Interaction between US and Iranian government officials will be closely watched at the UN General Assembly in New York City this week. Over the weekend, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo even indicated President Trump might be open to meet with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani at the UN. Iran was already expected to be a major topic of discussion during this session of the General Assembly, but this past weekend’s terrorist attack on a military parade in Ahvaz reinforces expectations, and fears of a potential blow-up between US and Iranian government officials, and possibly even national leaders this week. Following the attack on Saturday morning, Rouhani wasted little time in laying the blame for it at the feet of unnamed US ally in the region. Before leaving for New York, Rouhani stated, “All of those small mercenary countries that we see in this region are backed by America. It is Americans who instigate them and provide them with necessary means to commit these crimes.”
Trump is expected to address the General Assembly on Tuesday, and chair a meeting of the UN Security Council on Wednesday. The main topic of Wednesday’s meeting will be non-proliferation, and weapons of mass destruction. Iran is expected to be a major focus of Trump’s comments, and will also likely be mentioned in Tuesday’s address.
*Author’s Note: Apologies for this update being short. There will be further discussion about Iran, as well as the UN General Assembly as the week progresses.*
Southern Syria: UN calls for a ceasefire to prevent a humanitarian disaster in and around Ghouta have gained steam. An emergency session of the UN Security Council will be held later today. Russia has indicated it might be receptive to a ceasefire in the Ghouta area, but will not support a nationwide ceasefire. Sweden and Kuwait have called for a resolution ordering a 30 day ceasefire in order to provide humanitarian aid. Russia’s UN ambassador described the 30 day window for a ceasefire as being unrealistic. Russian airpower has been supporting Syrian government forces in the push to oust rebel forces from Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus, though the Syrian air force has been flying the majority of the air strikes launched during the operation. Civilian casualties are soaring, with government forces deliberately targeting hospitals in and around Ghouta with artillery and air attacks. Among the dead are upwards of sixty children and forty-five women.
Northern Syria: The Syrian Kurdish YPG has called for assistance from the Syrian army in repelling the Turkish offensive. Some groups of pro-government troops have arrived in the area, but so far no forces from the army have come to the section of northern Syria that is under Turkish assault. Syrian army forces are not likely to join the fighting either, with Bashar al-Assad reluctant to spark a direct confrontation between his army and Turkish forces. At the moment, northern Syria is a cauldron of tense confusion. Turkey’s involvement there only served to strain matters even more and increase the chances of a wider clash occurring.
A confidential United Nations report suggests North Korea is exporting commodities in direct violation of the international sanctions that have been levied against the Pyongyang regime. The report, submitted by a panel of experts to the UN Security Council, accused North Korea of exporting, or attempting to export oil and other commodities that are prohibited in resolutions, from January to September, 2017. A host of multinational oil companies are also under investigation for their roles in supplying petroleum products to the North, although no specific company names were revealed.
According to the UN report, North Korea has netted $200 million from the shipment of banned commodities. False paperwork, evasive techniques, and circuitous routes were employed to cover up the North’s involvement, but it was not enough. Evidence of military cooperation between North Korea and Syria to develop the later’s chemical weapons capabilities was also discovered.
It’s unlikely that the UN will penalize Pyongyang with additional heavy sanctions with less than a week to go before the start of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. The North has made overtures to South Korea in recent weeks, and will be sending a team of athletes to the games in Pyeongchang. The UN is not about to rock the boat when North Korea has been making the effort (albeit a self-serving one) to behave itself. If the Security Council even whispers about sanctions between now and the beginning of the games it will be a PR jackpot for the North Koreans.
Consequently, do not expect North Korea to face penalties for the sanction violations. There remained a bit of hope in the UN that sanctions imposed by the Security Council might pave the way towards a turn around by Kim Jong Un. That is not going to be the case. With the sanctions so easy to circumvent, no incentive exists for the North Korean government to behave, let alone even care if the sanctions remain in place or not. And it is not as if the UN Security Council is in any position to enforce the sanctions when two of its members are not so clandestinely enabling Pyongyang to skirt a number of the sanctions now in place.
Yesterday’s successful test launch of an ICBM has changed the US-North Korean equation permanently. Pyongyang is no longer an abstract threat to the security and wellbeing of the United States. It now possesses a missile capable of reaching targets as far away as Alaska and Hawaii. Pyongyang televisions earlier boasting today about a missile able to reach anywhere in the world is nothing more than bluster. However, given what has taken place in the last twenty-four hours it will simply be a matter of time before North Korea fields an ICBM with the range to reach the US west coast and beyond. Unless, of course, the United States can prevent it through diplomatic or military means.
The key question at the moment is: what will the US response entail? The US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, has requested an emergency Security Council meeting. It will likely be held Wednesday afternoon at the earliest. What will emerge from the meeting remains to be seen, but the Trump administration appears likely to try a diplomatic approach to North Korea before any other action is contemplated. Earlier today, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson promised that the US will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea.
So, North Korea is the latest member to join the ICBM club. Tonight, a celebratory mood likely permeates the offices of Kim Jong Un. In his mind, he has pulled off a coup of historic proportions. Unfortunately for Jong Un and the nation he leads, his reality is skewered. The actions he is taking will not safeguard his nation from future US military action, as he hopes. In fact, yesterday’s test makes US military action more feasible. Jong Un is blissfully unaware, and it could very well be this ignorance that pushes the region into a devastating war sometime in the next three to four months.
*Authors note: With today being a holiday here in the US, I’ve kept this post is short. There is much more to talk about concerning North Korea so there will be more posts through the rest of the week*
Think of the Iranian nuclear crisis in terms of (American) football. The game is approaching the half-way point of the fourth quarter and the score is Iran 7-United States and her Allies 3. President Obama is the quarterback. So far, he’s spent the game unsuccessfully trying to connect with his prolific receivers (diplomats). Time is running out and if he cannot put some points on the board, the special teams coach (Israel) is going to try pulling off a risky stunt that potentially will wind up doing more harm than good. For the moment, quarterback Obama is sticking with the passing game. In the backfield, however, is an unused weapon; a 250 lb Craig Heyward-esque brute of a fullback (US military). Obama realizes if he turns the fullback loose, he will find the end zone. It will not be pretty. Much damage will be caused, and the sports writers (media) and fans (American public) will question whether the move was even necessary.
The moment has not arrived yet. However, it is rapidly approaching. Time is running out and President Obama is going to have to seriously consider handing the ball off to the US military in order to ensure that Iran never obtains nuclear weapons.
The latest round of talks between the P5+1 and Iran last month in Almaty concluded, once again, without a concrete agreement between Iran and the UN Security Council Powers, in addition to Germany. While it is unrealistic to expect that an agreement will be reached anytime soon, a genuine sign of progress would prove helpful at this point in time. The Almaty talks, despite the media spin, failed to achieve this. Iran continues its attempt to tie other regional issues, namely Syria and Bahrain, to the resolution of the nuclear crisis. Sanction removal with as little compromise as possible is another primary goal that Iranian diplomatic efforts are aimed at achieving.
It is evident that diplomacy between Iran and the West is mired in a vicious circle. The United States and her allies are making a maximum diplomatic effort backed up by economic sanctions. The result, thus far, has been far less than expected. Iran has endured the sanctions and has not made a significant concession on its nuclear program. Time is on Iran’s side, and the leadership in Tehran understands this fact all too well. The longer that the diplomatic process is drawn out, the closer Iran comes to producing nuclear weapons.