Friday, January 13, 2006

Unity on Iran?

I took some good-natured ribbing from colleagues who felt my comments in the Christian Science Monitor expressing concern as to whether the United States could bring together a consensus on what to do about Iran were too pessimistic and that, in the last week or so, a common position was set to emerge.

But the Scotsman is reporting that, at present, there is no consensus between Britain, France and China over what to do next; while the British are angling for referral to the Security Council with an eye to imposing sanctions, the French want to concentrate on the IAEA meeting and the Chinese are already making noises that this issue shouldn't even be brought to the Council for discussion.

Iran is a classic case of a problem that is given different priority by different powers. No major power wants a nuclear Iran, that is very true. But that doesn't mean that the question--which many people feel will be the defining problem of U.S. foreign policy in 2006--is seen by other powers as their most pressing concern, or that the threat posed by a nuclear-capable Iran is equally threatening to each power. I've always felt that China and Russia would be prepared to live with a nuclear-capable Iran, since they've already adjusted to India and Pakistan having the bomb (and the Indian nuclear program is more directly threatening to China and extremists hostile to Russia would be much more likely to get a nuclear device from Pakistan, particularly if the current government falls, than from Iran, whose mullahs have never backed Chechen or other Caucasian radical movements). The EU-3 is currently dealing with the humiliation of having their diplomatic efforts come to naught and not being able to hand Washington and the Bush Administration a victory for European diplomatic superiority--so referral to the Security Council may be something they agree upon, but beyond that I think the consensus breaks down.

Getting a general statement of concern passed the Security Council, fine, but stronger action, not at this point, unless Ahmednejad continues his track record of stupidity. Interesting to see, by the way, whether Iran's "Supreme Leader" will at some point feel the need to step in, or whether Rafsanjani will use the current president's diplomatic blunders as a way to force him from power.

Iran needs to be dealt
For Iran to be "dealt with" there needs to be a credible military alternative available. Nobody wants military action as a first resort, but the President's remarks as well as those of some of the Europeans seem to give the impression that if diplomacy fails nothing else will be done, and this is encouragement to the more confrontational mullahs who argue that Iran can survive sanctions.
It's widely believed (by western Soviet/Russian experts) that Afghanistan affair (coupled with low oil prices and high defense spending)
was one of the major reasons for the USSR collapse. If Iraq did not teach US elites anything, well, let them invade Iran.
All the components for the recipe are there: double deficit, stronger euro, pension and real testate balloons. We are missing a military component...
In re Iranian President Ahmadinejad's "track record of stupidity," given the paranoid style of politics in the region, in the event that he is pushed aside, I'll be looking forward to the "revelation" by one of the regional papers or satellite "news" outlets that he's really an agent of the CIA, the Mossad, or both!
Nicholas, May I ask your own view of economic sanctions? My impressions from a distance are that if Russia and China do not approve, the burden would fall on the EU to impose them (I don't think the US has any direct trade). It is hard to see how an embargo would be enforceable given Iran's extensive and porous land borders. Economic sanctions will not prevent Iran from proceeding with its nuclear development, and given the breadth and depth of public support in Iran for this development it is hard for me to see economic sanctions undermining support for the current regime in Tehran anytime soon.

If you go into the efficacy of an embargo in your spring issue, then perhaps we should wait a month or so for your view there. But if you can say anything right now about economic sanctions I would be very interested to know what you think.
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