October 4, 2008
In May 2003, the Iranian Foreign Ministry, with the approval of the leadership, sent to the United States through the Swiss embassy in Tehran, a proposal for the settlement of all outstanding problems. The Ministry asked in return for “full access to peaceful nuclear technology”, accepting tight IAEA conditions. The proposal also held out the prospect of Iranian acceptance of the Saudi-instigated Arab League Declaration of Beirut of 2002, implying recognition of Israel following a settlement of the Palestinian issues. It also offered to stop supporting Palestinian opposition groups and to put pressure on Hizbollah to confine itself to civilian activities in Lebanon. Washington quickly rejected the proposal because of alleged Iranian unwillingness to hand over Saudis suspected of Al Qaeda membership. The Swiss government was apparently reprimanded by the US for passing on the proposal. This reaction of the Bush Administration beggars belief, but is documented and reflected the then Cheney-Rumsfeld-Bush view of the world.
The clock cannot be turned back. What can be done now? The choices remain:
- Economic coercion
Christoph Bertram, in his ISS Chaillot paper of 8/08 “Rethinking Iran: From confrontation to cooperation” objectively analyses with his usual clarity the present situation and the various scenarios. His starting point is that past policies have failed and neither military not economic actions are the solution: I agree, at least not on their own (except to make clear that any nuclear attack on Israel would result in devastating retaliation). The value of the paper is in how Bertram seeks to place the relationship on a new basis of ‘partnership’, although he still comes to a cautiously pessimistic solution on the resolution of the nuclear issue.
It is reasonable to assume that the United States will be willing to engage with Iran after the Presidential election. In which case, the Europeans will surely lift their unwise pre-condition that Tehran must first suspend its uranium enrichment programme.
Serious progress will not be made without our understanding better Iranian attitudes after nearly two centuries of colonial humiliation (first Russian and British and then American, for the last half-century) Washington has budgeted $60 000 in 2008 to foment domestic protest
It is also essential not to characterise Iran as a pariah state or an “axis of evil” (nor indeed the US as the “Great Satan”) nor to seek regime change. Iran is neither a real dictatorship nor a totalitarian or police state. There are different groups fighting for influence and there is a surprisingly vibrant civil society. Internet usage stands at 40% and there are 70-100 000 bloggers. Iranians still manage to interact with European trends and culture. Public opinion (and there is a discernible public opinion) appears to favour better relations with the US.
Finally, the present Western policy is based on a mixture of containment, confrontation and sanctions. Can confrontation be replaced by détente? And even, in the words of de Gaulle, “détente, entente, cooperation.”
This may sound like naïve dreaming at this moment but, if – as I do – you believe that Iran wants, above all, to return to the international fold and recover its regional dominance, which the US bestowed upon it under the Shah. Iran holds the principal key to stability in the Middle East (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine…). Iranian aspects of a democratic, pluralistic society should be appreciated as should the potential great benefits of a successful partnership.
Having lived in Iran in 1975-7, I am witness to living in a society that was so devoid of trust that Iranians seemed even to have lost trust in themselves – hence their general indecisiveness. I fear that this distrust remains. But they are a highly intelligent people, on the whole very well educated, who can make a great contribution to regional and thus global stability. But this will time. Trust can only be built from working together. There is, however, no immediate nuclear danger. Having said this, the Israeli concerns cannot be ignored (which I fear Bertram does).
We may enjoy the luxury of rational analysis; but even a one per cent threat to the Israelis as existentialist.
Support from China and Russia would be very welcome and indeed highly influential. That from the former is more assured than from the latter.Author : Stanley Crossick