MARY REICHARD, HOST: Next up, the United States and Iran.
Tensions between the two countries have simmered ever since Iran’s Islamic Revolution forty years ago. But the conflict has escalated recently into threats of war.
In 2015, Iran signed an agreement to limit its nuclear program. Signatories to the deal included the United States, United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, and Germany.
NICK EICHER, HOST: But President Trump pulled out of the deal last year. He didn’t think the accord did enough to limit Iran’s weapons program. He wants to negotiate a new deal. So far, Tehran has refused.
Curtailing Iran’s military might is important to U.S. defense policy. But it’s also vital to peace in the Middle East. Iran has increasingly created instability in the region by meddling in its neighbors’ affairs.
WORLD Radio’s Jill Nelson has this report.
JILL NELSON, REPORTER: The United States and Iran came closer to war last week than they have in 40 years.
President Trump said the U.S. was prepared to strike three targets in Iran on Thursday night. He called off the attack at the last minute, after learning 150 people would die. This came after Iran shot down an American surveillance drone, inching the two countries closer to a full-scale confrontation.
PIPES: I don’t think either party wants to see a hot war, but they’re signaling each other furiously, warning each other, deterring each other…
Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum and an expert on Islam and the Middle East. He isn’t too concerned about an imminent war but says Iran does create significant problems in the region.
PIPES: They’re on a roll as has often been pointed out. The Iranians dominate in four Arab capitals: The Yemini, Lebanese, Syrian, and Iraqi. They are the great disruptive force of the Middle East.
That’s a problem because Tehran exports terrorism and destabilizes Western allies. Iran’s leadership wants to dominate the entire region.
Pipes says Iran is staging attacks cleverly and anonymously through proxy groups. The U.S. blamed Iranian-backed Houthi rebels for attacks on four oil tankers in mid-May. Iran denied any involvement. Attacks targeted two other tankers on June 13th in the same location—the Gulf of Oman. Thirty percent of the world’s crude oil passes through these waters.
SAUDI: [Saudi king speaking in Arabic]
Saudi Arabia has tried to rally support against Iran among the Gulf states. The Saudi king condemned Iran’s actions during a June gathering of Arab and Muslim leaders in Mecca. The United Arab Emirates is on Saudi Arabia’s side, but other states have been reluctant to join the duo.
The tiny but wealthy nation of Qatar is a big wildcard. Extremist elements have flourished there, and Iran has become cozy with the country’s leaders. Pipes says Saudi Prince Muhammad bin Salman miscalculated when he cut diplomatic ties with Qatar two years ago.
PIPES: It was one of MBS’s many mistakes. He acts first and thinks later. And it pushed the Qataris toward the Iranians and towards the Turks.
Qatar also hosts the United State’s most strategic overseas military base. That won’t change any time soon, but it creates a dilemma for the West.
PIPES: Everybody is to one extent or another Islamist, but the Qataris are more actively so now than the Saudis, which is a switch.
Iran is also making inroads in another U.S. stronghold: Iraq. Daniel Ibrahim was born in the Iraqi city of Nineveh and has consulted for the U.S. Navy, analyzing the shifting alliances in the Middle East. He says Iran has more clout in Iraq than we realize.
IBRAHIM: We think here that Iraq is allied to the United States but the facts on the ground tell us different things. The Iranians feel they are controlling the president, the Iraqi president, because they put him into power or into position. They feel the head of the parliament is by their green light, and definitely the Prime Minister came by them.
Iran’s regional ambitions make its quest for nuclear weapons an urgent problem. But efforts to rein in the program are unraveling.
President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal over concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile program. Then the White House authorized a new round of sanctions against Iran in April.
Tehran is feeling the pressure. Its leaders set a July 7th deadline for Europe to find a way to save the nuclear deal. Otherwise, Iran has warned it will continue to enrich uranium to nuclear grade levels.
Last week, the Pentagon announced plans to send a thousand additional troops to the Middle East amid the rising tensions. President Trump insists he’s not looking for regime change. He only wants to encourage Iran to change course.
TRUMP: And I’m not looking to hurt Iran at all. I’m looking to have Iran say, no nuclear weapons. We have enough problems in this world right now with nuclear weapons. No nuclear weapons for Iran.
But Pipes says regime change in Tehran would be a good thing as long as it’s led by exiles and opposition groups in Iran supported by the West. He says the people of Iran have learned a lesson from the past 40 years and are ready for change.
And, Pipes says, that makes the regime vulnerable.
PIPES: One could wake up any morning and find some bakeries didn’t have bread, some gas station didn’t have gasoline and troubles follow and it could shake the regime. It could overthrow the regime.
Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Jill Nelson.