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The US-Iran standoff

May 08,2019 - Last updated at May 08,2019

The rapid escalation of tension between the US and Iran can be traced first to President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear accord, struck between Tehran and several Western capitals, in addition to Russia and China.

Under the deal, economic and financial sanctions against Iran were relaxed in return for a closer scrutiny of its nuclear programme, by allowing free access to the country's nuclear facilities to monitors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

President Trump did not like the deal due to pressure from Israel and decided to up the ante further against Iran by ordering the boycott of its oil shipments, thus putting added pressure on the country's economy. Against this backdrop, Iran began to react in kind by halting complete access to its nuclear programme by the IAEA's inspectors, and resumed enriching a small amount of uranium, up to 20 per cent, which is five times the level allowed under the 2015 nuclear accord.

President Trump further escalated tension with Iran by announcing the dispatch of a US aircraft carrier and a number of air force bombers to the Arab Gulf region on the pretext that Iran is planning or contemplating attacks on US forces or its allies in the area.

At stake is, of course, the status of the Strait of Hormuz, which accounts for much of oil shipments to the world. The strait is only 33 sq.m wide and can be easily blocked in the face of oil tankers should Iran decides to do so. Cutting off one of the main arteries for oil shipments would, of course, wreak havoc with international trade and commerce, not to mention its military and security implications.

This cycle of escalations may get out of control if statesmanship between the two sides does not resume on solid foundation. The international community has a stake in the warlike escalations between the US and Iran and must act to put a lid on any further aggravating moves by either side.

The bottom line though is not only the US antagonism against Iran, but also Iran's aggressive and assertive policies in the region, especially in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. There is a growing fear in the Middle East that Iran seeks to extend its hegemony across the region, and this policy has caused legitimate concerns among many states in the area.

Tehran needs to assure the countries of the region that it has no policy to extend its influence across the area, not only by word, but also by deed. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words, especially against the backdrop of Tehran's role in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

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