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America and Iran are indicating that they don’t want further escalation

May 13, 2020 at 11:12 am

Anti-war activists hold banners during a protest in front of the White House following the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani by a US air strike in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, on 4 January 2020 in Washington, US [Yasin Öztürk/Anadolu Agency]

This article may seem like a total prediction, or perhaps an attempt to read some significant meanings into small events. It is, however, worth taking the risk of analysing what’s going on between the US and Iran, and making room for speculation and expectation.

Almost simultaneously, Iran started to withdraw its Revolutionary Guards from Syria — according to Israeli media leaks and western media confirmation — while the US started to withdraw its Patriot missiles from Saudi Arabia, return swarms of its air force jets back to their bases and announce the reduction of its naval presence in the Arabian Sea and Gulf.

Iran has not yet acknowledged its sudden move in Syria. However, Washington has said that Tehran no longer constitutes a threat to the security of the United States, Israel or Saudi Arabia; that is the justification for the withdrawal of US forces from the Kingdom.

READ: US calls on Iran to send a plane so it can deport 11 detainees

On a related issue, sources say that a prisoner exchange deal between Tehran and Washington is almost ready at last. Ali Rabiei, a spokesman for the Iranian government, has expressed his country’s willingness to conduct a full exchange of prisoners with the United States with no need for any mediation by a third party.

Iran is holding four American citizens, mostly on charges of espionage, while the United States has 24 Iranians in detention on charges related to espionage and breaches of sanctions. Among the former is Michael White, an ex-US Marine; Iranian university Professor Cyrus Asgari is among the latter.

The two countries concluded a prisoner swap deal last year, when Tehran released an American student, Shi Yu Wang, who was arrested on spying charges, in exchange for Washington’s release of Iranian stem cell researcher Masoud Soleimani, who was accused of violating the sanctions imposed on Tehran.

Meanwhile, Iraq is overcoming its ordeal of more than six months of a governance vacuum. Journalist and intelligence man Mustafa Al-Kazemi has succeeded in forming a government with immediate Iranian-American blessings, even though he seems to be closer to Washington than Tehran.

READ: Trump, Saudi king reaffirm defense ties amid tensions

It was notable that the first two ambassadors he received in his office were those from Iran and the US. The deal between the US and Iran which facilitated the formation of the new Iraqi government headed by Al-Kazemi is considered to be an expression of a common desire to avoid escalation, and is perhaps a stepping-stone to its aftermath.

These developments are happening at a time when Iranian social media and Western media seek to read significance into a tweet a few days ago by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. He mentioned the conciliation that Imam Al-Mujtaba Hassan Bin Ali Bin Abi Talib had with Muawiyah Bin Abi Sufyan almost 1,400 years ago as an embodiment of the saying “heroic flexibility”.

The US-Iran conflict [Cartoon/Arabi21]

The US-Iran conflict [Cartoon/Arabi21]

It is the same tweet that he had posted before Iran started negotiations with the 5+1 group on its nuclear programme, although he took it down when Donald Trump entered the White House. Does Khamenei’s tweet give the green light for an upcoming development?

If these events are not an indication of a major breakthrough in the resumption of negotiations between Iran and the US, then they are, at the very least, an indication of a desire to avoid further escalation. This is especially true of the Iranians, who appear to be exhausted by the US sanctions, the collapse of oil prices and the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic.

At the same time, the United States is suffering its worst economic crisis in ninety years, and its most dangerous developments are ongoing due to the high level of Covid-19 infections and deaths. With tens of millions of Americans newly unemployed, this may ensure Washington’s lack of interest in any new military confrontation in the foreseeable future.

Translated from Thenewkhalij, 11 May 2020.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.