A Small Break for Iran

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi 

In a new report bound to cause shivers among the Washington hawks applauding the White House's anti-Iran escalations, the United Nations' atomic agency has confirmed "significant progress" in Iran's cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since May.

Throwing cold water on the hot furnace brewing yet another war in the volatile region, the report by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei raises hope that the Iran nuclear crisis may be resolved one step at a time, unless the United States and Israel somehow manage to derail the process, just as happened with Iraq five years ago.

Lest we forget, the current White House rhetoric on Iran bears strong resemblance to that used in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq; it was based on public deception as well as complete disregard for the findings of UN weapons inspectors, who after some 400 inspections of every conceivable site in Iraq had not found any evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

Little wonder some members of the US Congress, such as Democrat Peter Welch, have drawn comparison between the two cases. "I don't trust the president on Iran. He's demonstrated a willingness to play it fast and loose when he was justifying Iraq. So I don't have confidence in what the president said [about Iran], and I don't have confidence in his judgment," Welch said in an interview after President George W Bush's latest salvo against Iran.

The US media have toed the official line, however, as if no lesson has been learned from the fiasco of the Iraq war, aptly summarized in a recent public television program hosted by the Public Broadcasting Service's Bill Moyers titled Buying the War.

Sadly, history repeats itself and the mainstream US media have once again accommodated themselves to the Washington warmongers targeting Iran, led by the right-wing Fox TV and Washington Times, which have made this a top priority with their slew of "experts" counseling the advisability of bombing Iran. Clearly, selling war on Iran is good media business, even though it may be a nightmare for the US - let alone the global - economy.

The latest IAEA report on Iran should, logically speaking, give a healthy pause to right-wing European leaders such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who have bandwagoned with Bush's blistering anti-Iran campaign. The Associated Press has quoted ElBaradei's deputy, Olli Heinonen, who brokered the latest Iran-IAEA agreement, [1] as highlighting the importance of the agreement and noting that "Tehran's past refusal to answer the IAEA's questions triggered [UN] Security Council sanctions in the first place".

In other words, it is a sheer error on the part of US officials and media pundits who insist that Iran has completely disregarded the Security Council resolutions. Rather, it is more apt to say that Iran has partially complied, with the sections of those resolutions calling for transparency on Iran's part, thus raising hopes for a sequential resolution of the nuclear standoff, in light of the IAEA's hints of potential further breakthroughs with Iran.

Yet it is unclear whether the White House really welcomes any such breakthrough, given the utility of the nuclear crisis to press forward with the hegemonist policy of "divide and conquer" whereby the US leads an anti-Iran camp of "moderates" in the Middle East, as part and parcel of a "new cold war". This explains Bush's apocalyptic imagery of a "nuclear holocaust" and the need to act "before it is too late". Bush's rhetoric resonates fully with the Israeli "point of no return" statements on Iran, even though US intelligence estimates leaked to the press do not corroborate those statements.

But from Iran's vantage point, reflected in President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's recent statement about "nuclear Iran", the country has already reached the threshold of mastering the nuclear fuel cycle, thus declaring this a closed issue. The issue for the US and its allies in the Security Council now is how to respond to ElBaradei's report, which dampens the momentum for another round of sanctions.

A reasonable response would be to forgo the desire to shut down Iran's uranium-enrichment program, which is sanctioned by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and to focus on the so-called "objective guarantees" that this program remains perpetually peaceful. This is a realistic approach that shuns idealism and any undue expectations that cannot be met by any politician in Iran.

Given the dual nature of nuclear technology, the best available option in dealing with Iran is, indeed, none other than the one now pursued by the IAEA that may culminate in Iran's readoption of the intrusive Additional Protocol and, possibly, Iran's acceptance of other "confidence-building measures" above and beyond existing agreements with the IAEA.

Come this autumn, with the White House counting on a US military progress report on Iraq, which hinges partially on the state of US-Iran relations and a Middle East peace conference, the hot summer of simmering words of war may pave the way to a cooler climate of reasonable discourse and dialogue.

This may well be unwelcome news to the hawks in Washington. The open-ended question is whether or not they and their army of influence in Washington (and Paris and London) will succeed in spoiling the progress cited by the IAEA and thus letting history repeat itself.

In conclusion, the only way to move forward on the tortuous path of US-Iran relations is to focus on areas of shared interests and to avoid contradictory steps that add to the "wall of mistrust" talked about by former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami. Only then might it be possible to see the full color of new horizons opened by the US-Iran dialogue on Iraq, eg, a proactive Iranian role with respect to the Middle East peace process, no matter how readily this is dismissed by the United States' and Israel's hawks as wishful thinking.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.


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