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How close are Iran and the US to war?

  • Category
    India & world
  • Published
    28th Jan, 2020

Following the assassination of Maj Gen Qassem Soleimani, President Donald Trump tweeted on Saturday that if “Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets” in retaliation, the US would target 52 sites in Iran, “some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture”.

Issue

Context

Following the assassination of Maj Gen Qassem Soleimani, President Donald Trump tweeted on Saturday that if “Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets” in retaliation, the US would target 52 sites in Iran, “some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture”

Background

  • Iran is home to one of the world’s oldest civilisations dating back to 10,000 BC. Its rich heritage and culture is an amalgam of Arab, Persian, Turkish and South Asian cultures.
  • Twenty-four Iranian sites are on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, two of which are natural sites and the rest cultural sites.
  • Among the main World Heritage Sites in Iran are the Meidan Emam and Masjed-e-Jame in Isfahan; the Golestan Palace in the historic heart of Tehran; Pasargadae and Persepolis, capitals of the Achaemenid Empire, founded by Cyrus II and Darius I in the 6th century BC; and the archaeological site of Takht-e Soleyman, which has the remains of an ancient Zoroastrian sanctuary.

Analysis

What is the problem with targeting cultural heritage?

  • Following the unparalleled destruction of cultural heritage in World War II, the nations of the world adopted at The Hague in 1954, The Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.
  • The Rome Statute of 1998, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court, describes as a “war crime” any intentional attack against a historical monument, or a building dedicated to religion, education, art, or science.
  • Article 8 of the Rome Statute deals with war crimes.
    • Article 8(2)(b)(ii) says war crimes include “intentionally directing attacks against civilian objects, that is, objects which are not military objectives”
    • 8(2)(b)(ix) mentions “intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, historic monuments, hospitals and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not military objectives”.

When has cultural property been targeted earlier?

  • During the Siege of Dubrovnik in 1991-92 by the Yugoslav People’s Army, the old town of Dubrovnik in Croatia was targeted in an attempt to wipe out Croatian history and cultural heritage.
  • In 2001, the Taliban destroyed statutes of the Buddha that had been carved into sandstone cliffs in Bamiyan, Afghanistan
  • In 2006, the UN and the Cambodian government established the Khmer Rouge Tribunal to prosecute the destruction of Cambodia’s cultural assets that included mosques, churches and temples along with other sites of cultural significance.
  • Between 2014 and 2017, the Islamic State destroyed several places of religious and cultural significance. In 2015, the IS captured and destroyed the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

US-Iran crisis is pushing India to clarify its stand

  • It is very likely that India is now taking the side of the US against Iran, with the blessings of Israel and Saudi Arabia which is becoming an important partner and investor along with the UAE. In this context, Iran may turn to China more actively.
  • This US-Pakistan rapprochement is not the only bad consequence that this new crisis in the Middle East may have for India.
  • Economic sanctions on Iraq will have a major impact on the Indian economy. Iraq continues to be India’s top crude oil supplier and any US-led economic sanctions will force India to look for alternative oil suppliers, as in the case of Iran.
  • This will substantially increase the costs associated with purchase of crude oil for India and the country’s dependence vis-à-vis the UAE, Saudi Arabia and the US, to which India has already turned, to make up for the anti-Iran sanctions.
  • India cannot afford to take sides. Energy supplies and the safety and security of its vast diaspora in the Gulf are of utmost importance. India has a substantial Shia population too, with sympathy for Iran.

What is Iran nuclear deal?

  • It is deal between Iran and six major powers – US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany and European Union signed in 2015 under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for the relief from US and other economic sanctions.
  • Limitations imposed on Iran:
    • Iran could only maintain a stockpile of 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, compared to the 100,000 kilograms of higher-enriched uranium it once had.
    • It could enrich uranium to 3.67 percent, which can be used to fuel a reactor but was far below the 90 percent needed to produce a weapon.
    • The deal limited the number of centrifuges Iran can run and restricted it to an older, slower model.
    • It asks Iran to reconfigure a heavy-water reactor so it couldn’t produce plutonium and to convert its Fordo enrichment site into a research centre.
    • Under it Iran granted more access to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and allowed it to inspect other sites.
  • Benefits given to Iran:
    • In exchange, world powers lifted the economic sanctions that had kept Iran away from international banking and the global oil trade.
    • It allowed Iran to make purchases of commercial aircraft and reach other business deals.
    • It also unfroze billions of dollars Iran had overseas.

Why US pulled out of Iran nuclear deal and re imposed sanctions?

  • The deal has a provision that fifteen years after the deal, restrictions on Iran’s uranium enrichment and stockpile size will end.
  • US argued it allows Iran to build a bomb after it expires, something Iran had explicitly promised in the accord not to do.
  • In theory, Iran could have an array of advanced centrifuges ready for use, the limits on its stockpile would be gone, and it could then throw itself wholeheartedly into producing highly enriched uranium.
  • US withdrew from the deal in October 2018, and revived a range of sanctions against the countries buying oil from Iran.

Why were waivers given?

  • US, however, granted a six-month waiver from sanctions to eight countries - China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy, and Greece.
  • Waivers were given to these countries to give them flexibility and time to end their dependence on Iranian oil imports. These countries had showed that they have made important moves toward reducing Iranian oil imports to zero.

What are the consequences of sanctions?

  • International trade: Imposition of sanctions would hinder international companies working in Iran as they could not access US market for their business activities.
  • Oil prices: US sanctions would reduce Iran’s oil exports and put pressure on global markets resulting in rising oil prices. Further in response, Iran has threatened to shut the Strait of Hormuz, a key maritime chokepoint for Persian Gulf producers, a third of the world oil passes through it. This will further reduce the oil supply to the world.
  • Nuclear threat: Sanctions would prompt Iran to restart its nuclear programme. It will also affect the denuclearisation efforts taken so far.
  • West Asia: The sanctions would aggravate the already existing instability in West Asia. It will further bitter the Iran - Israel and Iran - Saudi Arabia relations.

What are the consequences on India?

  • Iran in 2017-18 was India’s third-largest supplier after Iraq and Saudi Arabia and meets about 10 per cent of total needs. The sanctions will significantly reduce the crude supply to India.
  • The substitute crude suppliers — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Nigeria and the US — do not offer the attractive options that Iran does, including 60-day credit, and free insurance and shipping. The challenge is to secure an alternative supplier at competitive terms in an already tightening global situation.
  • Current account deficit: Higher crude oil prices will widen the trade deficit and current account deficit, given that the value of imports goes up with crude oil, and that the quantity imported tends to be sticky in general.
  • Rupee: The currency could be impacted if the trade and current account deficits were to widen. An increase in the import bill will tend to put pressure on the rupee.
  • Inflation: There could be significant impact on inflation, given how crude oil prices move and the extent to which the government allows the pass-through to the consumer.
  • Fiscal impact: There could be a two pronged impact on government finances — both on the revenue side and on the expenditure side. On the revenue side, higher oil prices mean more revenue for the states as tax is a percentage of base prices. The expenditure impact would primarily be on account of fuel subsidy outlays-the government has to allocate more funds for subsidy.

Way forward

  • India should make all efforts for a second waiver, keeping in view the close strategic partnership and the new role New Delhi is acquiring in the India-Pacific as a counter-balancing power vis-a-vis China.
  • Indian refiners should increase their planned purchases from the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Mexico, and even the US to make up for the loss of Iranian oil.
  • India should diversify its source of energy from oil to liquefied natural gas and renewable sources like- solar energy, wing energy, hydro power and geothermal energy.
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