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Trump Files: Tackling Russia - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Russia-U.S. relations are considered critical for both the West and Middle East equally – not only because Russia is an active ally of Iran and a major partner in the war in Syria, but also because most international relations are interrelated with outcomes and developments of the U.S.-Russian platform.

A quite optimistic projection would be the thought of a new era of a better-shaped cooperation between Moscow and Washington. Alternatively, a counteractive result may be surprising which brings about the end of reasonably good affairs shared between the two during Barack Obama’s eight years of presidency.

President-elect Donald Trump had commended Russian leader Vladimir Putin and repeatedly highlighted his ability to improve relations with him. However, no expert supports or believes that the U.S., under overwhelming Republican control, both in the White House and Congress, can improve U.S.-Russo relations.

Many problems exist between the two, such as the conflict in Ukraine, border and NATO disagreements, and threats against European interests. Some Republicans blame the Obama administration for not confronting Russian expansion and for not holding onto U.S. Cold War zones of influence.

Trump possesses a strong character and accusations of the Obama policy being weak reflects a true vision which is likely to lead to future tensions between the two superpowers– unless Russia backs down in Crimea and East Europe.

Everyone is waiting for the assembly of Trump’s transition team, and it’s expected that a Secretary of State will be chosen from among political hawks, demonstrating that a Trump-led America is different from Obama’s.

What is seemingly concerning in view of Moscow-Washington relations? As the Cold War came to an end, in the early 90s, alliances in the Middle East were greatly shuffled, ending a half-a-century old alignment.

Clashing American policies followed – an invasion of Iraq during George W. Bush’s term and a passive stalemate during Obama’s term.

A number of Republicans have persistently criticized the current administration because it fully ended American military presence in Iraq and overturned Bush’s policy that recommended withdrawal but with leaving enough troops to prevent a vacuum.

An absence of power permits the infiltration of a highly strategic country.

This is exactly what happened later as Iran dominated the scene there and the terror group ISIS emerged.

The other chapter in this file relates to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, American strategic relations with Israel and Washington’s interests in the oil-rich Gulf zone.

After negotiations with Tehran were made public, Israel was the first to vigorously oppose the negotiations and the whole deal.

Even though Obama secured Congressional approval for the Iran deal, overpowering the Israeli lobby, strong opposition to the agreement continues to and vows to walk away from or impede its progress.

Iran did not give Obama anything significant in exchange and was quick to reassure the Russians that its nuclear agreement will not harm its distinctive relations with them.

Iran further bolstered its alliance with Russia through joint military operations and other deals. This will probably rearrange Middle East alliances, dividing them between Russia and the West.

Trump’s rise and Putin’s insistence to adhere to his stances may bring back the ghost of the Cold War but not the war itself. The question is whether this possible scenario is to the region’s interest? On one hand, this has negative consequences in accordance to tensions risings. However, it could lead to U.S.-Gulf defense agreements and the decisive addressing to Israel’s objections against Hezbollah, putting an end to Iranian expansion in our region.

There’s no doubt that Trump’s arrival in the White House is significant in nature and will leave its mark on the world including on our region. Many issues remained on hold during Obama’s term, interlinked to relations with the Kremlin, they will be played out according to the two presidents’ capability to later cooperate or compete.

We must not expect much during the first half of Trump’s first year, especially in major conflict zones like Syria and Iraq, as his administration’s policy will mature much later.

The question is whether Iran will be able to tilt the balance in its favor in that time? Or will Arab countries succeed in holding off its advancement and prompt the reversal of the West’s policy of containment for Iran? Or is it that Iran will alter its behavior in response to new international developments?

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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