May 31, 2009
Like many others, I’ve always believed that peace in the Greater Middle East begins with resolving the Israel-Palestine issue. I have changed my mind.
I now believe that the key to peace begins with the Iran-US axis, not on the Israel-Palestine dispute. And agreement with Iran is becomng a real possibility. Barack Obama’s approach is a refreshing change from that of his predecessor, although his negotiating freedom is still circumscribed by domestic politics. Despite the belligerent utterances of the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the power and decision-making capacity on foreign policy and the nuclear issue rests with Ayatollah Khameini. The signs are that the current régime in Tehran believes that it is in Iran’s interests to achieve an overall settlement. Instability in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan is not in its interests.
Iran wishes to be welcomed back into the international scene, to be recognized as the regional power, to see all embargoes lifted, and to receive substantial inward investment. The US (and Europe) wish to ensure that Iran does not become a military, nuclear power, and ceases to support Hizbollah and Hamas.
The dividends sought by both sides are not difficult to meet, except for the nuclear issue, where an agreement is needed without loss of face. Iran insists on its right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, but it is unclear whether Iran intends to develop nuclear arms. Iran should be permitted to continue enriching uranium, our accepting at face value assurances that this is for non-military use only. However, there needs to be a tight inspection regime. Tehran has indicated that it is prepared in principle to accept an exceptional degree of inspection
Iran could be invited to Barack Obama’s planned major nuclear security conference next year. The agenda is likely to address disarmament, non-proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The US is encouraging India, Pakistan and Israel to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and North Korea to come back: early success is unlikely. However, there could be a commitment to explore seriously a nuclear free zone in the Middle East, that might come to fruition some years later. In such changed environment, a universal accord could then be sought, with extensive and effective monitoring and verification provisions. By adopting this approach, Iran will have been admitted to the ‘club’ and not singled out for action. The context within which Iran submits to the conditions will apply to all the countries present, and thus Iran will not singled out and lose face.
Likely consequences of an agreement with Iran are:
· Hamas & Hizbollah would be seriously weakened.
· Syria will want a peace treaty with Israel.
· Lebanon should be able to gain stability with a weakened Hizbollah and a non-interfering Syria.
· The situation in Iraq should be improved, although the extent of Iranian involvement in Iraq is unclear.
· Iran would be a constructive influence in Afghanistan, bearing in mind its serious drug problem with 1.2 million drug addicts, according to official figures.
· Iran would be a constructive influence in Pakistan, not welcoming an unstable neighbour with nuclear capability.
· Finally, this should clear the way for an Israeli-Palestine peace settlement.
It is reasonable to expect that Iran would no longer give the same degree of support to Hizbollah and Hamas, and might even use its considerable influence to encourage them to adopt a more moderate line in Lebanese politics and in the Palestinian civil war. But, of course, neither Hizbollah nor Hamas are Iranian puppets and considerable further effort would still be needed to achieve a settlement.
Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But positive thinking seeking to bring hope. Rumblings in Jerusalem and echoes in Washington suggest that the Israelis could well attack Iran if the nuclear issue is not resolved. That would be a disaster for and beyond the region.
Author : Stanley Crossick