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Iran-Russia-China Relations: Challenges & Interests?

Posted on 9 March 2012 by "the witness"

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

No Country, Even Russia Holds the Key to Iran's Problems

Interview with Hassan Beheshtipour
Expert on Russia and Central Asia Affairs


Iran's relations with China and Russia have been a focus of attention for domestic and international experts in recent days. Hassan Beheshtipour, an international expert on Russia and the Central Asia believes that factors and variables affecting the countries’ relations should not be ignored. He has enumerated and explained those factors and variables in the following interview with the Persian daily, Shargh.

Q: While Iran reckons a lot on international cooperation of China and Russia, there is great difference between Iran's relations with China and Russia. We have vast trade relations with China, but there are unsolved problems between Iran and its sole neighbor which is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, that is, Russia. Don’t you think that if relations with Russia had been managed like relations with China, that is, if we had tied Russia’s interests to those of Iran, the result would have been much better?

A: When discussing relations between countries, a number of considerations should be taken into account. Firstly, we must avoid of any absolute proposition. In fact, considering international friendships, enmities, cooperation or lack of cooperation as an absolute proposition is a big mistake.

Secondly, countries make international decisions on the basis of their conditions and needs, but both conditions and needs change in the course of time. As a result, we must not expect the existing international arrangements to last forever.

Thirdly, national interests of countries are the sole principle of international relations which never changes. Neither friendships, nor enmities are forever. This is quite evident in countries’ relations. Russia has profound friendship with Ukraine and Belarus, but they have differences over energy matters. The United States and Israel are close allies, but revelations about Israel’s espionage on the US Defense Department causes strain in relations. As for our country, we have close ties to Turkey and have defined long-term economic interests on both sides. However, we have differences over the future of Syria and the US missile defense system. Therefore, neither differences, nor friendships are absolute.

Q: Even if we did not look at regional alliances in an absolute manner wouldn’t it help us more if we could create more strategic situations in the region?

A: The level of international relations has its own definition and discussion of countries’ relations should conform to that definition. Relations between countries are not similar to relations among people. Therefore, they are not affected by emotions and personal aspirations. Relations between countries are divided into normal, friendly, brotherly, strategic, and so on.

There is also a clear definition for relations between neighboring countries because such countries must have friendly relations and tolerate each other even despite differences because they cannot ignore each other. Strategic relations, however, is the kind of relations which cover all political, economic, cultural, security, and military areas. In fact, strategic relations constitute the highest level of relations between two countries.

Q: If this definition is taken as criterion, can we claim that we have strategic relations with any country?

A: Well, not exactly. Perhaps, our relations with Syria are somehow strategic, but our relations with Turkey, Russia, and China are not.

Q: Why our strategic contacts have been so limited and after so many years, we have not been able to raise the level of relations with countries which can be helpful to us?

A: Look, the main condition for establishment of relations between countries is to accept the mutuality of those relations. Therefore, the level of relations should be determined by both sides and it would be erroneous for us to assume that we can have strategic or even friendly relations with countries whenever we wanted to. On the other hand, there are other variables which should be taken into consideration; variables like impact of a third country on bilateral relations between two countries. For example, relations between Iran and Russia are not totally independent and are affected by another variable; that is, US policies toward Russia.

Q: Why the United States is a determining factor or a variable in our relations with Russia?

A: Relations between countries do not develop out of a sudden and unilaterally. Past conditions in international scene have led to this situation. Rivalry between Russia and the United States dates back to bipolar world system when the former Soviet Union was a counterweight for the United States. On the other hand, we are seeking our own interests under present conditions. In fact, Russia is a balancing factor in Iran's relations with the West. Whenever Iran is pressured by the West, it relies on Russia.

Q: It seems that Russia is doing the same.

A: Yes, that’s correct. Russia is doing the same.

http://www.iranreview.org/file/cms/files/71(5).jpgQ: My question is why we do not tie the interests of this balancing factor to our country’s interests so that it would support us in the UN Security Council or other international bodies?

A: As for Russia, there is not much that we can do. Western countries are putting relentless pressures on us and we have to resist because if we do not resist, we would lose our power in the world and become a second-hand country.

Q: Review of Iran's trade relations with China and Russia will show that our economic relations with Russia are quite limited, but our economic relations with China are quite vast. Why do you think we have not tried to further expand our economic relations with Russia?

A: The most important reason is the difference between economic capacities and conditions of China and Russia. China is currently the world’s second biggest economy and has overtaken Germany in economic terms to stand the second only after the United States. The country’s foreign exchange reserves have been estimated at 1,200 billion dollars while those of Russia barely equal 500 billion dollars.

Therefore, the Chinese economy is 2.5 times bigger than that of Russia and can meet our economic needs. This is why the volume of trade between Iran and China has reached 50 billion dollars. Russia, however, cannot cooperate with us under the same conditions. At present, volume of trade between Iran and Russia barely reaches 2 billion dollars. Of course, not only in economy, but also in other areas, Russia is no more considered a world power. Although it has veto power in the Security Council and has great military power which gives it some maneuvering room at international level, a true world power needs other factors, including economic and political potentials, the capacity to generate science…. Russia falls short of these conditions and, perhaps, it is more a regional power than a global one. Therefore, correct understanding of the current situation of Russia will cause Iran not to count much on Moscow.

Q: You noted that our relations with no country are completely strategic. How do you think, we must act under the current circumstances to get the best results?

A: The important point which should be taken into account in relations with other countries is a correct understanding of Iran's position and positions of its friends and foes. Such a correct understanding of our and other countries’ positions will help us make a correct decision. Correct understanding of other countries’ position can also help us make correct decisions in relation to those countries. On the other hand, the more we develop relations at regional and international levels and put up active presence in international organizations and institutions, the more we would be able to promote our standing.

Q: Experts maintain that a review of Iran's relations with Russia in various junctures of history will not reveal much fluctuation in those relations. Under Bolsheviks, the two countries had limited, cautious relations, but the Russians implemented Isfahan iron smelting project in Iran. Under Yeltsin, relations between Tehran and Moscow were cold, but completion of Bushehr nuclear power plant was entrusted to the Russians. Under Putin and Medvedev, Russia has been both supporting Iran and voting for anti-Iran sanctions resolutions.

A: On the opposite, relations between Iran and Russia have seen many ups and downs. During the Cold War, Russia looked at Iran from position of a world power and was wary of the increasing US influence in this country. Iran was a US ally. Therefore, Russians tried everything, from cooperation and friendship to outright threat, to get close to Iran. Meanwhile, Russians treated Iran from an ideological point of view in that time and Iran’s Tudeh party was in contact with other Communist groups in Iran. Now, however, those factors are no more extant. Iran is no more a US ally and Russia is no more a world power; neither its behavior emanates from an ideology. After the former Soviet Union collapsed and the former president, Boris Yeltsin, came to office, the Russian foreign policy changed course toward the West. In that time, Russians chose Western models for their economic development. As a result, their foreign policy became inclined toward the West which, of course, had no benefit for the country and added to its economic woes. In fact, Yeltsin destroyed the Russian economy under the aegis of privatization. The country’s foreign policy was also totally attuned to the West. Russia, therefore, distanced from Iran and relations between two countries were at a very low level. At the end of Yeltsin’s rule, Russia gradually got rid of that policy and Yevgeny Primakov replaced the Western-minded Kozirov as foreign minister of Russia. Moscow then started to pay more attention to eastern countries and this policy was followed more diligently after Primakov became prime minister. In that period, relations with Iran also picked up.

Q: It seems that since that time, the US has been playing a more influential role as a variable affecting Iran’s relations with Russia. After Putin was elected president in 2000, Russia neither got totally close to Iran, nor distanced from Tehran as it did under Yeltsin.

A: Of course, the United States was influential, but conditions of time had also changed. During the first term of president Putin from 2000 to 2004, Russia tried to mend fences with the West while before that Russia was practically looking to the East. Of course, it kept some level of interaction with Iran. During his second term in office, US President Bush’s unilateral policies prompted Russia to renew its attention to the East and improve ties to Iran. That period started in February 2007 with Putin’s critical address to Munich security confab. At that time, Russia was closer to Iran than any time before. Under president Medvedev, which coincided with the election of US President Barack Obama, Russia took another turn toward the United States and two countries got close again. The United States postponed implementation of its controversial plan to deploy a missile shield in Poland and a radar system in the Czech to gain Russia’s trust. As a result, both countries tried after Obama’s visit to Moscow in 2008 to define common areas of interest and cooperation. Since that time, Russia has been reducing relations with Iran. However, despite Moscow reset its relations with Washington, differences between Russia and the US remained unsolved and it didn’t take long before Russia realized that it had been deceived by the US. This was proven even more when the United States decided to redeploy its missile shield. During the past two years, Obama has shown that to protect the United States’ national interests, his ways are not much different from those of Bush.

http://www.iranreview.org/file/cms/files/74-Asia(3)(1).gifQ: It seems that both Iran and Russia are not facing special conditions with regard to the West. In fact, they both have problems with the West. Can we expect another period of improved relations between Tehran and Moscow?

A: It seems so. But let’s not forget that Iran and Russia can get off the hook of the US hegemonic power once and for all. At present, Putin is thinking about improving relations with Iran after starting his third term in office in May 2012. Therefore, we must expect another period of cordiality between Tehran and Moscow. This is also a time when Iran’s diplomatic apparatus can make an effort to reduce the impact of the United States as a factor influencing its Tehran’s relations with Moscow.

Q: You explained about Iran – Russia relations under various governments in Kremlin. Let’s look at it from another angle. Have Iranian governments also taken different approaches to Russia following the Islamic Revolution?

A: Firstly, you should note that I am an expert on Russia and only review Iran’s foreign policy when I have to. Naturally, I am no expert on Iran’s foreign policy. In relation to Russia, however, I don’t seem much difference among post-revolution Iranian governments in terms of relations with Russia. Macro diplomatic policies of Iran are determined by the Supreme National Security Council and governments implement those policies. Therefore, no major change has happened in the approach taken to Russia by various post-revolution Iranian governments. Of course, relations with Moscow have been a function of the country’s national interests, but on the whole, Iran has been willing to have extended ties with Russia through the post-revolution period.

Q: Some critics of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believe that he has given too many concessions to Russia during his presidency and has counted too much on Russia. But Russia has been no trustworthy support for Iran. To what extent, do you think that such criticism holds water?

A: I don’t agree that Iran has given too many concessions to Russia. Iran has given no such concessions. I think such criticism is wrong. For example, as for Iran’s share of the Caspian Sea, some claim that Iran’s rights have been ignored, but I don’t agree. The legal regime of the Caspian Sea is being formulated and no concession has been given to Russia in this regard. Another criticism is about Iran’s silence with regard to the situation in Chechnya. They say Iran has not condemned Russia’s behavior in Chechnya, but I say Iran did not need to condemn Russia.

Q: What about S-300 missile system? Why Russians did not live up to their promise in that regard? Even if we could ignore long delay in commissioning Bushehr nuclear power plant, we have to say that by failing to keep their word on S-300 missile system, the Russians proved that they are not reliable friends for us. So, why we still put our hope in them?

A: Iran has filed a lawsuit with Paris Court of Justice with regard to S-300 missile system and the file is in progress. As for Bushehr power plant, it has been commissioned anyway and technology transfer which has taken place is very important. When Russia indicated willingness to launch the plant for Iran, other countries which could have done that were not willing to help Iran. At last, Iran is currently the sole country in the Middle East generating nuclear power and its technology will be indigenized in a few years when Iranian technicians will take over from their Russian counterparts. This is a very important achievement. All told, Russia is not the master key to our problems and we must not rely on that country or other countries in all areas. We must rely on our great nation and believe in ourselves. At the same time, we must hail any positive input from other countries. This is true the other way around. The United States does not also hold the master key to our problems and it would be erroneous to think that reestablishment of relations with the United States will work as a silver bullet to solve all our international problems.

Q: After the British embassy in Tehran was stormed (by students), the Russian foreign ministry issued a statement condemning the incident and his ambassador in Tehran joined the ambassadors who visited Tehran’s Qolhak garden. The ambassador of China, however, did not accompany them. Was that reaction a signal by Russia that it still takes sides with the West?

A: Look, when the US embassy was occupied in Tehran, the Soviet Union which was in intense rivalry with the United States and was a world power, condemned Iran’s measure. With regard to the British embassy in Tehran, the measure taken by the Russian ambassador and Kremlin’s condemnation for the incident should not be considered as signs of closeness between Russia and the West, but it was simply a reaction shown to denounce a non-diplomatic measure. Russians are also concerned that their embassy may also be stormed in Tehran.

Q: You noted that the Russians are disappointed in the West and have incriminated the West of having incited Moscow’s recent post-election unrest. Iran has its own unsolved problems with the West and recent breaking into the British embassy has been added to the long list of those problems. Don’t you think that Moscow’s willingness to mend fences with Iran is a reaction to unsolved problems with the West?

A: Yes, this is exactly true. The more our relations get improved with the West, the more latitude we would have in dealing with Russia. In fact, we must be able to realize our national interests through interaction and reconciliation with other countries.

Source: Shargh Newspaper
Translated By: Iran Review

More By Hassan Beheshtipour:

*Iran Sanctions Will Backfire on EU: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Iran_Sanctions_Will_Backfire_on_EU.htm

*“Cooperation and Negotiation” Versus “Pressure and Negotiation”: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/“Cooperation_and_Negotiation”_Versus_“Pressure_and_Negotiation”.htm

*Russian Initiative for Final Settlement of Iran’s Nuclear Case: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Russian_Initiative_for_Final_Settlement_of_Iran%E2%80%99s_Nuclear_Case.htm



Military Option is the Worst Possible Scenario

Monday, January 09, 2012

Kayhan Barzegar


The forthcoming article in Foreign Affairs entitled, Time to Attack Iran: Why a Strike Is the Least Bad Option has had an impact upon the intellectual and policy-making atmosphere of the United States in recent days. Matthew Kroenig, the author of the article, deems the danger of Iran’s nuclear program urgent and encourages the U.S. government to launch a preventive surgical strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Such a discourse has existed in the intellectual and policy-making circles of Washington ever since the rise to power of the neo-conservatives and former president George W. Bush (2000-2008), but has rarely been expressed so clearly and publicly.

Though the publication of this article may foster the impression that Washington is preparing itself for military action against Iran, one should think that the main purpose of bringing up such a discourse in the current circumstances is not necessarily to pave the way for a war, but to escalate political pressure on Tehran and flaunt American military might in order to force it into changing its nuclear policy. As such, the move is, in one way or another, the continuation of previous U.S. strategy towards Iran, including the imposition of coercive sanctions, the allegation of Tehran’s intention to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Washington, and the intensification of spying and intelligence activities against Iran.

The publication of such an article may be welcomed by both of the major political parties in the U.S. – the Republicans and Democrats - alike, particularly given that the presidential election is within sight and apparently the issue of Iran’s nuclear program will draw the attention of candidates as the principal component of U.S. foreign policy.

For Democrats and particularly those politicians close to Barack Obama, stressing the effectiveness of the policy of imposing harsh sanctions against Iran in order to change its nuclear policy while stopping short of war will prove effective electoral rhetoric for Obama as he can justify his "sanctions for negotiation" policy vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic. Obama’s policy-making team is trying hard to show that the current U.S. approach to deal with Iran's nuclear program has been successful and one only need wait and see. Meanwhile, Kroenig’s article also sends the message to Tehran that the Republicans are seeking a military conflict and thus Iran should rush to find a solution through nuclear negotiations.

For the Republicans, laying emphasis upon the ineffectiveness of Obama’s policies towards Iran, the urgency of the danger of Tehran’s nuclear program, and the necessity of waging war to attain the sacred goal of preserving the U.S. national interests and security can serve as rewarding electoral rhetoric, an issue which has constantly prevailed in U.S. politics since the Islamic Revolution of Iran over 32 years ago.

Yet, beyond the above-mentioned issues, is the feature of the article in which flagrant errors, paradoxical statements, simplification, and above all, the typical neo-conservative mantra regarding Iran are evident.


Urgency of the Threat

Kroenig argues that mounting international pressure and intelligence activities against Iran to halt its nuclear program have failed and according to the latest report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran has stepped up its weaponization nuclear activities. The article goes on to argue that in such uncertain circumstances, many countries in the region harbor considerable doubts about the effectiveness of U.S. policy vis-à-vis Iran's nuclear program and have opted for ways of their own to confront it. This will result in the outbreak of a nuclear arms race in the region, increase Iran's regional power, the passing of nuclear arms to Iran's proxy groups in the region, and above all the possible nuclear conflict between Tehran and Tel Aviv in the future, which has the potential to bring about a great disaster for American national security. Eventually, "A nuclear- armed Iran would immediately limit U.S. freedom of action in the Middle East."

In the author’s view, such threats will inevitably force Washington into adopting the necessary measures to contain Iran. Conventional deterrence will be costly and involve massive political, security, and military capitals for the U.S. in the region while it faces a deep economic recession at home. In addition, such a conventional containment may take decades and in the end fail to achieve the desired results.

Here, the author’s hyperbolic stance regarding the peril of Iran's nuclear program and portrayal of it as an “urgent” danger are somehow reminiscent of neo-conservative ideas previously circulating the U.S. political establishment as well as uncritical conformity with the Israeli perspective on the issue.

First, the author somehow associates Iran's nuclear program with a type of “Iranophobia” and the traditional neo-conservative conception which defines the country as the main source of threat in the region and then links the U.S. interest in eliminating such a menace to its responsibility to protect the security of its regional partners.

Second, the analysis suffers from the traditional weakness and flaws of the neo-conservative attitude towards Iran’s nuclear activities, that is, it fails to distinguish between the military (deterrence) and civilian (peaceful) dimensions of the program and conflate them instead. As mentioned by Paul Pillar, the author does not take account of the fact that the latest IAEA report on Iran was politically motivated for the most part, had been framed so as to satisfy the great powers, not least the United States, and finally was aimed at “ratcheting up pressure” on Iran as many Western political pundits admitted.

Third, Kroenig maintains that the chief reason behind the escalation in Iran's nuclear activities is their linkage with its weaponization program, but fails to realize that Tehran’s recent measures to move its sophisticated centrifuges to the Fordo site in Qom, announce the opening of a new nuclear site, and recently making nuclear fuel rods and plates for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) and so on have been taken with the aim of creating “political equality” in the nuclear negotiations with the West. They can also be viewed as a response to the coercive sanctions which place Iran in a weaker position, rather than intensifying the weaponization of its nuclear program.

Fourth, as for the outbreak of an arms race in the region, as was mentioned by Stephen Walt, one should note that even the weaponization of Iran's nuclear program does not necessarily mean the spread of atomic weapons in the Middle East. For instance, Israel’s nuclear weapons' program did not lead Saudi Arabia or Egypt to seek access to nuclear weapons despite the two sides' intense hostility in the 1960s and 1970s.

Fifth, and in this regard, the author focuses on the existing and traditional theme of the “balance of power” in the region, favored by American traditional strategists, as an efficient way of checking Iran’s nuclear program. This theme itself triggers a regional arms race and thus further conflict. Instead focusing on the “balance of threat” can lead to regional cooperation and moving towards the “regional zero” in a Middle East free of nuclear weapons. A recent poll conducted by World Public Opinion.org shows that 64 percent of the Israeli public favors a NWFZ in the Middle East, mostly in response of checking Iran's nuclear program.

Sixth, with respect to Iran's desire to supply such groups as Hezbollah and Hamas with nuclear weapons, the author appears to have ignored the track record of Tehran’s behavior and performance in the past. Even accepting the unfounded hypothetical scenario of Iran acquiring nuclear weapon, one may point to the fact that in spite of having the potential to make chemical and biological weapons, Iran has been committed to non-proliferation, that is, not only has it refused to give them to the aforementioned groups, but it has been one of the most active countries seeking to dismantle such weapons on the international scene. Iran is also among the active countries which endeavor to create a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons.

And finally, Kroenig vindicates preventive war against Iran and a possible Israeli strike to preclude an urgent threat as well as the disturbance of the regional balance of power while the latest IAEA report does not specifically and clearly emphasize any deviation in the Iranian nuclear program. Here, the orthodox perspective of the author has been closely aligned with the American neo-conservative thought and the Israeli view about the urgency of the danger, which justifies a quick strike against Iran's nuclear facilities before it is too late. In other words, and as the Leveretts precisely argue, the military attack is only justified on the basis of the peaceful enrichment activities of Iran, to which it is entitled according to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). One should perceive that such a perspective aims mostly to preserve the nuclear monopoly of the Israeli regime in the Middle East.


Efficacy of a Military Action

http://www.iranreview.org/file/cms/files/10(5).gifWhile propounding the views of the critics and opponents of military attack on Iran, Kroenig tries his utmost to show why a limited military strike can prove effective in the current circumstances. The opponents of military confrontation first argue that since the United States is not thoroughly aware of Iran’s key nuclear sites and there may be facilities which Tehran has not yet reported to the IAEA, military action cannot not be completely successful as it will not lead to the total destruction or elimination of Iran’s nuclear program.

In response, Kroenig contends that the possibility of unreported nuclear sites existing in Iran is very unlikely. This is mostly because the U.S. intelligence forces, IAEA inspectors, and the regime's opposition groups have reported duly on them over the past years and because it takes a long while to build new facilities and therefore has enough time to discover and disclose them. Consequently, Iran is very unlikely to proceed with a policy of concealment.

Critics of military attack also argue that Iran’s nuclear plants have been scattered all over its vast territory and have been built underground in most cases, and so it is quite hard to strike and successfully destroy them. In addition, Iran has constructed its nuclear facilities almost near populous urban centers, which means that any military assault against them will involve massive civilian casualties.

Kroenig’s response to these arguments is that the U.S. should resort to “limited” military strikes and avoid a full-fledged war. Such an attack will succeed in destroying Iran’s enrichment facilities while avoiding heavy civilian casualties.

First, one should point out that the author’s arguments are contradictory. He acknowledges that Iran has a limited capability to construct new sites and conceal them, but keeps insisting upon the urgency of the peril whereas the IAEA has not verified the diversion of Iran’s nuclear activities and its inspectors regularly visit Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Second, and in a similar vein, the author once again falls in the trap of traditional and simplistic self-contradiction typical of the neo-conservative way of thinking which holds that the United States enjoys indefinite military power and can advance its objectives by means of war, a conception which has helped to prolong the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Iraq war alone cost over one trillion dollars for the U.S. and left 4487 American troops dead. Adopting a zero-sum perspective, the author conceives that Washington can launch a military offense against Iran successfully and pull out of the conflict easily without having to suffer any dire consequences.

Third, Kroenig’s attempts to communicate effectively with the American and global public opinion via adopting human rights gestures exemplified by proposals to reduce the human casualties of the attack are self-contradictory, and in fact constitute a major challenge for the neo-conservative forces to start a war against Iran. In other words, a serious dilemma which requires settlement is to persuade public opinion inside and outside the U.S. to accept a military attack against Iran at a time when pro-war tendencies amongst the American public are at their lowest ebb for some time.


Controlling the Possible Challenges in the Region

In this respect, Kroenig tries to show that Washington can afford to control and manage the critical repercussions of a limited war in the region. Then he examines the challenges and ramifications of such a conflict in terms of the threat it can pose to the U.S. national security and the international system, the intensification of the global economic recession, and its impact upon Iran’s domestic politics.

He classifies the views of the war opponents as Iran may retaliate by launching a missile attack on American forces and allies in the region and Europe. Iran can mobilize its proponents and proxies in the region against the U.S. and its allies’ interests. And in the case of military conflict, Iran will blockade the Strait of Hormuz.

Kroenig, however, argues, “None of these outcomes are predetermined and the United States could do much to mitigate them.” He also asserts that, “the United States could make clear that it is interested only in destroying Iran’s nuclear program, not in overthrowing the government,” Following the attack, Washington should immediately move to contain the consequences and reduce the spread of conflict in the region. In this regard, the U.S. can convince Israel, in a similar manner to the first Persian Gulf War (1990), to refrain from responding once it is attacked by Iran referring to the Saddam’s missile attacks on Israel.

Lastly, the U.S. can ease the negative consequences of increased oil prices by opening its strategic crude reserves while persuading its Arab allies in the Persian Gulf to boost their oil production to make up for the deficit and meet existing demand. It is almost definite that countries like Saudi Arabia will bandwagon or join the U.S. as they implicitly favor a military strike on the Iranian nuclear facilities while Washington can reduce the deleterious effects of the potential spread of the crisis to the whole region and beyond by building an international coalition and consensus in support of confronting Iran.

But here again the author turns a blind eye to many realities in his arguments.

First, for Iran, a “limited” attack by the United States is almost equivalent to an “all-out” offensive and more broadly means the declaration of war against it in the region. A region where its points of strength lie as it can utilize its capabilities to lead an extensive asymmetric war on a regional scale. Iran’s defense strategy is based on “interconnected security,” which means that insecurity for Iran is equivalent to insecurity for the region. Therefore it is naïve to think that the Iranian establishment will leave a limited U.S. assault unanswered in order to secure its survival, not least if it targets the country’s nuclear facilities which enjoy national legitimacy and geo-strategic significance and thus protection of them is interwoven with the legitimacy of the government.

Second, raising the point that the United States will not pursue the policy of regime change in Iran, Kroenig tries to portray Iran’s nuclear program as a solely governmental and state-sponsored initiative, whereas according to the latest statistical surveys conducted by Western institutions, the majority of Iranians support the country’s peaceful nuclear activities. Relevantly, the author completely fails to take into consideration the public mobilization and popular reaction against a foreign attack as he also fails to discern that for the Iranian government is no better means to create national solidarity at home than by confronting a foreign aggressor.

Third, he overlooks the geopolitical and political aspect of Iran's nuclear program and highlights its military feature, unaware of the fact that “regionalization” of the venture is pursued precisely with the aim of influencing the regional politics and achieving “political-security deterrence.” Therefore, contrary to his analysis, military action against Iran's nuclear facilities will have serious regional and global implications and despite what the author argues the U.S. will not be able to control them easily or swiftly.

Fourth, contrary to the contention of the author, a military strike against Iran will not serve U.S. interests or protect its national security as it leads to instability in the region at a time when Washington has pulled its military forces from Iraq and plans to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014, unless Kroenig believes that increasing instability and tension in the region preserves U.S. national interests. He also contends that Washington can convince Israel to avoid attacking Iran, but fails to take account of the region’s political realities, that is, Iran is not Iraq and Tel Aviv considers Tehran’s nuclear program as a so-called “existential threat” unlike how it formerly viewed Iraq. Here Iran's retaliatory attack against Israel arguably constitutes its major leverage to influence regional developments as Iranian leaders have emphasized it all the time.

Fifth, he regards as quite unrealistic the coalition of Arab regimes in the region with the U.S. at the time of military confrontation. It is right that the conservative Arab regimes have serious reservations about Iran's nuclear activities, but initiating a war in the region would be a red-line for them, as this has the potential to engage and entangle them directly and lead to regional instability and the flow of capital out of the region. As such, they will most likely support stricter sanctions against Iran as they benefit economically too.

Additionally, under the current circumstances Arab regimes, particularly Saudi Arabia, are themselves concerned about the grave impact of the unrest and instability caused by the Arab Spring upon their domestic politics and thus it is unlikely that they will back Washington's new military adventure, which could in turn lead to greater regional instability. The problem results from the author’s failure to take cognizance of how the Arabs will react to the developments in an atmosphere of high tension and instability. For instance, while conservative Arab regimes back in 2003 initially welcomed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, they started calling for the withdrawal of foreign forces from the region after the exacerbation of anti-American sentiment amongst the region’s public, which challenged their legitimacy.

Sixth, the author has a simplistic conception of the global coalition and consensus that may emerge out of a potential U.S. military strike on Iranian nuclear sites and has intentionally refused to recognize that if an international consensus was to be achieved on initiating a military solution, it would have been thus far. This most probably stems from his dramatic failure to fathom the limitations of American power at the global level and the fact that the major reason behind the opposition of the international community to the use of force by the U.S. is its determination to prevent Washington’s “unilateralism” which itself is a grave threat to global security. It is precisely on such grounds that the author throughout the article does not mention the role of the EU, the key ally of the U.S., in potentially resolving the issue. Because the author does not believe in such a role at all let alone Russia and China as part of the P5+1. In fact, Kroenig propagates American unilateralism at a time when the entire world is strongly inclined towards multilateralism.


Time of the Attack

http://www.iranreview.org/file/cms/files/16(13).jpgKroenig believes it is high time to take action now. In this part, he puts forward the arguments of war critics who insist that a military strike on Iran’s nuclear sites will fall short of completely dismantling the country’s nuclear program and that the United States does not have the political and military capital to launch another raid. Meanwhile, the consequences of such an attack are not predictable and, more importantly, a military strike could incite Iran towards weaponization. “If that happens, U.S. action will have only delayed the inevitable.”

Here, he contends that in any case, Iran has taken significant steps towards weaponiziation of its nuclear program according to the latest IAEA report, and will only be stopped when the U.S. takes action and destroys its entire nuclear infrastructure. The author goes on to argue that “time is a valuable commodity” as “military action could…delay Iran’s nuclear program by anywhere from a few years to a decade, and perhaps even indefinitely,” as was the case with Israel’s attack on the nuclear facilities of Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007.

Then Kroenig discusses the impact of the attack on Iran's domestic politics. He refers to the argument of critics who believe that a military confrontation with Iran will consolidate the political position of hard-liners. However, he asserts they are already at the top echelons of power. “An attack might create more openings for dissidents in the long term…giving them grounds for criticizing a government that invited disaster.” Yet “the United States must not prioritize the outcomes of Iran’s domestic political tussles over its vital national security interests in preventing Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.”

In this section too, the author does not present a realistic analysis of the issue in question and makes egregious mistakes in some cases.

First, he underestimates the reaction of regional and international public opinion to military action while wrongly believing that the U.S. can easily attack Iran and steer clear or pull out of the ensuing crisis. He totally ignores the fact that Tehran’s peaceful nuclear program enjoys a degree of legitimacy in regional and global public opinion.

Second, the author puts excessive emphasis upon the alleged weaponization dimension of Iran’s nuclear program. He also states that a military action against the country will prompt Tehran to withdraw from the NPT and move towards attaining nuclear deterrence whereas this potential measure is not in keeping with the policies of Iran, which indeed wants to abide by the IAEA and NPT regulations as they legitimize Iran's nuclear activities.

Third, referring the cases of Iraq and Syria for delaying or completely stopping Iran’s nuclear program, Kroenig does not pay due attention to the great importance and scale of Iran’s nuclear program, which is not to be compared with the nuclear achievements of those countries in terms of its technological advancement, indigenous know-how, trained forces, and so on. When he seeks to highlight the urgency of the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program, he acknowledges that Iran's nuclear program is very advanced and has somehow reached to the point of no return and that Iran has acquired the "capabilities" it needs.

But the utmost criticism to Kroenig in this regard is his failure to understand Iran’s domestic reaction to foreign aggression. Undoubtedly, Iranian opposition groups will not welcome a military solution to the country’s nuclear program mostly because of its national and geo-strategic value. No Iranian dissidents will welcome foreign intervention in Iran’s internal affairs. Any informed analyst of Iranian domestic affairs realizes that the support of dissident forces in favor of foreign intervention is tantamount to a “political suicide” for them. Kroenig is not aware at all of the importance and sanctity of fighting foreign aggressors in Iran's national culture, which manifested itself very clearly in the case of the U.S. alleged terror plot against the Saudi ambassador to Washington.

Here another paradoxical argument that the author puts forward is that on the one hand, the United States should take advantage of opposition forces inside Iran and on the other it should give priority to its national interests and never sacrifice them for Iranian dissidents. Here the author is once again entrapped in the traditional paradox represented by the U.S. neo-conservatives who fail to marry American interests and values, and as usual favor the preservation of U.S. interests over values.

At the end of his essay, Kroenig concludes that launching a preventive attack at the present time is better than bearing the pain of seeing a nuclear armed Iran. “Iran’s rapid nuclear development will ultimately force the United States to choose between a conventional conflict and a possible nuclear war. Faced with that decision, the United States should conduct a surgical strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, absorb an inevitable round of retaliation, and then seek to quickly de-escalate the crisis.”

In conclusion, Kroenig underscores his simplistic and zero-sum analysis. It is not clear how the United States might launch a military assault while trying simultaneously to check Iran’s retaliatory measures and prevent the spread of the crisis in the region. Moreover, the author regards war as an inevitable development, turning a blind eye to the importance of diplomacy and interaction in resolving the issue. He advocates war while the international community including the EU, Russia, China, and emerging powers such as Turkey, Brazil, India, and even the current U.S. government – through its own specific methods though – are calling for dialogue and a diplomatic approach for resolving international controversy over Iran's nuclear program.

*Kayhan Barzegar is Director of the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Science and Research Branch of the Islamic Azad University in Tehran

Source: Tabnak News Website
Translated By: Iran Review

More By Kayhan Barzegar:

*Iran-Turkey’s Role in Solving the Syrian Crisis: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Iran_Turkey’s_Role_in_Solving_the_Syrian_Crisis.htm

The Terror Plot, An Ideological War for Geopolitical Interests: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/The_Terror_Plot_An_Ideological_War_for_Geopolitical_Interests.htm

*Current US Policy toward Iran: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Current_US_Policy_toward_Iran.htm



Aspects and Consequences of the New U.S. and EU Sanctions against Iran

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Seyed Hussein Mousavi


Why the United States and the European Union have spread out their sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran? After the ratification of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1929 against Iran, the U.S. and the EU did immediately adopt new rounds of unilateral and joint sanctions against several Iranian officials, companies, and banks. The U.S. and the EU adopted some measures against the Islamic Republic of Iran which are not included in the United Nations Security Council resolution 1929. These measures are the ones which had previously been included in the draft of the resolution proposed by the United States and Britain but rejected by two other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, i.e. Russia and China. Russia was the first permanent member of the United Nations Security Council which reacted towards multiple measures adopted by the U.S. and the EU. Russian officials defined these measures as contrary to the United Nations Security Council resolution 1929. It seems that other permanent and non-permanent members of the Security Council, especially China, Turkey and Brazil, adopt similar stances and join the Russians in their refutation of such measures. The present article is trying to provide a perspective of the future of relationship among permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and their further cooperation, especially regarding the Iran's nuclear program.

1) It has been clarified that in their consultations with other permanent members of the Security Council, the United States and Britain had not been able to convince them to comply with their own preferred version of the resolution. At the same time, the United States and Britain could not withdraw their proposed draft from the agenda of the United Nations Security Council. Therefore, they preferred to accept some modifications proposed by Russia and China so as to obtain a minimum level of consensus among Security Council members, especially the veto-wielding powers, in order to issue the fourth UN Security Council resolution against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Russia has frequently emphasized on the fact that the draft proposed by the United States and Britain included broader sanctions against Iran and the possibility of its ratification in the United Nations Security Council was very weak. In other word, if we exclude the investigation of Iranian ships from the fourth Security Council resolution (resolution 1929), we can realize that it is one and the same with the third anti-Iranian resolution adopted by the Council. The present article is not focused on acquitting Russia and China in the ratification of the resolution 1929 against Iran; rather, we are dealing with extensive western, and especially American, pressures on these two countries in order to oblige them to accept a minimum level of new strains against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Russia has always reiterated that the new sanction regimes against Iran should not threaten the private sector of Iranian economy. Therefore, Russian officials have raised the concept of “smart sanctions” against Iran. Nevertheless, the United States and the European Union imposed further new and unilateral sanctions against Iran which were far beyond the limits of the resolution 1929. Therefore, Russia, China, and even some non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council which supported the ratification of this resolution against the Islamic Republic of Iran will probably come to this conclusion in the near future that the U.S. and the EU are leapfrogging over the UN Security Council resolutions and pursue objectives that are far beyond the suspension of Iranian uranium enrichment. As a result, we can argue that the United States and the European Union resort to the Security Council as an instrument for further development and justification of their unilateral behavior and one-sided measures against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Therefore, this issue can have harmful consequences for the relationship between these states and the U.S./EU. Elaborating on new American and European measures against Iran, a U.S. foreign policy expert has argued that Washington and its Western allies are once again taking advantage of the formula that they used against Iraq in the first half of the 1990s which finally ended in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 without the endorsement of the United Nations Security Council. Despite the fact that then IAEA chief, Hans Blix, was insisting on renewing the deadline for inspecting Iraqi military facilities, the United States and its western allies invaded Iraq under the pretext of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in this country.

2) The expansion of sanctions against Iran by the United States and the European Union just a few days after the ratification of resolution 1929 in the Security Council will further increase the gap among permanent members of this Council. Resorting to such measures by the Unites States and European Union can even undermine the implementation of the newly ratified UN Security Council resolution, because, as Russia’s reaction towards these measures indicates, Moscow’s support of the resolution 1929 is dependent on the avoidance of veto-wielding powers from further expansion of sanctions against Islamic Republic of Iran. Therefore, it can be concluded that Russia, and probably China will in the near future, be seriously doubtful towards further continuation of their collaboration with western powers over Iran's nuclear program and, specifically, the implementation of the Security Council resolution 1929. Recent statements of Russian officials suggest that Moscow is greatly displeased with unilateral measures by the United States and the European Union against the Islamic Republic of Iran. For instance, Russian officials who are engaged in Russia’s nuclear energy sector have recently referred to the completion of Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant in near future. At the same time, several Russian officials have emphasized on the possibility of resumption of negotiations with Iran in order to transfer the S-300 air-defense system to Tehran. It seems that both Russia and China show no practical obligation to comply with the full implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1929 because the U.S. tries to leapfrog the will of the international community. Of course, these gaps and differences are as extensive and narrow as the Islamic Republic of Iran is expecting; nevertheless, these gaps and differences can overshadows the meetings of the United Nations Security Council for hearing the UN Secretary General’s report on Iran’s compliance with the resolution 1929. This report is due to be released three months later. As it was pointed out earlier, we should not expect that these gaps and differences compel Russia and China to resort to their veto power in the United Nations Security Council in order to thwart the United States unilateral policies. However, these gaps and differences can persuade Russia, China, and even other UN members to demonstrate their indifference towards the full implementation of the resolution 1929. As it was previously argued, the U.S. and the EU have undermined the role of UN Security Council by resorting to these unilateral measures against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Through adopting such approaches, American and European officials will reduce the role of non-permanent members of the Council to mere instruments for providing international legitimacy for the unknown and unpredicted US demands. Such approaches can hurt the legal status of the United Nations Security Council. As a result, the UN members can reach to the disappointing conclusion that the Security Council, as the only globally legal institution, is gradually becoming an instrument for some permanent members of the Council, especially the US, the UK, and France, for further development of their own interests.

Therefore, we should wait until September in order to witness the reaction of UN members to anti-Iranian measures adopted by the U.S. and the EU. Undoubtedly, the United Nations and its Security Council will be faced with an autumn full of hot debates in this regard. Through primary evaluation of such one-sided anti-Iranian measures and their long-term objectives, many countries will be obliged to react very cautiously towards the implementation of the resolution 1929.

3) Since the adoption of United Nations Security Council resolution 1929, Iranian and foreign observers have raised numerous questions about Russian and Chinese policies towards the Islamic Republic of Iran. In order to find out their answers, these observers have made different arguments. For instance, they argue that volume of trade between China and the United States is so significant that Beijing will be quite cautious not to endanger such a voluminous trade relationship with Washington. Iranian and foreign observers also refer to U.S.-Russian agreements for reducing their arsenal of atomic ballistic missiles (START 2 Agreement) as one of the main issues that compel Russians to act cautiously in their dealings with the United States. In the negotiations about the nuclear program with the so-called 5+1, Iran was more or less hopeful that Russia and China would prevent the ratification of any harsh anti-Iranian resolution in the United Nations Security Council. However, Russian foreign minister’s premature remarks concerning Moscow’s support of the new UN Security Council resolution against Iran shocked various Iranian political circles seriously. This shock was so enormous that President Ahmadinejad addressed Russian leaders in his famous speech in Kerman and, as a result, the relatively cold Siberian wind blew in the atmosphere of Russia-Iran relations.

http://www.iranreview.org/file/cms/files/83(2).jpgHowever, it seems that one important point has not been seriously studied and scrutinized. Despite the fact that both Russia and China have greater interests in their relations with the United States, we should not forget that one important issue is hidden behind Beijing & Moscow’s policies towards Iran. However, before dealing with this important issue, we should be focused on the relationship between China and North Korea and the stability of this relationship during past decades. The China-North Korea relationship has so far prevented harsher international pressures against Pyongyang. This state of affairs is the outcome of China’s policies towards this communist North Korea. In other words, although North Korea has rejected the rules of the game in an international arena dominated by Americans, Pyongyang is still one of the strategic and ideological allies of China in the Korean Peninsula. North Korean officials have, in fact, substituted international equations with the Chinese equation. As a result, they have increased their country’s security index.

Considering Iran's nuclear program, it seems that both Russia and China have concluded that Tehran should act according to the rules of international game and respect these rules. Albeit both Russia and China tried to water down the tone of the resolution 1929, the Islamic Republic of Iran should make a comprehensive assessment of Moscow and Beijing’s support of this resolution and review its strategic interests in international arena. Iran requires supporters in its international relations, if not allies. In its dealing with a delicate issue such as the nuclear program, the Islamic Republic of Iran should observe developments based on rules of the game in equilibriums that are prevalent in an international scale. It seems that both Russia and China have, during recent months, concluded that Iran intends not to follow the known rules of the game. If Iran’s efforts for including Brazil and Turkey, as two new actors, into the negotiation process of nuclear fuel swap had been successful, the monopoly of few traditional major powers, such as the United States, European Union, and, to some extent, Russia and China, over global affairs would have been terminated. In that case, new regionally respectable forces, such as Turkey, would have been able to exert their influence in global affairs and herald the tumbling down of American and European power.

Political observers have ignored another important issue: the United States, Russia and even China were apparently pleased with the presence of Turkey and Brazil in the process of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program; nevertheless, all of them were almost equally concerned with the emergence of new forces in regional and international arena. By playing vital roles in a critical issue like the Iranian nuclear dossier, these newly emerged forces can overshadow the role of other concerned partners in such an important subject. This phenomenon can, in the long run, affect the sphere of influence of major powers and, at the same time, allows the newly-emerged forces to adopt more appropriate policies in order to solve regional and international issues. It is quite clear that major powers are not so much pleased with such a phenomenon. For instance, Turkey’s mediation in the Arab-Israeli conflict is not welcomed by Israel. Israeli leaders are, in fact, worried of such mediation more than any other regional leader. Since several decades ago, Israel has created a severe polarization in the region under the context of “Arab-Jewish” animosity and their historical confrontations with each other. Israelis have so far prevented the introduction of new issues, especially ethical issues, into this equation.

Iran will be faced with a sensitive situation in the international arena during coming months. Due to his familiarity with the scale of these sanctions and his knowledge of Iran’s past experiences in dealing with similar embargos, the author of the present article is doubtful about the effect of such sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, we should never forget that the international arena is like a chessboard. If we are not able to omit the pawns of our opponent one after another, we should be able to act as an intelligent and smart chess player and preserve our own pieces in order to take advantage of them at an appropriate time. Considering the 30- year history of the Islamic Revolution and the unilateral sanctions of the U.S. and western powers against Iran, we can realize that the Islamic Republic of Iran has been transformed into a major power in the region. At the same time, sanctions have encouraged Iranians to multiply their efforts for getting dependent on their own potentials in contemporary era. Nevertheless, we should never forget that all these potentials should be utilized for increasing our national security in international arena.

*Seyed Hussein Mousavi is the President of the Center for Scientific Research and Middle East Strategic Studies (MERC)

Source: Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies (MERC)

More By Seyed Hussein Mousavi:

*Tranquility Will Reign Iran-Arabs Relations: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Tranquility_Will_Reign_Iran_Arabs_Relations.htm

*Future Outlook of Iran Sanctions: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Future_Outlook_of_Iran_Sanctions.htm



Covert War on Iran Illegal and Dangerous

Friday, January 13, 2012

Saeed Kamali Dehghan


These days, more than ever, news from Iran is surrounded in mystery. Whether it's the assassination of nuclear scientists, explosions at military bases, the spread of a computer worm or even the downing (or crash) of a US spy drone, it is difficult to establish with certainty what is really happening.

Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a key figure at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant in central Iran, died in the latest incident, on Wednesday morning.

According to initial reports, two attackers on a motorcycle attached magnetic bombs to Roshan's car, killing him and injuring others. Two other nuclear scientists, Masoud Ali Mohammadi and Majid Shahriari, were killed in similar attacks, one in January 2010, the other in November 2010. Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, Iran's current atomic chief, survived an assassination on the day his colleague, Shahriari, was targeted.

In July last year, Darioush Rezaeinejad, an Iranian academic, was shot dead by gunmen riding on motorcycles. Iran denied that he was involved in nuclear work and one theory is that he was killed in mistake for a scientist with a similar name.

Last November, an explosion was heard in the city of Isfahan, close to sensitive nuclear facilities. Another explosion at a military base killed the architect of the Islamic regime's missile programme along with 16 more of its elite revolutionary guards. A similar blast last year hit a missile base in Khorramabad, Iran's nearest point to Israel.

Stuxnet, a computer worm believed to have been designed to sabotage Iran's enrichment of uranium hit many of the country's centrifuges last year.

Then there was the mysterious affair of the US drone reported missing in Afghanistan, which later turned up in Iran.

It's difficult to view all these incidents as unrelated. Taken as a whole, they suggest that opponents of the Iranian regime have launched a covert campaign aimed at disrupting Iran's nuclear and missile programmes – possibly as an alternative to the more costly option of overt war.

No one has claimed responsibility. Israel is seen as a natural suspect, not only because it has refused to deny involvement but also because of its history of covert operations. The Mossad's kidnapping of the nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, and the systematic killings of people involved in the Black September massacre are just two examples.

Whether or not Israel is behind this campaign in Iran is a mystery. An Israeli military chief was quoted this week as saying cryptically that Iran should expect more "unnatural" events in 2012.

Iran, on the other hand, has pointed a finger at both Israel and the US. Unlike Israel, the US has denied involvement in the assassination of scientists.

Demonstrations at the British embassy in Tehran last November, where protesters carried pictures of the assassinated Shahriari, showed that Iran sees Britain in the loop too.

Iran is right to be suspicious about Britain. Sir John Sawers, the head of MI6, was once caught on the record endorsing covert actions against Iran. "We need intelligence-led operations to make it more difficult for countries like Iran to develop nuclear weapons," he said in a speech in 2010. The role of the Secret Intelligence Service, he added, "is to find out what these states are doing … and identify ways to slow down their access to vital materials and technology".

Sawers's views are echoed by both US and Israeli officials. "We are not happy to see the Iranians move ahead on this [nuclear programme], so any delay, be it divine intervention or otherwise, is welcome," Israel's defence minister, Ehud Barak said recently. In October, a senior US general, Jack Keane, reacted to reports of an Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington by saying: "Why don't we kill them [the revolutionary guards]? … We've got to put our hand around their throat right now."

Such comments do not prove that any of these countries is actually engaged in a covert war against Iran. But no matter who is responsible for the extrajudicial killings and apparent sabotage, one thing should be considered above all: these are illegal actions under international law.

Whether it's an individual simply murdering people or a foreign state inflicting injuries upon the nationals of another state and violating the territorial sovereignty of the Islamic republic, international laws and human rights conventions prohibit such activities.

Supporters of covert war against Iran see it as an alternative to aerial bombing raids or full-scale war. They believe it's a better approach (even though it is illegal) since there are fewer civilian casualties and public confrontation with supporters of Iran, such as Russia and China, can be avoided.

But illegal action will only ruin any chance of dialogue with Tehran. It will encourage Iran to be less prudent and become more radical about its nuclear activities and – most importantly – will encourage Iran to react in a similar fashion with its own covert operations. The covert war against Iran, if not stopped, could escalate out of control.

*Saeed Kamali Dehghan is an award-winning Iranian journalist who writes for The Guardian. He has been named as the 2010 Journalist of the Year in Britain at the Foreign Press Association.

Source: The Guardian


How Obama Should Talk to Iran

Friday, January 13, 2012

Trita Parsi


Just 13 minutes into his presidency, Barack Obama indirectly reached out to Iran in his inaugural address, offering America’s hand of friendship if Tehran would unclench its fist. After eight years of the George W. Bush administration’s ideological contempt for diplomacy with America’s foes, it was a bold move born out of necessity, not desire.

But Obama’s diplomacy has fallen short. After two rounds of talks in October 2009, in which Tehran refused to accept a U.S. confidence-building measure to exchange its low-enriched uranium in return for fuel for a medical research reactor, the sanctions track was activated. Ever since, Iran and the United States have been on a confrontational path. Washington has imposed unprecedented economic sanctions and isolated Iran politically. In turn, the Iranians have threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, amassed more low-enriched uranium and begun enrichment at a facility deep underground.

Rather than resolving the nuclear issue, Iran and the United States are inching closer to a military confrontation. But war is not inevitable. Diplomacy, which the Obama administration prematurely abandoned, can still succeed.

“Our Iran diplomacy was a gamble on a single roll of the dice,” a senior State Department official told me in 2010. In short, it either had to work right away or not at all. In fact, six months after the U.S. talks collapsed, Turkey and Brazil secured a version of the fuel swap that Obama had sought.

Fearing that the failure of the U.S. talks would eventually lead to war, Turkey and Brazil stepped in to persuade Iran to accept the American benchmarks for the fuel swap. To the surprise of many in the White House, Turkey and Brazil succeeded.

But by then, it was too late. The Obama administration was already on the path to sanctions. Brazil and Turkey felt snubbed, temporarily chilling their relations with Washington. (Brazil has since turned its focus to other issues, but Turkey is still involved as an occasional mediator with Iran.)

Instead of continuing toward a war the U.S. military doesn’t want, we should double down on diplomacy, in part by emulating Turkey and Brazil’s efforts. In light of news reports this past week that Iran would be open to talks later this month with the P5+1 negotiating group — China, France, Germany, Russia, Britain and the United States — here are five ways we can learn from Turkey and Brazil’s interactions with Iran.


Talk to Everyone — and Talk a Lot

A paralyzing question often asked in Washington is: Who do we talk to in Iran? The futile search for a sole authoritative Iranian partner often causes diplomacy to be rejected before it even begins. Turkey and Brazil did not fall into this trap. Instead, they recognized that there are many power centers in Iran — including the supreme leader’s office, the parliament, the president’s circle of advisers, the National Security Council and influential clergymen — all of which need to be included in the process.

Just as no country expects to sign a significant deal with the United States without addressing the concerns of the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and Congress, no major decision is likely to be made in Iran unless a range of decision-makers is brought into the discussion. Brazil and Turkey built confidence with the relevant Iranian players and won their support for mediation.

“There is one country that resembles the Iranian power structure,” a prominent journalist close to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told me. “It’s the United States of America. [To get a deal], talking to the president is not enough. You have to talk to everyone.”

Brazil and Turkey did not put time constraints or other limits on their diplomacy, as the United States did by adopting an unrealistic deadline for talks to produce results and by making the fuel swap a condition for expanding diplomacy into other areas.

Between the collapse of the U.S. talks in October 2009 and Brazil and Turkey’s successful mediation in May 2010, Brazil and Turkey spent more time talking to the Iranians than did the entire P5+1 negotiating group. Brazil’s and Turkey’s foreign ministers shuttled in and out of Iran for months before the formal negotiations, building trust and political space for their mediation.


Respect and Tone Matter

After three decades of mutual demonization, the United States and Iran have been trying to coerce one another into submission rather than negotiating toward compromise. When addressing each other, Washington and Tehran tend to use the vocabulary of conflict and war. The Bush administration’s inclusion of Iran in an “axis of evil” effectively terminated a very useful collaboration between the United States and Iran against the Taliban in 2002. Respect for the other side is rarely expressed, out of fear that it would be interpreted as weakness — especially in an election year.

Turkey and Brazil adopted a different approach. “Iran listens because we respect them,” a senior Turkish diplomat involved in the 2010 talks told me. “When you put intimidation and coercion ahead of respect, it falls apart.”


Don’t Limit the Agenda

Reducing 30 years of wide-ranging U.S.-Iran tensions to negotiations focused on one variable — the development of nuclear weapons — is not a formula for success. A larger agenda that includes other issues, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, regional security, and human rights, would provide greater maneuverability. We could overcome a stalemate in one track through headway in another.

For example, Brazil raised the issue of human rights, a sensitive topic for Tehran. Defense Minister Celso Amorim, who was Brazil’s foreign minister during the negotiations, told me how, behind the scenes, he used his many trips to Iran to secure the release of a French student accused of espionage. For future talks to be successful, the agenda should be expanded — and even sensitive issues such as human rights should be included. Not only would this help strengthen relations with the Iranian people, it would also enable the United States to address the plight of Americans imprisoned in Iran.


Put Nuclear Inspections and Verification at the Center

Negotiating whether Iran can enrich uranium has been a losing proposition from the outset. There is a greater chance for success if the focus is shifted toward how enrichment can be inspected, verified, limited and controlled. This would require a clear acceptance of enrichment in Iran — a step the West has refused. In Amorim’s assessment, his success in getting Iran to agree to the fuel swap was largely because the deal tacitly accepted enrichment on Iranian soil.

“Iran would never agree to anything, any kind of arrangement that would in theory or in practice deprive them of the right to enrich uranium,” Amorim told me in 2010.


Get by with a Little Help from Your Friends

Iran’s relationships with every one of the P5+1 countries range from bad to worse. Not a single member of that negotiating group trusts Iran — and vice versa. Resolving the nuclear dispute through a mechanism nearly devoid of trust is a formidable task. Although the Security Council negotiation track cannot be sidestepped, it can be complemented by relying on states that — because of their cordial relations with both the permanent members and Iran — can bring trust to the diplomacy. Beyond Turkey and Brazil, nations such as Norway, Sweden, South Africa, Oman and Qatar can help overcome the current impasse, primarily by bridging the trust gap between Iran and the P5+1. Enlisting their assistance is particularly critical in the next 15 months because there’s a heightened risk that tensions could escalate during the U.S. and Iranian election seasons.

Moreover, trust is an outcome, not a precondition. Rather than putting their trust in Iran, Brazil and Turkey put their trust in the enforcement mechanisms of the fuel-swap agreement, realizing that the talks leading to a deal would help build a strong rapport.

“It’s not about trusting anyone,” an adviser to then-Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva told me in 2010. “It’s about generating the mechanics under which people can prove that they deserve that trust.”

Sustained, persistent diplomacy remains untested between the United States and Iran. It is superior to war and sanctions for the simple fact that, if successful, it not only could prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, but the reduced tensions would lessen Iran’s demand for nuclear deterrence. War and sanctions may limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities, but at the expense of increasing Iran’s desire to have those capabilities. At some point, the desire will overcome these obstacles.

One simply cannot threaten or sanction a country into a sense of security.

*Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council, is the author of the book “A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy With Iran.” tparsi@niacouncil.org

Source: The Washington Post

More By Trita Parsi:

*Reckless Talk of War with Iran Makes Confrontation a Probability: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Reckless_Talk_of_War_with_Iran_Makes_Confrontation_a_Probability.htm

*Is Netanyahu Bluffing Once Again?: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Is_Netanyahu_Bluffing_Once_Again_.htm

*The Geopolitical Battle for the Arab Street: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/The_Geopolitical_Battle_for_the_Arab_Street.htm



Europe and Iran Oil Sanctions

Friday, January 13, 2012

Hamid Reza Shokouhi


Member countries of the European Union (EU) have reportedly reached an agreement to impose sanctions on Iran's oil sector. After the agreement enters into force, the European countries will stop buying oil from Iran. Media reports are, of course, contradictory and this proves that EU member states have not achieved a final agreement yet. However, what if they reached an agreement? Will that agreement be actually enter into force? The following points should be taken into account before answering this question.

1. A large part of Iran's oil exports are destined for non-European countries and oil sales to the EU members have declined in past years. Of course, it would be oversimplification to assert that cutting Iran's oil exports to Europe will cause no problem for the country. It would mean the loss of active customers. However, even in case of agreement over sanctions, it will take time before they actually enter into force. The oil consignments are sold on the basis of long-term contracts in international oil market. Therefore, it is not possible for buyers and sellers to decide to stop buying or selling oil as of tomorrow. As a result, even if sanctions are enforced, it will take time before the impact is felt in Iran.

2. The most important European customers of Iran's oil – except for Turkey which is not a member of EU yet – include exactly the same countries which are entangled in a severe economic crisis now. Spain, Italy, and Greece, import 13-14 percent of their needed oil from Iran. Meanwhile, they are experiencing a more severe form of the ongoing economic crisis compared to other European states. Therefore, it seems that Iran oil sanctions actually exist only on paper and will not be enforced in any near future. It is not yet clear how these three European states, which are grappling with more serious economic problems compared to other EU members, are going to meet their energy demands under the present dire conditions if Iran's oil sanctions are enforced. It is not also known from what alternative source the other EU members are going to supply needed oil to replace it for Iran's crude?

3. It will not be easy for the European countries to find a substitute for the oil that they have traditionally bought from Iran because this would require other oil producing countries to increase crude output. As said before, oil is usually traded between buying and selling countries under long-term contracts and it is not easy to find another supply source over a short period of time. Just in the same way, it is not easy to find new customers for a country’s oil as well. Under these conditions, in case Iran oil sanctions are implemented, European countries will be able to ignore Iran's oil only if another country immediately starts producing surplus oil to make up for the shortage of Iran's crude in the market. A country like Iraq is obviously unable to do this.

Despite intense activities to develop its oil fields, Iraq has not been able to start production from many of those fields yet. Out of all member states of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), only Saudi Arabia has enough potential to compensate for the absence of Iran's oil in Europe. But will Riyadh mobilize its surplus capacity to replace Iran's oil? Two developments make this very improbable.

Firstly, during the recent OPEC meeting which was chaired by Iran, the most important feature was an atmosphere of friendship and congeniality between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Following the meeting, the Saudi oil minister clearly rejected that his country will replace Iran's oil in the market. Of course, past experience has shown that Saudi Arabia supports the West more than Iran. The last OPEC meeting in 2011 whose chairman was Iran's oil minister, led to more proximity between Iran's positions and those of Saudi Arabia with the Saudi oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, admiring Iran's chairmanship of the meeting. During that meeting, Iran did not oppose Saudi Arabia’s proposal to increase the organization’s output ceiling to 30 million barrels per day in order to appease Riyadh. This is the second point which can be used to refute the claim that Saudi Arabia will replace Iran's oil. The increase in OPEC’s daily output required a large part of Saudi Arabia’s surplus capacity. Therefore, Europe cannot count much on Saudi Arabia’s surplus oil to compensate shortage of Iran's oil in the market. However, the double part usually played by Russia should not be ignored here. Russia has huge oil reserves and has never been a trustworthy partner for Iran.

On the whole, it seems that Iran oil sanctions only exist on the paper and will not enter into force in foreseeable future. Two points, however, should be born in mind. Firstly, by following suit with the United States in imposing oil sanctions on Iran, Europe has proven that it is quite serious about accompanying the latest round of anti-Iranian pressures by the United States which also includes sanctions against Iran’s Central Bank. This clearly proves how critical conditions are currently facing Iran, which call for much more diplomatic tact on the part of Tehran. The second point is that when sanctions against Iran's Central Bank are enforced, the country will have to face serious challenges and obstacles for financial exchanges with countries buying its oil. As a result, Iran's oil customers will gradually try to find other sellers in order to supply their needed oil with more ease. In the long run, this may help the West achieve its goals with regard to Iran. It seems that the best solution under present circumstances is for the Iranian Oil Ministry officials to try to keep international oil market calm. To do this, they should emphasize on the importance that Iran attaches to observing the principle of justice in supplying oil to all countries needing it regardless of political issues which may exist among countries. Iran's oil minister as well as the managing director of the National Iranian Oil Company have shown due attention to this point in the past few weeks. Another solution which needs attention from Iran's political and military officials is that they should prevent the West from achieving its goal for fostering more tension in the region. In doing so, they intend to use regional tension as a means of putting more pressure on Iran. Iran's oil sanctions will not be harmful in the short run. However, in the long run and in the absence of correct management of the situation by Iran, they may start to show their impact on the country in various political, economic and military areas.

Source: Mardomsalari Newspaper
Translated By: Iran Review


In Signal to Israel and Iran, Obama Delays War Exercise

Monday, January 16, 2012

Gareth Porter and Jim Lobe


The postponement of a massive joint U.S.-Israeli military exercise appears to be the culmination of a series of events that has impelled the Barack Obama administration to put more distance between the United States and aggressive Israeli policies toward Iran.

The exercise, called "Austere Challenge '12" and originally scheduled for April, was to have been a simulation of a joint U.S.-Israeli effort to identify, track and intercept incoming missiles by integrating sophisticated U.S. radar systems with the Israeli Arrow, Patriot and Iron Dome anti-missile defence systems.

U.S. participation in such an exercise, obviously geared to a scenario involving an Iranian retaliation against an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities, would have made the United States out to be a partner of Israel in any war that would follow an Israeli attack on Iran.

Obama and U.S. military leaders apparently decided that the United States could not participate in such an exercise so long as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to give the administration any assurance that he will not attack Iran without prior approval from Washington.

The official explanation from both Israeli and U.S. officials about the delay was that both sides agreed on it. Both Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Mark Regev, spokesman for Netanyahu, suggested that it was delayed to avoid further exacerbation of tensions in the Gulf.

The spokesman for the U.S. European Command, Capt. John Ross, and Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told Laura Rozen of Yahoo News Sunday that the two sides had decided on the postponement to the second half of 2012 without offering any specific reason for it.

However, Rozen reported Monday that "several current and former American officials" had told her Sunday that the delay had been requested last month by Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak. One official suggested privately that there is concern that the alleged Barak request could be aimed at keeping Israel's options open for a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities in the spring.

But it would make little sense for Netanyahu and Barak to commit Israel to war with Iran before the shape of the U.S. presidential election campaign had become clear. And Barak would want to have knowledge gained from the joint exercise in tracking and intercepting Iranian missiles with the U.S. military before planning such a strike.

Moreover, the Israeli Air Force was still touting the planned manoeuvres as recently as Thursday and, according to Israeli media, was taken by surprise by Sunday's announcement.

The idea that the Israelis wanted the postponement appears to be a cover story to mask the political blow it represents to the Netanyahu government and to shield Obama from Republican charges that he is not sufficiently supportive of Israel. Nevertheless, the signal sent by the delay to Netanyahu and Barak, reportedly the most aggressive advocates of a strike against Iran in Israel's right-wing government, could hardly be lost on the two leaders.

Obama may have conveyed the decision to Netanyahu during what is said to have been a lengthy telephone discussion between the two leaders Thursday night. Iran policy was one of the subjects Obama discussed with him, according to the White House press release on the conversation.

The decision to postpone the exercise may have been timed to provide a strong signal to Netanyahu in advance of this week's visit to Israel by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey. Dempsey reportedly expressed grave concern at a meeting with Obama last fall about the possibility that Israel intended to carry out a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities without consulting with Washington in advance.

Obama has been quoted as responding that he had "no say" in Israel's policy, much to Dempsey's dismay.

The coincidence of the announced delay with Dempsey's mission thus suggests that the new military chief may inform his Israeli counterpart that any U.S. participation in a joint exercise like "Austere Challenge '12" is contingent on Israel ending its implicit threat to launch an attack on Iran at a time of its own choosing.

http://www.iranreview.org/file/cms/files/32(5).jpgThis apparent rift between the two countries comes in the wake of a series of moves by Israel and its supporters here that appeared aimed at ratcheting up tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

In November and December, U.S. neoconservatives aligned with Netanyahu's Likud Party and what is sometimes called the Israel lobby engineered legislation that forced on the Obama administration a unilateral sanctions law aimed at dramatically reducing Iranian crude oil exports and "collapsing" its economy.

The administration's reluctant embrace of sanctions against the oil sector and the Iran's Central Bank led in turn to an Iranian threat to retaliate by closing off the Strait of Hormuz. The risk of a naval incident suddenly exploding into actual military conflict suddenly loomed large.

Netanyahu and Barak are widely believed to have hoped to provoke such conflict with a combination of more aggressive sanctions, sabotaging Iranian missile and nuclear facilities, and assassinations against individual scientists associated with the nuclear programme.

Amid tensions already reaching dangerous heights, Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was assassinated in Tehran in a bombing Jan. 11. Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor immediately condemned the assassination and vehemently denied any U.S. involvement in that or any other violence inside Iran.

It was the first time the U.S. government had chosen to distance itself so dramatically from actions that mainstream media has generally treated as part of a joint U.S.-Israeli policy.

U.S. officials told Associated Press Saturday that Israel was considered responsible for the killing, and the London Times published a detailed account of what it said was an Israeli Mossad operation.

The killing of the nuclear scientist also came in the context of what appears to be an intensification of diplomatic activity that most observers believe is designed to lay the groundwork for another P5+1 meeting (the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany). It has been widely assumed for the past week or so that here another P5+1 meeting will be held with Iran by the end of this month or early next.

While recent published stories about Washington's communicating with Tehran through intermediaries stressed U.S. warnings about its "red lines" in responding to any Iranian move to close the Strait of Hormuz, those same communications may also have conveyed greater diplomatic flexibility on the nuclear issue in the hope of achieving some progress toward an agreement.

Mossad is believed to have assassinated at most a handful of Iranian nuclear scientists – not enough to slow down the Iranian programme. And the timing of those operations has strongly suggested that the main aim has been to increase tensions with the United States and sabotage any possibility for agreement between Iran and the West on Iran's nuclear programme, if not actually provoke retaliation by Iran that could spark a wider conflict.

The assassination of nuclear scientist Majid Shariari and attempted assassination of his colleague, Fereydoon Abbasi on Nov. 29, 2010, for example, came just a few days after Tehran had reportedly agreed to hold a second meeting with the P5+1 in Geneva Dec. 6-7.

A major investigative story published Friday on the website foreignpolicy.com quoted former CIA officials as saying that Mossad operatives had been impersonating CIA personnel for several years in recruiting for and providing support to the Sunni terrorist organisation Jundallah, which operated inside Iran. That Israeli policy also suggested a desire to provoke Iranian retaliation against the United States.

*Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in 2006.

Jim Lobe's blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at http://www.lobelog.com.

Source: Inter Press Service

More By Jim Lobe:

*US House Committee Okays Sweeping Sanctions on Iran: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/U_S_House_Committee_Okays_Sweeping_Sanctions_on_Iran.htm

*U.S. Accuses Tehran of "Secret Deal" with Al-Qaeda: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/U_S_Accuses_Tehran_of_Secret_Deal_with_Al_Qaeda.htm

*Egypt’s Moves Raising Anxiety in Washington: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Egypt%E2%80%99s_Moves_Raising_Anxiety_in_Washington.htm



Military Attack on Iran: Anatomy of Israel’s Intentions

Monday, January 16, 2012

Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour
University Faculty Member, International Issues Analyst & IRFA Editor-in-Chief



During the past couple of months, the military option against Iran – including attacks on its nuclear facilities – has showed up in headlines around the world, especially after the controversial report on Iran’s nuclear energy program by the Director General of the IAEA in the November 2011 meeting of the Agency’s governing council. The logic and quality of such an attack have been debated and questioned by policymakers as well as analysts. The consensus in all these debates is that any military attack on Iran will have disastrous consequences at the regional and global levels, especially at this juncture; triggering a plethora of conflicts, shaking traditional balances of power and increasing strategic ambiguities and a host of economic and financial crises. In this tense context, one of the most striking questions would be "what are the intentions behind a military attack on Iran?"

In response, one needs to discern between a military attack as "discourse" and a military attack as an "action". Discourse relates to action so it may be conceived to be the prelude to any physical assault. However, discourse and action in regards to a military attack on Iran have their own autonomous spaces, rationales and players. A common element in both, which serves as the intellectual linkage, is the intention. Be it discourse, a prelude to action or need for a military attack, it is highly important to identify and deconstruct the intentions of these actors who design, fuel and lead the military option. There is no secret that though not being the lone player in this game, Israel remains the most active one. Israeli intentions are multilayered, responding to simultaneous emotional, political and strategic needs and calculus.

Domestically, Israel, suffering from polarization and radicalization of the very deferential concepts of "who is a Jew" and "who is an Israeli" – in the eyes of the ruling right-wing elites - can be reconstituted by using an external power to defuse the undeniable cracks in its structural cause. Thus, an attack on Iran, in the domestic politics of Israel, seems to be a remedy to cure open national wounds of unbridgeable divides in ethnicity, religiosity, identity and loss of meaning. Regionally, Israel by all indices and measures, is the loser of the Islamic awakening the Arab Spring. The days when the defunct Mubarak of Egypt and Netanyahu, accompanied by their conservative Arab elites, could discuss and design anti-Iranian scenarios have been replaced with a political setting in which normalized relations between Iran and Egypt is a matter that cannot be stopped. Furthermore, for the first time in the history of Israel, the perception of its military might as absolute and invincible is challenged by the emergence of new realities.

Globally, nowadays, sympathy for the Palestinian people is at its height and support for Israel is scarce, and only found in the American Congress, where Netanyahu gets equal if not more standing ovations than the sitting U.S president. Internationally, Israel’s actions and behavior are clearly known to be the most tantalizing impediments to the fulfillment of the rights of the Palestinians as well as the real source of instability in the Middle East. The number one problem of this region is the plight of the Palestinians. Through a focus on the imaginary threat of Iran and fanning the flames against the Islamic Republic, Israel is trying to divert attention from and misplace the real regional and global priorities.

Source: Iranian Review of Foreign Affairs (IRFA)

More By Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour:

*Attacking Iran: Intention, Possibility and Limitations: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Attacking_Iran_Intention_Possibility_and_Limitations.htm

*Libyan Developments and International Politics: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Libyan_Developments_and_International_Politics.htm

*Arab World Uprisings: An Iranian View: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Arab_World_Uprisings_An_Iranian_View.htm



Iran's Oil Ban Wages a Psychological Warfare

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Iran's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast describes the European Union (EU) as a major rival of the US, cautioning the bloc against the consequences of acting as a Washington client.

The US seeks to beat out its rival, Mehmanparast said.

He referred to the recent US-led threats of imposing an oil embargo against Tehran and stated that the European countries are not prepared to engage in serious talks over discontinuing their purchase of crude oil from Iran.

They have even announced plans to impose sanctions for merely three months or postponing the effort for another year, he noted.

The Iranian spokesperson said that the public in the European countries expect their officials to adopt policies independent of the US and in favor of their own national interests.

Mehmanparast emphasized that the issues regarding the enforcement of sanctions against Iran's oil sector are intended to wage a psychological warfare on the Islamic Republic.

Iran's Foreign Ministry Spokesman also said that the US letter regarding the Strait of Hormuz does not show any change in US behavior.

The US note cannot indicate a serious change in Washington approaches and its relations with Tehran, Mehmanparast said.

He added that Tehran would respond “if necessary” to the US letter.

He also said Iran would revise its attitude towards Washington if the US officially recognized the rights of the Iranian nation, stopped violating them, expressed regret over its hostile measures over the years, and vowed to refrain from continuing them.

However, such changes have not been seen in the attitude of American officials, Mehmanparast said.

He stressed that committing acts of terror against young Iranian scientists is not a “good and appropriate sign” that the US is working towards the potential resumption of ties with Iran.



Strait of Hormuz as Iran’s Trump Card:

Legal Foundations

Friday, December 23, 2011

Ali Omidi


During the past few months, the United States and Israel, backed by Britain and France, have been escalating confrontation with Iran. Imposing tough economic sanctions against Iran, covert support for the armed opposition groups (including PJAK) fighting Iran, assassination of Iranian scientists, and intensification of the West’s cyber warfare are but few examples which attest to the above fact. On December 13, 2011, a renowned Iranian columnist writing for Kayhan daily noted that Iran should get ready to close the Strait of Hormuz. Hossein Shariatmadari, a top analyst who usually reflects the Iranian inner circle's political viewpoints, argued that the West’s hostility towards Iran is reaching a critical point which requires tough reaction such as preventing enemies from using the Strait of Hormuz. He clearly recommended that if sanctions were actually imposed on the Central Bank of Iran or in the event that an oil embargo was enforced against the country, Iran should not hesitate to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz to its enemies. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei has already warned that “Iran is not a nation to sit still and just observe threats from vulnerable materialist powers which have been corrupted from the inside.” He also warned that any country attacking Iran should brace for the “strong counterblows and the fist of steel” of Iran's Army, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and Basij. Similar positions have been frequently repeated by the Iranian mass media on a daily basis.

Meanwhile, the US Senate has unanimously approved new economic sanctions against Iran targeting the country's Central Bank and oil industry despite warnings that the move may backfire by harming the US interests. The sanctions bill, which was passed by 100 ayes and no nays, bans foreign firms from doing business with the Iranian Central Bank. The bill has also been passed by the House of Representatives through overwhelming votes of 410-11 and 418-2. Before becoming a law, it should be endorsed by President Barack Obama, who seems to have his own doubts in the election year. The European Union has also imposed fresh sanctions on 180 Iranian officials and firms over Tehran's nuclear program. EU ministers agreed in their Summit meeting in Brussels to work on other measures that could target Iran's energy sector. Of course, they failed to reach an agreement to impose oil embargo against Iran, and postponed discussions on this issue until next January. Japan, for its part, has joined the sanctions club against Tehran by deciding to extend its sanctions on Iran to include 267 organizations, 66 individuals and 20 banks. Meanwhile, South Korea has announced that it is seeking to join Western powers in sanctioning Iran.

On the other hand, senior Iranian decision-makers believe that if the Strait of Hormuz does not function for Iran, it definitely would not be usable by its enemies. In this regard, the Iranian lawmaker, Parviz Sarvari, told the student news agency ISNA, “We will soon hold military exercises during which, Iran's military will close the Strait of Hormuz. If the world wants to make the region insecure, we will make the world insecure.” Although there are doubts about Iran actually implementing such threats, even making them will have disastrous outcomes for strained economy of the West, especially the US. The region seems to be perched on a powder keg only waiting for a spark, possibly from Hawkish politicians in the US and its allies.

Why Iran is planning such exercises in the Strait of Hormuz and why the West is still doubtful about imposing crippling sanctions against the country? For the following reasons, the Strait of Hormuz has unique strategic advantages which may potentially affect global economy and politics;

1. The Strait of Hormuz is the only waterway through which eight littoral states of the Persian Gulf have access to international waters.

2. On average, a giant tanker ship passes through this waterway every ten minutes.

3. The Persian Gulf accounts for about 90 percent of global oil exports and many ocean-going tanker ships have to pass through the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

4. More than 40 percent of global oil demand is met by the Persian Gulf states.

5. Military cargoes sent by the United States and European countries for the Persian Gulf littoral states reach their destinations by passing through the Strait of Hormuz.

6. According to the US Energy Information Administration (Energy Information Administration) total oil exports through the Straits of Hormuz will hit 35 million barrels per day by 2020.

http://www.iranreview.org/file/cms/files/Hormuz1.gifIran believes its enemies should know that they are not in full control of the political chess. If Tehran is to be deprived of oil exports or face paralyzing sanctions, the Strait of Hormuz will be no more secure for tanker ships carrying commercial goods or weapons from and to its enemies.

Iran has based its position on the Geneva Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone (1958). Although Iran is a signatory to Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982), it has not ratified it yet and the convention is not binding for Tehran. Hence, Tehran is only under the legal bounds of the aforesaid Geneva Convention.

Article 14 of the Geneva Convention (1958) stipulates: “Subject to the provisions of these articles, ships of all States, whether coastal or not, shall enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea.”

Paragraph 4 of the same Article says: "Passage is innocent so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State. Such passage shall take place in conformity with these articles and with other rules of international law."

Paragraph 1, Article 16 of the Convention has also noted:

"The coastal State may take the necessary steps in its territorial sea to prevent passage which is not innocent."

According to Paragraph 3, Article 16:

"Subject to the provisions of paragraph 4, the coastal State may, without discrimination amongst foreign ships, suspend temporarily in specified areas of its territorial sea, the innocent passage of foreign ships if such suspension is essential for the protection of its security. Such suspension shall take effect only after having been duly published."

These principles have been also repeated with minor modifications in articles 17 to 23 of the 1982 Convention on Law of the Seas. The latter convention, however, has made a fundamental change to the legal regime of international straits which Tehran has not accepted yet.

According to these articles (of the Geneva Convention), firstly, ships will be only allowed to cross the Strait of Hormuz if "security, order, and rights of littoral state (here Iran)" are respected and their innocent passage can be verified. Paragraph 4, Article 14; and Paragraph 1, Article 16 of the Geneva Convention (1958) emphasize that verifying innocent passage of ships through a waterway (here the Strait of Hormuz) is up to the coastal state in question (Iran).

For these reasons, Iranian politicians have been posing this question: If Iran's oil exports were disrupted by the United States, the European countries and their Asian allies such as Japan, could Iran consider passage of tanker ships carrying oil for those countries through the Strait as “innocent?”

Tehran believes that the answer is definitely no. Iran has indicated that it is Tehran's right to block the passage of enemy vessels, so as to prevent respective countries from gaining more power to threaten Iran. Passage of vessels belonging to presumed enemies through Iran's territorial waters, especially military vessels and those carrying arms is considered harmful to the security of the littoral states (here Iran) and blocking their passage is inalienable right of Tehran. Perhaps closure of the Strait of Hormuz would not continue for a long time, but even temporary closure of the waterway will have disastrous outcomes for the global economy and international peace. Unfortunately, the White House Hawks seem to be easily ignoring this fact!

*Dr. Ali Omidi is Assistant Professor of International Relations in the University of Isfahan, Iran.

More By Ali Omidi:

*The Ultra-Importance of Turkish AKP’s Parliamentary Victory for Iran: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/The_Ultra_Importance_of_Turkish_AKP’s_Parliamentary_Victory_for_Iran.htm




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