Collision or Compromise? US-Iran Standoff Continues with Mixed Signals on Both Sides

It seems that although the relations between Iran and the US have undoubtedly worsened since the beginning of Trump’s presidency, at the current situation, neither Washington nor Tehran wants to enter an open confrontation.

US President Donald Trump is continuing to send mixed signals on the real nature of its approach toward Iran. Less than a week after warning his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani of “consequences the like of which few throughout history have ever suffered before” in case the Islamic Republic threatens the United States, Trump on July 30 declared readiness to meet Rouhani “without preconditions.”

Of course, Trump’s previous harsh rhetoric was a reaction to Rouhani’s July 22 remarks, warning the US president “not to play with lion’s tail” by trying to cut Iran’s oil export to the global market. Rouhani’s position was later endorsed by Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force Commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who, on July 26, said that although the Americans might start a war against Iran, it’s the Iranians who would end it.

This war of words on the one hand, together with Trump’s latest pro-diplomacy statement, have left many observers around the world wondering whether Tehran and Washington are really on a collision course, or a compromise would finally come out as a result of potential direct and indirect communication channels between the two sides.

In the current situation, it seems that Europeans have understood that although the new US sanctions are aimed mainly at Iran, their impact would go well beyond the Iranian territories, putting at risk their own economic and security interests.

Generally speaking, it seems that although the relations between Iran and the US have undoubtedly worsened since the beginning of Trump’s presidency, at the current situation, neither Washington nor Tehran wants to enter an open confrontation.

On the Iranian side, it should be said that while the warning part of Rouhani’s July 22 speech was highlighted by the media around the world, the main context of his remarks was in fact underlining Iran’s unwillingness to start any conflict with the other regional and transregional actors.

In this vein, Rouhani’s phrase that “peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars” was a clear indication that Iran is not pursuing a war with the US. At the same time and in the same speech, he defended the idea of initiating a rapprochement with the Arab states of the Persian Gulf.

Thus, we can interpret Rouhani’s real position in one main argument: Iran is in favor of a lasting peace with the adversaries, but has the ability to turn any war against itself to “the mother of all wars;” so, it’s better for the US to pursue a peaceful approach toward the Islamic Republic. In other words, Iran is not against diplomacy, but believes that diplomacy should be done from the position of strength, not weakness, and wants its power and interests to be recognized by the other sides.

Soleimani’s remarks could also be better understood in the same context. In part of his speech, the high-ranking Iranian General referred to the situation in the Red Sea, saying that the region is not safe anymore for the Americans. In fact, his talks comes against the backdrop of Iran’s diplomatic engagement with the European powers over solving the crisis in Yemen. Thus, the meaning of Soleimani’s words is that although Iran has entered a diplomatic course over Yemen out of goodwill, the situation could be changed at any moment as a result of US acts against Iran.

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Meanwhile on the American side, it seems that the Iran issue has in fact become a matter of domestic politics in the US, with Trump trying to prove that his approach toward the issue is more effective than that of his predecessor Barak Obama. In this vein, while attempting to show a tough stance in face of the so-called Iranian threats, he’s actively trying to open a window for diplomacy with the Islamic Republic, for the sake of himself to be the one who once and for all solves the “Iran problem” for the US.

All in all, it appears that currently, the military option is off the table for both Iran and the United States. However, as Washington is going ahead with its policy of increasing sanctions against Tehran and while both sides are determined not to let their potential diplomatic interactions to be interpreted as a sign of weakness, the stakes remain high and any unpredicted move has the potential to trigger a real conflict. Here, the role of the EU, as well as Russia and China, to prevent Iran from being sidelined as a result of American pressures and to help it find alternative channels for international interactions becomes even more crucial than ever.

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