The Obama administration has much to say—but it doesn’t really want friendsby Bronwen Maddox / December 10, 2014 / Leave a comment
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The turmoil in the Middle East and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have done strange things to alliances, not least to the ones that gelled—sort of—after the collapse of the Soviet Union a quarter of a century ago. Hopes of a deal with Iran over its nuclear programme will hang over the first half of 2015. If Iran comes in from the cold, it will shake up all the alliances of the region. “You won’t be able to issue visas fast enough, and your economy will boom faster than anyone’s”; that’s how one leading western diplomat was selling the deal—and the lifting of sanctions at its heart—to Tehran negotiators. The US wants Iran to help counter the chaos in Iraq, and potentially in Afghanistan, too, as international troops withdraw. There are signs many leading Iranian politicians are sorely tempted. It all hangs, though, on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has appeared to look coolly on deals in the past.
Israel though is appalled at the overtures the US has made to Tehran. So is Saudi Arabia. Those two countries have plenty of interests in common besides undermining Iran, but Israel’s continuing conflict with the Palestinians remains an insuperable obstacle to closer ties. Yet meanwhile Israel has forged a quiet working relationship with the new regime in Egypt; both loathe Hamas, the militant Islamic organisation that runs Gaza, and are working together to seal the borders of that strip of territory.
Turkey doesn’t mind the US’s new-found ability to negotiate with Iranians—it’s been at the same thing for a long time—but detests the US’s sudden embrace of Kurdish fighters to try to combat Islamic State. That undermines Turkey’s long battle against the PKK, Kurdish independence movement. Ankara wants a US commitment to driving out the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria—which the US is not keen to give.
At the heart of this tangle of new allegiances is the knot of contradictions that amount to western policy on Syria. The US, UK and others have backed rebels within the Free Syrian Army who looked likely to dislodge Assad. But now the…