuclear agreement or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

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SOURCE: The Huffington Post

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title,Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands: Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa as well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.