Image Credit: Fars Fotógrafos
The Assassination of Qassem Soleimani over two weeks ago was unexpected, but has suceeded in chilling the relationship between Tehran and Washington even further than during the 2016 American election. Following the expulsion of American troops from Iran, the geopolitical crisis has calmed somewhat, but across the world, the media on both sides is wondering what the obvious resolution to the crisis could be. The next move for both states is likely a second attempt at an Iran nuclear deal that could be supported by allies and Congressional Republicans alike.
The downing of flight 752 was an unintended halt to escalating tensions after the Iranian government scrambled to apologise for the fatal “human error”. It then appeared to turn on itself on Tuesday evening after President Hassan Rouhani called for a special court investigation on the downed plane. Even as he made the statement, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a significant wing of the Iranian military, were arresting the person who managed to capture footage of the downing of the plane. Rouhani, himself a moderate, and a former head of Iran’s air defence network, has said that he believes there are “others” who may have been responsible for the attack, in addition to the individual who mistakenly launched the missile in the first place.
Britain and the EU find themselves caught between their goal to support the US, a key ally, and to uphold the terms of the Iran deal, which America dropped after re-imposing sanctions on Iran in 2018. On Tuesday last week, they triggered the beginnings of a dispute mechanism to the Iran deal, arguing that Iran had violated a key element of the treaty after it removed its self-imposed limit on the number of nuclear centrifuges it was allowed.
For Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the dilemma was also prevalent, perhaps more so considering Mr. Trump’s lack of popularity in the UK. On Tuesday last week, he said he was in favour of scrapping the previous draft of the Iran deal that was signed in 2015 by President Obama for a new “Trump deal”. Speaking to the BBC, Johnson insisted that Trump’s skills as a “master negotiator” would enable Trump to get concessions not achieved by the Obama administration.
Across the Atlantic, the Iran crisis would provide something of a flashpoint on the final Democratic debate before Americans begin voting for the presidential nominee on 3rd February. Although businessman Tom Steyer and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren were both in favour of a minimal American military presence in the Middle East, other candidates, such as frontrunner and former Vice-President Joe Biden were more hesitant about total withdrawal. Polls now indicate that most Americans do not want a war with Iran, so Trump’s foreign policy blunder may present something of an opening for the Democratic candidates as the election rolls around in November.
Brokering a new deal, or at least restoring relations with Iran, is at the top of the Democrats’ priority list. Many want to see a return to the more genial diplomacy that existed under President Obama, and believe that a more constructive diplomatic discourse would benefit America. Additionally, all the Democrats that took the stage last Tuesday are in favour of asking Congress before making the decision to declare war: a huge point of disagreement between Republicans and Democrats, even while Obama was in office.
It’s hard to see what further concessions Iran could make, or indeed whether the nation would be prepared to negotiate with the US after such a slight to its national sovereignty. Soleimani was extremely popular in most, but not all of the country. Protests broke out last week across major universities in the state following the attack on flight 752, and the dramatic response to the general’s sudden assassination. The New York Times reported a protest in Tehran where, just hours before in the same spot, their supreme leader had memorialised a national hero. Later, Iranian students would hold an equally large gathering criticising their ayatollah: “our shame, our shame is for our supreme leader.”