Michael Singh

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President Xi Jinping of China, left, and President Hassan Rouhani of Iran concluding a joint news conference in Iran in 2016. Credit Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press

Leaked news this month that China and Iran had come to the verge of signing a 25-year trade and military partnership agreement struck like a geopolitical storm in Washington — a rising rival of America and a longtime foe joining forces to threaten the United States’s predominant position in the Middle East.

The agreement ambitiously promises to bring a huge Chinese presence into Iran’s economic development, in exchange for a regular supply of heavily discounted Iranian oil.

Yet in Iran and China themselves, the reaction was hardly ebullient. Critics of Iran’s beleaguered president, Hassan Rouhani, called the deal a new Treaty of Turkmenchay, after the notorious 1828 accord under which a weakened Persia ceded much of the South Caucasus to the Russian Empire.…  Seguir leyendo »

A mural on the wall of the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza City last October. Credit Said Khatib / Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

After two years of playing coy, the Trump administration is reportedly finally ready to unveil its plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace. The plan’s details remain confidential, but if it is anything like President Trump’s moves so far on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, it will be bold.

Some of those steps have worked out far better than the president’s critics anticipated. Moving the United States’ embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, for example, failed to elicit the protests in the wider Arab world many predicted, even as Israelis celebrated it as correcting a historical injustice.

Another of the administration’s bold strokes has been to all but eliminate the United States’ once-considerable aid to Palestinians.…  Seguir leyendo »

If only the United States negotiated as ruthlessly with Iran as it does with itself.

The interim nuclear accord — formally the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) — between Iran and the United States and its five negotiating partners (known as the P5+1) offers moderate benefits to both sides: It limits Iran’s nuclear activities in certain respects, while giving Iran time and space for economic recovery. Given these benefits, both sides appear to view the JPOA as essentially their second-best option — not as good as a final accord on terms they prefer but better than the escalating crisis it replaced.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Obama surprised many recently when he diagnosed the crisis gripping Iraq as partly an economic one, noting that Iraqi Sunnis were “detached from the global economy” and thus frustrated in achieving their aspirations.

While Iraq’s chaos has many sources, the president is nevertheless on to something; and it’s not just Iraqi Sunnis, but the entire Middle East that is detached from the global economy.

The region accounts for just over 4 percent of global imports, less than it did in 1983; Germany alone accounts for 6.4 percent. Its economic stagnation is vividly illustrated by a comparison to Asian economies. According to the World Bank, in 1965, Egypt’s per-capita gross domestic product was $406, while China’s was merely $110.…  Seguir leyendo »

With the first round of nuclear talks with Iran’s new, and newly pragmatic, negotiating team in the books, the Washington policy debate about Iran has shifted from whether a deal is possible to what sort of deal is acceptable. While such discussions can often seem a miasma of centrifuge counts and enrichment levels, there are, in fact, two distinct paths to a nuclear deal with Iran.

The first path is one in which Tehran would receive relief from sanctions in exchange for putting strict limits on its nuclear activities, such as restricting uranium enrichment to low levels. The success of such an agreement would depend on ensuring that Iran could not use declared nuclear activities as a cover for covert activities aimed at developing a nuclear weapon.…  Seguir leyendo »

The election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s next president has prompted two sorts of reactions among U.S. officials and Iran analysts. Some see in Rouhani’s victory a reformist resurgence and are urging the Obama administration to reach out in an effort to “strengthen” him, much as the Clinton administration sought to do after the election of Mohammad Khatami in 1997. Others see a wily trick by Iran’s supreme leader, seeking to slough off the pressure of sanctions by presenting a smiling face to the world and buy more time with diplomacy while expanding Iran’s nuclear activities in the background.

The challenge for the Obama administration is that it cannot yet know which interpretation is correct.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Obama’s trip to Israel and Jordan this week is about neither Israel nor Jordan. But it also isn’t quite about Iran, as some have asserted, or the Arab uprisings. His trip will be about the United States and the role we see for ourselves in the Middle East. Our allies, to a one, want more American leadership in the region and greater clarity regarding U.S. policy on vital issues; in an increasingly fractious region, it is the one talking point they all share. Their message reflects a troubling irony: A president whose foreign policy slogan was “engagement” in 2008 will, if he does not change course in his second term, leave a legacy of U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

Few of President Obama’s original foreign policy goals have eluded him so much as engagement with Iran. Over the weekend, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced during a speech in Munich that the United States was ready for direct talks with Iran. With the risk of war over Iran’s nuclear program looming, the offer is prudent, but it is also beside the point. As Iran continues to evade negotiations — literally in this case, since the Iranian foreign minister was in the same building as Mr. Biden — the real question is not whether America should talk to Iran, but how to get the Iranians to talk to us in earnest.…  Seguir leyendo »

Recently, red lines both figurative and — since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s prop-assisted speech to the United Nations two weeks ago — literal have come to dominate the Iran policy discussion. While Netanyahu was as explicit as possible in his delineation of Israel’s red line regarding Iran’s nuclear status, President Obama has been reluctant to draw one. Instead, he has offered different, even contradictory, messages to two audiences: To Israel, he has pleaded for patience; to Iran and reluctant U.S. allies, he has warned that “time is not unlimited.”

Problem is, neither audience seems to believe him. To address this, he should communicate clearer limits on American forbearance by setting his own red lines for Iran.…  Seguir leyendo »

Predictably, last week’s “expert level” talks between Iran and world powers were no more fruitful than previous rounds, leaving little optimism for a negotiated resolution to the nuclear crisis anytime soon. Western policymakers, buoyed by their success in reducing Iran’s oil exports , appear content to give sanctions more time to work, in the hope that once Tehran feels their full effect negotiators will return to the table, more ready to compromise.

The evidence, however, suggests that sanctions’ effect on oil exports will not increase over time.

First, Western policymakers tend to focus more on what Iran has lost than what it has retained or gained.…  Seguir leyendo »

The United States holds a strong bargaining position going into Friday’s scheduled nuclear talks with Iran. An Israeli military attack seems imminent. U.S.- and European Union-led sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank and oil exports are wreaking havoc on the Iranian economy. And yet, despite these massive pressures on the Iranian regime, it is not Tehran but the United States that is signaling that it is prepared to make concessions — setting the stage for Washington’s unprecedented leverage to be squandered.

The United States and its Western allies reportedly plan to demand that Iran suspend its higher-level enrichment activities, a position Secretary of State Hillary Clinton previewed in comments to the press April 1.…  Seguir leyendo »

This is an eventful week for Iran. On June 9, the country was hit with a fourth sanctions resolution by the U.N. Security Council. June 12 will mark the first anniversary of a disputed presidential election that plunged Iran into turmoil and galvanized the opposition “Green Movement.”

But the event that Iranians may feel most keenly this week is one from which their country is excluded — the World Cup. The Iranian team failed to make the cut, finishing fourth in its qualifying group and losing along the way to archrival Saudi Arabia.

Despite its no-show in South Africa this year, the Iranian team has enjoyed some success in World Cups past.…  Seguir leyendo »