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The Maastricht Diplomat

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Round ‘n’ round it goes, when it stops nobody knows

In the wake of the ongoing diplomatic and military battles between the US and Iran, one should be aware of the origins of this conflict. After all, surely Donald Trump would not be so unreasonable to simply poke a sleeping dragon in the middle east. Yet this conflict has indeed been going on for almost a century, so let us travel back in time a bit.

As in every story about occupation or foreign influence, the British have had a role to play. Since the early 1900s Britain has had a significant influence on Iran through the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company; and as with every story involving oil in the Middle East it did not take long for the US to enter the scene. Inside Iran, tensions increased as the population became more and more displeased with the publicly visible foreign influence. As a result, Mohammad Mossadegh, a strong opponent of the English presence in Iran and advocate of nationalizing the country’s oil fields elected as Prime Minister in 1951.

Of course, Uncle Sam, depending on oil from the Middle east, could not let that go by so easily and helped staging a coup to replace Mossadegh with the Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was more well-disposed towards foreign influence in return for boosting the national economy. Consequently, this only increased the populations’ resentment against foreign interference and the anti-American sentiment in the Iranian population was born.

In the same decade, the US accidentally also built the foundation for one of its biggest fears in the following decades: Iran as a nuclear force. By signing the Civil Nuclear Cooperation agreement, the US facilitated Iran with the necessary technology and resources that further along the line helped the country to establish its nuclear program.

In 1979, the Iranian revolution against the Shah´s regime began to unfold. Both secular and Islamist protesters wanted to replace the Shah, who fled the country in January and was replaced by the Islamic scholar Ayatollah Khomeini in February. The Shah was a thorn in the secular protesters´ side since they became more and more fed up with the state´s authoritarian structures soaked by corruption. Islamist protesters on the other hand claimed that the Shah´s modernization policies would lead to the country´s renunciation from its religious foundations.

The Tehran hostage crisis arguably constituted the first big challenge between the US government and Iran. In 1979 Iranian students stormed the US embassy in Tehran and took several hostages. As a trade-off for their release they demanded the Shah´s extradition from the US to Tehran for crimes against the Iranian people. After 444 days the hostages were released in return for the US unfreezing state assets. However, the dispute left its trace in the form of the US cutting all diplomatic ties with Iran, which have not been formally restored until this day.

Barely a year later, the war between Iran and its neighbor country Iraq broke out. Naturally, the US just could not resist participating and backed Iraq. During the dispute the Reagan administration declared the Islamic Republic of Iran to be a “state sponsor of terrorism”, only to try to improve relations again two years later by approving a high-profit weapons sale to Iran (while still backing Iraq). As an interesting side note: Qassim Soleimani, while fighting in this war rose through the ranks of the Iranian military.

Subsequently, in 1988, the US mistook (at least according to the US´s narrative) a civilian airliner for a military jet and shot down the Iran Air Flight 655, killing all 290 people on board. Quite depressing to see how history repeats itself, isn´t it?

After 9/11, Iran and the US finally had a common enemy: the Taliban. Although, Iran secretly helped the US in its war against terrorism, the next idiotic historic figure had to enter the scene. In his state of the Union in 2002 George W. Bush declared Iran to be a part of an “Axis of evil”, among countries such as North Korea or Iraq. Quite understandably this imprudent statement, while the two countries worked together, triggered a certain amount of anger in Iran.

In 2003 inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency found traces of highly-enriched uranium in an Iranian nuclear plant, fueling concerns about the country attempting to obtain a nuclear missile. After years of negotiations, including ups and downs, in 2013 the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was agreed upon by six major countries including the US, and Iran. This deal´s aim was to slow down Iran’s nuclear development program within a considerable time limit of 25 years at least. In return, sanctions against Iran were lifted, sanctions that had severely damaged the local economy.

One might think that the tensions escalated from that point on. Sadly, in 2017 Donald Trump took office as President of the United States and almost immediately declared the famous Muslim Ban, prohibiting, amongst others, Iranian nationals to enter the US for 90 days and simultaneously angering the Iranian government.

Only one year later in May 2018, Trump withdrew the US from the Iran Nuclear Deal, which he considered to be the “worst deal” he had ever seen. Additionally, he installed new sanctions on Iran’s regime and labelled the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps, a formal part of the Iranian government, as a foreign terrorist organization, constituting a first in the US´s political history. In June 2019 the US blamed attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and the downing of a US drone on Iran. As a response Iran reduced its commitments to the nuclear deal, raising concerns especially in Europe, where the countries tried to uphold the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, even without American involvement.

In the end we can see that the recent events did not simply occurred based on the reckless actions of a madman sitting in the White House but were in the making for over a century. Indubitably it is easy to shift the blame solely on the US, which at the moment does not represent itself as the most amiable player on the global stage and without doubt has significantly contributed to Iran´s crumbling stability by subjecting the region to a series of unnecessary wars. However, it should also be kept in mind that Iran is by no means the innocent victim that one might think it is and for decades constitutes a serious threat to the global community by funding terrorist organizations as well as continuing to severely violate fundamental human rights within the country. There´s always two sides to the coin.


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