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Hard-liners in U.S., Iran must halt exchange of threats to end standoff

The Yomiuri ShimbunDestabilization of the situation surrounding Iran will further intensify turmoil in the Middle East and have an adverse effect on the world economy. Self-restraint is called for on the part of both the United States and Iran.

As a countermeasure against the “maximum pressure” campaign pursued by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, Iran has announced its decision to halt its fulfillment of part of the obligations agreed upon in a deal on its nuclear program. Iran said it would start stockpiling enriched uranium and heavy water, disregarding the upper limits set for their domestic stockpiles.

Tehran has also announced a policy to begin its nuclear development program in earnest, including the production of enriched uranium, if resumption of crude oil and financial transactions is not guaranteed within 60 days. Iran’s tactics of intimidating countries concerned, by resorting to acts that would violate the nuclear deal, is unacceptable.

The Trump administration is also responsible for having intensified the U.S.-Iran standoff. Arguing that there is a grave defect in the 2015 nuclear deal reached under the initiative of the Obama administration, its predecessor, the Trump administration withdrew from the deal a year ago and resumed sanctions.

In connection with the ban on importing Iranian crude oil, Washington revoked waivers early this month that had allowed Japan and seven countries and regions to continue importing Iranian crude oil. In response to Iran’s decision to halt the fulfillment of some obligations specified in the nuclear deal, the Trump administration has put forth additional sanctions, including bans on transactions with Iran for materials such as iron, steel and copper.

It is understandable that Washington has a sense of crisis regarding the current situation, in which Iran is acting in Middle East conflicts in an attempt to weaken U.S. influence in the region. It is also true that there is room for improvement in the nuclear deal, including the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities, which are limited to 10 to 15 years.

But can Iran’s behavior be corrected by applying continued sanctions pressure alone?

Avoid accidental clash

Iran’s crude oil exports have declined sharply due to U.S. sanctions, placing its economy in a predicament. Discontent has been mounting domestically against the administration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, which has pursued a moderate policy line, while conservative hard-line elements have been raising their voices. Given this, Iran’s softening of its stance cannot be expected.

Finding a solution to the problem will be difficult as long as there are those who believe Washington’s true aim is to change the current Iranian regime.

The nuclear agreement has the significance of preventing the progress of Iran’s nuclear development and thus curbing nuclear development competition in the Middle East as a whole. It is imperative for Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, which remain committed to the agreement, to work more actively with Iran to prevent the accord from collapsing.

A matter of concern is that hard-line elements will escalate their assertions in both the United States and Iran to cause the heightening of military tensions.

The U.S. government, judging that there are signs of Iran preparing attacks on U.S. troops in the Middle East, has decided to dispatch a carrier strike group to the region. In Iran, there was a statement that warned of blockading the Strait of Hormuz, a main artery for crude oil shipments.

Provocative acts must be restrained to prevent accidental military clashes.

Crude oil prices will continue to hover at high levels in anticipation of a reduction in supply. Caution is indispensable against an increase in crude oil prices, which could cool down the world economy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 10, 2019) Speech



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