The dangerous Russian alliance 1

According to the Pentagon:

A ballistic missile launched by Iran on Sunday [March 12, 2017] was North Korean in construction or design. …

This latest test could set Iran on a collision course with the Trump Administration, which has promised to take a hard line on Iran.

Why has President Trump not already torn up the “deal” Obama made with Iran? It really is “the stupidest deal of all time”, as President Trump himself called it.

Is the process of disempowering Iran starting with a warning to Iran’s nuclear-armed ally North Korea?

Reuters reports:

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday [March 17, 2017] issued the Trump administration’s starkest warning yet to North Korea, saying that a military response would be “on the table” if Pyongyang took action to threaten South Korean and U.S. forces.

Speaking in Seoul after visiting the Demilitarized Zone dividing the Korean peninsula and some of the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, Tillerson said former President Barack Obama’s policy of “strategic patience” towards Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs was over.

“We are exploring a new range of security and diplomatic measures. All options are on the table,” Tillerson told a news conference.

He said any North Korean actions that threatened U.S. or South Korean forces would be met with “an appropriate response,” turning up the volume of the tough language that has marked President Donald Trump’s approach to North Korea.

“Certainly, we do not want for things to get to a military conflict,” he said when asked about possible military action, but added: “If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, that option is on the table.”

Nuclear co-operation between Iran and nuclear-armed North Korea is hastening the day when there will be a nuclear-armed Iran.

But at present, the alliance between Iran and Russia is even more dangerous. 

This is from an article at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, by Anna Borshchevskaya, dated February 6, 2017:

It is going to be difficult to drive a wedge between Russia and Iran. Too many interests hold them together …

From Moscow’s perspective, the U.S. has been and will continue to be an enemy, no matter how hard any U.S. president tries to improve relations. Putin needs the U.S. as an enemy to justify domestic problems at home and he sees the current geopolitical order, anchored by the U.S., as disadvantaging him. Nothing short of a rearrangement of that order will satisfy Putin. Nobel Prize-winning author and journalist Svetlana Alexievich observed in October 2015 that Russians “are people of war. We don’t have any other history. Either we were preparing for war or we were fighting one. And so all of this militarism has pushed all of our psychological buttons at once.” Putin needs allies who share this worldview.

President Trump expressed two contradictory policies during his campaign: being tough on Iran and improving relations with Russia. These two goals are incompatible because Putin wants a partnership with Trump in Syria, but Syria is where Putin is most closely allied with Iran. In order to push Iran and Russia apart, Trump needs to resolve this contradiction. The recent Syria peace talks in Kazakhstan only brought Russia and Iran closer together, if anything, given their pledge to fight “jointly” against ISIS and al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat Fateh al-Sham [aka the al-Nusra Front]. This development will also make it even more difficult for Trump to ally with Russia on Syria.

So far, Putin has succeeded in balancing Israeli and Sunni interests with its growing relationship with Iran. But it is unclear how long Putin can sustain this policy. Certainly, Putin did not hesitate to discount Israel’s interests when it came to selling S-300 weapons to Iran. Indeed, it is not in Israel’s interest for Putin to continue supporting Bashar al-Assad and thereby expand Iran’s influence in the Middle East. The Trump administration could encourage and support U.S. allies like Israel in order to make it more difficult for Putin to maintain his balance of good relations with all sides. It should also step up security cooperation with its allies to demonstrate that it is still committed to the region.

In the long term, Russia and Iran diverge somewhat on Syria. Iran perceives Syria as within its sphere of influence, which is not very different from how Putin views the former Soviet Union countries that he does not consider real states. Iran is interested in exacerbating sectarian divisions in Syria so that the Assad regime becomes an Iranian client-state with no independent decision-making. Iran is also closer to Assad himself than Putin, who simply wants Assad or someone else like him to ensure his interests in Syria. He cares more about how he can leverage Syria in his relations with the West than Syria itself. At the same time, Putin also increasingly perceives the Middle East as falling within the Russian sphere of influence, albeit differently than Iran. Historically, Moscow always looked for buffer zones out of its sense of insecurity, and this is precisely how it feels now.

The Trump administration could emphasize to Putin that Russian and Iranian interests in Syria are bound to clash in the future, and therefore an alliance with Iran can only go so far. But most of all, the U.S. needs to be present in the region and regain its leadership position. Putin preys on weakness and has perceived the U.S. as weak for years. He stepped into a vacuum in the Middle East, especially in Syria, that was created by America’s absence. By taking an active role in the region, the U.S. would limit Putin’s influence, including his alliance with Iran.

The article ends with a statement that seems to contradict the one with which the quotation opens.

Can the US “limit Putin’s influence, including his alliance with Iran”, or is it “going to be difficult to drive a wedge between Russia and Iran”?

The Russian-Iranian alliance is extremely dangerous for the US and the world. Can President Trump weaken it? Can he disengage Russia from Iran? Can he subdue Russia’s intensifying belligerence? Will he tear up Obama’s “deal” and put an end to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear bombs and the missiles to deliver them to the Middle East, Europe, and America?

Is there a plan to achieve all that, a process starting with the much-needed, long-delayed, serious warning to North Korea?