1 June 2020 — New Eastern Outlook
A new intense confrontation between Iran and the United States is expected to take place in the future. And it could very well turn into a full-on war.
It is common knowledge that Tehran sent five tankers with fuel to Venezuela, and this caused quite a stir in Washington. US media outlets have reported that Donald Trump’s administration, angered by Iran’s act of defiance, was even considering taking military measures in response to Tehran’s shipment of fuel to Caracas, which would mean deploying US naval forces in the Caribbean. Citing US officials, The Wall Street Journal wrote that the White House may implement new sanctions against Iran and/or take other measures to block Tehran’s crude oil exports to Venezuela. Sanctions could also be imposed against tanker crews. Another suggestion, which has been made, is confiscating these ships for violating American laws on the basis of US court rulings. This option would only work if the tankers in question stopped to refuel in a port on route to Iran.
Since Venezuela and Iran are both independent nations, any monetary transactions between them, made “across” international waters, are lawful. And this begs a legitimate question: “What right does the United States have to interfere with a deal aimed at, essentially, providing humanitarian aid to Venezuelan people, who have been suffering because of the situation that had come about as a result of direct and uncalled for involvement by Washington in this nation’s affairs?”. So who is actually violating international law in this particular case? And why does the United States, which, at every available opportunity, portrays itself as a ‘knight in shining armor’, a beacon of democracy and its protector, choose to behave as a common cross-border criminal or a pirate from the Middle Ages?
At present, tough sanctions imposed by the United States against Venezuela’s oil industry are still in place, and oil processing facilities in this South American nation are mostly closed due to maintenance issues. Venezuela desperately needs petrol and its derivatives in order to survive the current economic woes, which stem from USA’s illegitimate sanctions against the South American country. In recent years, the United States has increased pressure on Caracas under the guise of promoting “democracy and diplomacy”. In reality, Washington is trying to squeeze Venezuela’s crude oil out of international markets in order to raise prices of the “black gold”. As far back as June 2017, Donald Trump unveiled his “energy dominance” policy, and immediately afterwards, the USA imposed sanctions against Venezuela, a country with the largest oil reserves in the world. All of these developments incontrovertibly proved that Washington was clearly trying to push forward its egocentric energy policies in the global energy market by any means necessary, including sanctions, in order for the USA, alone, to gain an advantage.
Iran has long supported Venezuela’s independent stance in the battle against unlawful and unilateral measures taken by the United States. And in recent years, cooperation between these two nations, which have both suffered because of American sanctions imposed against them, has been expanding. Last month, Tehran sent several batches of petroleum products to Venezuela to provide assistance to this nation with major repair work carried out at the Cardon oil refinery. Earlier this month, media outlets reported that Iran, China and Venezuela joined forces to repair several oil refining facilities in the Latin American country, including CRP and Cardon, which have a combined capacity to process 75% of the state’s crude oil output. Tehran has, on more than one occasion, stated that Iran and Venezuela have every right to foster trade ties between one another, in accordance with international law, and that no other country can interfere with their lawful business transactions.
It appears as if, at present, the United States has Iran and not Venezuela in its sights. After all, Tehran has been supporting Caracas with the view of simultaneously ensuring that Iran can maintain its independent stance and oppose Washington’s flagrant attempts to interfere in other nations’ affairs. The Tehran Times newspaper has pointed out that Iran was essentially providing humanitarian aid to the people of Venezuela. Hence, the shipments ought to be treated as assistance and not as traded goods. Although there has been no evidence of any violations of international law by Iran or Venezuela, the US President, who has failed to fulfill his campaign promises made in 2016, is clearly trying to start a new conflict in international waters so as to impress US Congressmen before the presidential election in November. However, Donald Trump needs to understand that even the slightest strategic mistake with respect to Iran and Venezuela could put an end to his presidency. It is clear to everyone that there are no UN sanctions or any other international resolutions targeting either Tehran or Caracas, and that only the United States has imposed unilateral sanctions against both of these nations. This obviously begs the following fundamental question: “Does the lawful movement of Iranian tankers in international waters violate any international rules or is the United States engaged in an unlawful military operation in the Caribbean region?”.
It is important to remember that Iran is not one of USA’s vassal states, which willingly toe the US line. It is a free and independent nation that pursues its own policies in the interest of its own people. It is, therefore, not surprising that Washington’s unlawful actions elicited a strong reaction from Tehran. Foreign Minister of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif labelled USA’s illicit, dangerous and provocative moves “piracy and a major peril to international peace and security” in a letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres. The official urged the United States to “give up bullying on the world stage” and respect international maritime law, especially with respect to freedom of navigation. Mohammad Javad Zarif warned Washington against making any unlawful moves and pointed out that Iran had every right to take necessary and appropriate steps to respond to such threats.
In addition to sending the aforementioned letter, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi summoned the Swiss Ambassador in Tehran, representing the US Interests Section in Iran, to a meeting and asked him to convey a serious warning from the Islamic Republic of Iran to Washington, urging the United States to avoid interfering with the movement of Iranian tankers in any way. He said that any threat against Iranian ships “would be met with an immediate and decisive response from Iran and that the US government would be responsible for the consequences”.
Clearly, Tehran’s growing animosity towards the United States is not simply a consequence of threats, made by Donald Trump’s administration, to potentially impose new sanctions against Iran. Instead, it stems from USA’s actions over time, such as assassinations, criminal acts, instances of injustice, US support of terrorists as well as authoritarian and corrupt governments, and, more recently, US government’s unprofessional and poorly thought through policies implemented in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.
After analyzing Washington’s latest moves, many have been asking the following question: “Isn’t it about time that Donald Trump’s administration changed its cruel policies towards many of the world’s nations; did away with its inhumane sanctions; stopped stoking wars and conflicts in various regions, and gave citizens of other countries an opportunity to decide their own fate and determine what political systems work best for them?”. After all, there are numerous international organizations, first and foremost the United Nations, whose missions are to facilitate friendly ties among all the nations of the world.
Crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, raise some of the most important questions: “What kind of a world do we all want to live in? Do we want to live in a place where weapons are proliferating, and fear and hate towards others is growing, or in a world where we join our efforts to fight against a common enemy, a virus that infects any and everyone indiscriminately?”. Fortunately, all the people on this planet would prefer to choose human solidarity. And in response to aggressive actions taken by the current US administration, the desire to join forces should be accompanied by demands to put an end to economic sanctions, which Washington obnoxiously imposes against people who are already facing devastating consequences, which affect their health, economy and climate, as well as political upheavals and emergency situations in far too many a case. And the latest developments involving US opposition to the arrival of Iranian tankers in Venezuela may turn into a litmus test, which will determine how Washington’s policies towards Iran develop in the future.
Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook” .