Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Placing priories

April 12 2006

AS IRAN basked in what it considers as the glory in its announcement that it had successfully enriched uranium to make nuclear fuel, the international community is alarmed over the dramatic course of events.
It could not be said that the Iranian announcement shocked everyone because many suspected that something was indeed going on behind the scenes as the nuclear dispute was being debated across continents. However, the Iranian move has indeed dramatically raised tension and apprehension by several notches.
Almost every country in the world has described the Iranian move to enrich uranium as a step in the wrong direction. This iindicates a rare international consensus that would have a strong adverse impact not only on the Middle East but also the rest of the world.
However, the Iranian move has indeed dramatically raised tension and apprehension by several notches, particularly in the Gulf region, where the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) has always made it clear that its members wanted the entire Middle East area to be a nuclear-free zone.
In diplomatic terms, Iran is being urged to call of its nuclear work, but, from judging from Iran's record and behaviour, it is unlikely that Tehran would respond positively to such calls. That leaves the US and its allies  — which now include hitherto reluctant Russia and China — with the option of pursuing punitive sanctions against Iran through the UN Security Council.
Indeed, such sanctions were a strong possibility even before Tuesday's Iranian announcement, which in fact gave the additional ammunition that the US wanted in order to ensure UN action against Tehran. Washington and its allies in Europe and elsewhere, including Israel, might have their own agenda to pursue against Iran. That agenda may have to do with what the US and others consider as their strategic geopolitical interests in the Middle East.
In the immediate region, the Gulf countries have more than one reason to worry about. Nuclear activity in Iran, whether for peaceful purposes or otherwise, could have serious unhealthy effects on the region. Any process going wrong in Iran's nuclear work would be catastrophic for its immediate neighbours. Then there are concerns that the Iranian nuclear stand-off with the US and its allies might lead to sanctions against Tehran and the Iranians would retaliate by impeding the flow of oil from the Gulf. Finally, with seemingly credible reports coming from the US that the administration might use tactical nuclear weapons to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities, there is also fear of the consequences of such actions.
To be fair, Iran, like any other country in the world, has the right to pursue nuclear programmes for peaceful purposes under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). And Tehran insists that its nuclear work is very much within its rights. Until now, there is no concrete proof that the Iranians are developing nuclear wepons, but many others believe that it is only a matter of time before it becomes clear that they had always sought to have nuclear weapons. Therefore, exercising international rights is indeed one thing, but citing those rights to achieve a different goal is something else. How to tackle both in a balanced and effective way is the dilemma facing the world today.
We could only hope that the Iranians, having achieved their purpose of proving to the world that they could do nuclear work on their own, would seek to check the situation from getting worse. On the other side, the US and allies accept that the only way out is through realistic dialogue.
There are so many ifs and buts in the equation, but the core issue is the mutual distrust between the US and Iran.
Washington sees Iran as a major stumbling block against the strategic interests of not only the UN but also those of Israel — and not necessarily in that order either. The US seems to think that working out a rapproachement with Iran is all but impossible under the present geopolitical givens. And, if one goes by the published comments of many in the US and outside, the administration's ultimate goal is "regime change" in Iran.
Therefore the first step in any move to defuse the situation and ensure that the Middle East is free of nuclear weapons is an iron-clad American assurance — supported and guaranteed by the world — to Iran that it is not targeted for "regime change."
That should, hopefully, break the ice and set the ground for initialising a dialogue that could eventually lead to building trust and confidence between Tehran and Washington. That is a long way ahead and might sound like wishful thinking beyond imagination. If anything, recent strategy papers adopted by the Bush administration classify Iran as the source of the greatest threat to the US. Coupled with reports of planned American military action against Iran, there does not seem to an iota of hope for dialogue.
However, if the US is sincere when it says it is interested only ensuring the security and stability of the Middle East, then it should step forward with transparency, seriousness, determination and commitment and adopt international legitimacy as enshrined in UN decisions and conventions as the basis for any dialogue with Iran.
Simply put, the US should put its American interests first in any consideration, and then it would be crystal clear that Washington has no ground to see anyone in the Middle East an adversary.
Once the US does that, then the rest is easy. But the first step, seen against the realities of today, is all but impossible, and that is where the deadlock is.