Saturday, December 04, 2004

Taking Europe for a Ride

Not my title, but one borrowed from Arab News published in Saudi Arabia, written by journalist Amir Taheri.

As a comment on the situation in Iran, it is such a complete analysis of the situation, viz-à-viz the EU, that it defies precis, without losing the essence. Unusually, therefore, I have decided to publish the article in full, on this Blog:

In a manner that recalls haggling in a Persian bazaar, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Islamic Republic of Iran are engaged in a tussle about the meaning of their recently concluded bargain over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Earlier this month Tehran agreed to “completely freeze” its uranium enrichment program in exchange for economic and technological goodies from the European Union. But just moments after the deal was announced Tehran declared that the promised "freeze" was neither complete nor permanent.

"This is a voluntary and temporary freeze," Hassan Rouhani, the mulla who headed Tehran's team in talks with the EU said. "We can end it whenever necessary."

Then Muhammad El-Baradei, the head of the IAEA, reported that the "freeze", had ended before it started because Tehran insisted it should keep 20 centrifuges running, producing hexafluoride gases needed to make atomic bombs. A couple of days later Tehran came back with another promise to honour the deal, thus calming the game and postponing confrontation for a few more months. In another context, and another time, this was known as the “ cheat-and-retreat” tactic.

Cartesians would describe the method used by the European Union to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions as “drowning the fish”. In other words the EU has chosen to completely miss the point. The Iranian nuclear program is a geo-strategic issue that concerns vital aspects of regional and international politics, not a technical one about centrifuges and a temporary “freeze” in uranium enrichment. (Incidentally, the deal left out Iran’s plutonium program altogether.)

Let us make a few points clear before tackling the real issue.

First, the problem between the IAEA and Tehran is not about an attempt by big powers, especially the United States, to deprive Iran of its rights. A recent article in The Washington Post presents the whole issue as an attempt by the Bush administration to prevent poor little Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons against Russia, Pakistan, and Israel.

Iran may well be threatened by the countries mentioned; and, even if it is not, its leaders may have the right to mistakenly assume such a threat. Iran also has the right to develop nuclear weapons. What it does not have the right to do is to continue enjoying the benefits of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a signatory while violating it by developing a nuclear weapons' "surge capacity".

Contrary to what The Washington Post article pretends, nobody is trying to impose anything "imperialistic" or "neoconic" on the mullas who may or may not be as angelic as he thinks. All that is demanded is that they either comply with the NPT or get out and do as they please. Membership of he NPT is not obligatory for any country. Many countries that wanted to develop nuclear weapons stayed out of the NPT — among them France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, Egypt and, more recently, North Korea.

But even then this is not the real issue. Everyone knows that the current Iranian leaders have decided to develop a nuclear weapons capacity as part of the National Defense Doctrine that they put place in the mid-1990s. The nuclear capacity is one of the three pillars of that doctrine. (The other two are a large ground army to sustain heavy casualties in a long war, and a missiles program to make up for the weakness of the Iranian Air Force.)

All that is no secret. EU ambassadors in Tehran would know this by reading the newspapers, following the debates in the Islamic Consultative Assembly, and listening to Friday sermons by establishment mullas.

My guess is that the EU knows that Tehran is determined to obtain a nuclear weapons capacity. The EU must also know that Tehran will not abandon a key element of its defense doctrine to please powers that it regards as "satanic".

So, why is the EU playing this charade?

One reason is that EU is run by techno-bureaucrats masquerading as politicians. The techno-bureaucrat cannot conceive of an adversary that does not play the game by his rules. We are witnessing a clash of cultures. On the European side we have the products of a society in which politics is defined as the art of distributing resources, accommodating differences, and placing laws made by consensus above faith and ideology. In that type of politics there is no right and wrong, no good and evil, as such — only legal and illegal.

The practitioner of that type of politics interprets his lack of critical judgment as tolerance of diversity.

On the other side we have the Khomeinist politicians who regard their brand of Islam as the only true religion that should, one day, conquer the world. They claim that, with the Soviet Union in the dust bin of history, their regime offers the only alternative vision of the world to that of the United States.

They see the Middle East as the immediate battleground between the two visions because both the Islamic Republic and the United States are now committed to changing the regional status quo. The US wants to do so by fostering democratic regimes, starting with Afghanistan and Iraq. The Islamic Republic wants to unite the region under the banner of Khomeinist Islam.

The US is promoting a two-state solution for the Palestine-Israel conflict. The Islamic Republic is committed to a one-state solution, to be known as Palestine, in which Jews would ultimately become a minority. The US, and the West in general, regard their concept of human rights as the highest of values. The present leaders in Tehran see it, in the words of Khomeini, as a “Jewish-Crusader plot” to undermine Islamic culture.

The mullas know that, sooner or later, these two visions will clash in the Middle East. They are not prepared to let the US remold the Middle East after its own fashion. They also believe that they can win the battle of ideas. Their only fear is that, at some point, American military power would not only check their ambitions but threaten their regime. They see nuclear weapons as a deterrent against the use of American military power to thwart their plans for the kind of Middle East that the late ayatollah dreamed of.

"Had Saddam had nuclear weapons, he would still be in power," says Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the key figures in the Tehran establishment.

The EU knows that it cannot prevent Iran from building a nuclear arsenal. The diplomatic circus, in which the IAEA is enlisted as clown, is aimed at fudging the issue by nurturing false hopes of a negotiated solution. Michel Barnier, the French foreign minister, let the cat out of the bag when he said that all that the EU wanted was "to prevent another Iraq."

In other words, the EU has organized this Punch-and-Judy show to deprive the US, regarded by Barnier & Co as a "rogue hyper-power", of an excuse to use force against the mullas. This may well be a laudable objective. But it does not answer the real question: Can the region, and, indeed, the world, including the EU, be comfortable with the prospect of a regime with messianic ambitions being armed with nuclear weapons in the Middle East?

I could not even begin to put this better myself, and what gives the article its power is that it is written by an Arab, from an Arab perspective. Furthermore, as this is not a Eurosceptic "rant", it gains even more power in illustrating the utter fatuity and the destructive negativity of the EU policy towards Iran. This article should be given the widest possible circulation.

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