The Trump administration has flung Iran’s deliberate programme of destabilisation across the Arab region right back in its face and warned its leaders that Iran will have to meet the consequences of its actions. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday that “Iran’s provocative actions threaten the United States, the region, and the world. The Trump administration is currently conducting a comprehensive review of our Iran policy. Once we have finalised our conclusions, we will meet the challenges Iran poses with clarity and conviction.”
Tillerson’s comments addressed both Iran’s encouragement of sectarian hatred and destabilisation in the Arab world, but also what he described as the failures of Obama’s nuclear deal that he said “fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran and only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state”, adding that the Trump administration has no intention of passing this issue on to a future administration.
The bulk of Tillerson’s comments was a damning list of “Iran’s alarming and ongoing provocations that export terror and violence, destabilising more than one country at a time”. He described Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, which is responsible for intensifying multiple conflicts and undermining US interests in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon.
He singled out Iran’s support for the Al Houthi rebels in Yemen as they seek the overthrow of the legitimate government by providing military equipment, funding, and training, thus threatening Saudi Arabia’s southern border.
Tillerson mentioned that Emirati and coalition actions in Yemen and in the Arabian Sea have revealed a complex Iranian network to arm and equip the Al Houthis.
On Syria, Tillerson condemned Iran’s support for “the brutal Al Assad regime” while it commits atrocities against its own people, including with chemical weapons. He noted that Iran has provided arms and financing into Syria, including sending its own Revolutionary Guard to take part in direct combat operations. His comments on Iran’s actions in Iraq were shorter, but noted that Iran’s substantial role in undermining security in Iraq for years as it gave support to Iraqi militant groups, primarily through the Quds Force.
These comments are welcome, but they need to be converted into a clear programme of action. The Arab world has been loud in its condemnation of Iran’s dangerous interference across the region, but has received little response. The new clarity of Washington is a welcome start.