NEWS & ANALYSIS: The Persian process

The myth of a bargain with Iran

Unless Iran does something really stupid, Mr Bush will not be able to bomb. Much tougher sanctions are also out. So that leaves talking.

That could be a very good thing. For years, those who have opposed the drive to war have urged America to strike a “grand bargain” with Iran. This would involve Iran forswearing nuclear weapons in a convincing and verifiable way and generally promising to behave better in the region. In return Iran would get full diplomatic recognition from the US, the lifting of sanctions (such as they are) and all manner of economic and technological benefits.

But there are two obvious snags. First, America’s intelligence re-assessment will probably be a boon to hardliners in Tehran. President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad will be able to say that Iran has stood firm and faced down the world. In such a climate, why should the Iranians make concessions?

Second, there may be no “grand bargain” to be had. Most of the evidence suggests that the determination to get a nuclear bomb is a national project in Iran – uniting different political factions. The Iranians are not necessarily in a hurry. They might be deterred for a while. But the nuclear programme has become a symbol of national machismo – and is also widely regarded as a strategic necessity, given that Iran is surrounded by hostile powers.

Iran also has ambitions in the region. It is the biggest country in the Gulf area – or, as the Iranians insist on calling it, the Persian Gulf area – and it wants its “natural role” to be recognised. If Iran is to be the regional hegemon, then the US military presence must be greatly diminished. The US army is in Iraq, the navy is in Bahrain, the air force is in Qatar. There are US bases in Saudi Arabia. There is no way that the Americans are going to cede the dominant security role in the Gulf – a region that sits on top of 60 per cent of the world’s known oil reserves and 40 per cent of its natural gas.

That is the basic reason why a grand bargain will be so hard to achieve. The US and the Iranians are strategic rivals in the Gulf region. They are not going to become friends. The best that can be hoped for is an uneasy modus vivendi.

As for the Iranian nuclear programme: the message that the American public risks being left with is that it would be impossible to live with an Iranian bomb – but fortunately Iran is no longer pursuing nuclear weapons. The reality is the complete opposite. Iran probably will get nuclear weapons. And the west will probably have to learn to live with it. [complete article]

Khatami publicly assails Ahmadinejad

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s policies were attacked Tuesday at Tehran’s major university in an unusual speech by his predecessor, who warned that political suppression, questionable economic policies and defiance on the nuclear issue were leading Iranians in the wrong direction.

The speech, by Mohammad Khatami, attracted more than 1,000 students at Tehran University, which has been a center of vocal protest against Mr. Ahmadinejad, who was elected in 2005.

Mr. Khatami’s criticism of Mr. Ahmadinejad has long been known. But his public denunciation of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s policies was unusual because of its high visibility at a site of youthful dissent. [complete article]

Report on Iran may scupper future sanctions

Britain and France, President Bush’s chief European allies, fear that last week’s US intelligence report stating that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons programme will be “counter-productive” in securing tighter UN sanctions against the Tehran regime.

A draft Security Council resolution being discussed yesterday by officials from the US, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany would extend punitive measures – including travel bans and the seizure of assets – to the 15,000-strong Quds force, as well as dozens of named individuals.

Although the document does not go as far as the US Administration – which recently imposed sweeping sanctions against the entire 125,000-member Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Quds Force, and three banks – it would represent a significant escalation in the diplomatic pressure being exerted on Iran. [complete article]

See also, Olmert: Iran still dangerous, we must continue int’l pressure (Haaretz) and Bush demands Iran explain nuke program (AP).

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