Category Archives: iran

Flavour of the Month: Iran

How can Iran be made to stop enriching uranium? How soon, if not already, before Iran starts using this uranium for a weapons program? Will Obama suport an Israeli strike on Iran? Or, perhaps the US will initiate military action itself? What are the effects of the current American and EU sanctions, will they cripple the regime? Will Russia, China, and India finally cooperate with the EU and US on sanctions? Will Iran block the Strait of Hormuz?

These are some of the questions that foreign policy makers, commentators, and journalists have been obsessing about the past fortnight.

India’s second largest supplier of oil is Iran; Iran is also a vital part of the western asian regional security architecture, especially with the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. India thus has plenty at stake. However, characteristic of  our foreign policy thinking, India has failed to articulate a clear position on the Iranian situation. Rather, Pranab Mukherjee stated that India will not cooperate with the sanctions as it has pressing energy needs which it can not ignore.  India will make 45 percent of payment for Iranian oil in rupees, and thereby remain outside the realm of sanctions; part of the rupee payments will also be deposited in two private Iranian banks, escaping also the sanctions imposed on state-owned Iranian banks.

While India seems to have found a way around the sanctions at the moment, this mostly  amounts to buying time. If the sanctions extend to even private Iranian banks in June, as Obama promises, the rupee option will look increasingly bleak.

India will do well to take an actual position on the stand-off between Iran and the West, else it will be relegated to being a mere spectator in an area vital its strategic interests. Moreover, membership of the great-power club requires taking a policy stand on issues, not employing merely a series of reactive tactics, from one situation to the next.

If india wants to be taken seriously and guard its vital interests, it might consider the following.

first,  iran is not actually in violation of international law. The IAEA has stated in no unclear terms that there is no evidence of a weapons program, and that  Iran has not violated international law. Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), member states are permitted to have nuclear weapons capability, and the legal red line according to the NPT’s ‘Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement’ is the diversion of nuclear material to a weapons program. However, multiple experts and official reports have confirmed over the years that no such program exists.

second, as R.Scott Kemp, a Princeton research scholar highlights, under international treaties aimed at preventing nuclear proliferation, if a state begins uranium enrichment, this comes with the obligation to be open to international inspections. iran currently has inspectors monitoring the Natanz and Fordo enrichment facilitates, and has been generally cooperative with IAEA inspections. If Iran ends uranium enrichment, it is no longer under obligation to be open to international inspection; this means that it could in fact have greater freedom in constituting a nuclear enrichment and weapons program in secret. accordingly, continuing to allow Iran to enrich uranium might be the best way to prevent iran from developing nuclear capability.

third, consider iran’s security environment, and it seems unlikely that iran will ever  completely give up its nuclear program. the US has orchestrated regime change in iran once before  ( the United States overthrew Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953, supporting the Shah afterward) and US military bases surrond Iran ( see this map from informed content); Obama, at the recent State of the Union address stated: “America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal.”  Israel has numerous nuclear heads and some speculate, and with good reason, that Israel was behind the recent murder of iranian scientists.  The difference in the international community’s response to North Korea and Libya has also reminded the Iranian leadership about the importance of a nuclear deterrence; the American occupation of Iraq an Afghanistan, while simultaneously wooing Pakistan, drives home a similar point. The nuclear capability option provides Iran with an essential insurance policy; moreover, in the event that fuel supply is disrupted by future military strikes, it makes sense for Iran to  stockpile more  enriched uranium than they need right now for their research reactor.  Even critics of the regime are aware of the threats Iran faces;  a 2010 University of Maryland survey noted that 55 per cent of Iranians support the pursuit of a nuclear program, and 38 per cent support the building of a nuclear bomb, that  even the worst critics of the regime support Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear programme, especially in light of the bellicose regional environment.

fourth,  the sanctions are not really aimed at the nuclear program, but regime change. to get the sanctions lifted, iran would have to release political prisoners, cease violent repression of protestors, take steps towards establishing an effective judiciary etc. While these might be laudable goals,they are clearly far beyond the ambit of the NPT. the threat of iran developing nuclear weapons capability is simply being used to re-order the Iranian state, with the false claim that it is violating international law. it is worth noting that conflict is fundamentally built into the logic that any foreign regime that is not similar to us in values and mind-set, should be replaced by a regime more friendly and capable of advancing our interests in the region.Given these provisions, the Iranian leadership could justifiably thinking that regardless of what action it takes with regard to its nuclear programs, the sanctions will remain – so why cooperate with the IAEA?

fifth, all this being said, there is a case to be made for re-defining national interests. national interests are not fixed; nor is the hierarchy of interests necessarily ordered in a particular manner. US-Iran relations thus do not have to be dictated by a zero sum logic.  The US and Iran in fact share common interests in Central Asia, in increasing regional trade and stability;  stability in  Iraq and Afghanistan; the end of terrorism from Al Qaeda and the Taliban; the reincorporation of Iran into the international community; and no war.

One option is that the IAEA and UNSC could  accept an Iranian civil nuclear program, on the condition that Iran grants inspectors full access. Or, as suggested by the 2010 deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil, but rejected by the US, Iran coud stop its enrichment in exchange for foreign supplies uranium fuel plates for its research reactor.

What is clear is that Iran is within its rights, and is unlikely to  give up its enrichment program. Military strikes will be de-stabilizing, catastrophic, an unjustified act of war that will attract retaliation. The conversation thus needs to shift from eliminating nuclear capability to improved monitoring.  India must play a more active role in shifting this conversation, else it risks becoming a spectator in its own back-yard.



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re-defining national interest

a piece in foreign policy, All Silk Road Lead to Teheran by Neil Padukone about the gains that america could make by working with iran in enabling regional trade and security is essentially an argument for how ‘interests’ can be, and necessarily  so, re-defined. While it is in the American interest to prevent a nuclear Iran, it is also in its interest  to stabilize the middle-east.  The security dilemma that Iran and America are embedded  in can arguably only be escaped if interests are re-defined.

In contrast to the zero-sum logic that defines the current escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, the two countries share substantial interests in increasing regional trade and stability. Tehran hopes to stabilize Afghanistan and export its own natural gas and petroleum — 16 percent and 10 percent of the world’s total reserves, respectively — to the world. Indeed, its existing infrastructure — albeit in need of much improvement — is better suited to bring Turkmen natural gas to market than alternate plans to construct new pipelines across Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, or all the way through the Caspian, Caucasus, and Turkey.

read rest here

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iran has yet to violate international law

perhaps the most sensible piece i have read on iran so far…Yousaf Butt writes in Foreign Policy, Stop the Madness

The many rounds of sanctions put in place against Iran over the past several years go far beyond anything related to its nuclear program. To satisfy the conditions that would allow sanctions to be lifted, Iran would not only have to abandon its nuclear program but basically dismantle the current regime. The sanctions legislation passed last year demands that Iran release all political prisoners and detainees, cease violent repression against peaceful Iranian protesters, conduct a transparent investigation into the killings of Iranian protesters, and make progress toward establishing an independent judiciary. Just in case those conditions are insufficiently implausible, the president must certify further that the Iranian government “has ceased supporting acts of international terrorism.” Even if Iran miraculously did this, it is unlikely that the president could certify it.

Those are certainly noble goals, but they go far beyond the narrow aim of ensuring that Iran is not developing a nuclear weapon. Given these far-reaching provisions, Tehran probably senses that no matter what it does with its nuclear program, the sanctions are here to stay. If it is going to be sanctioned anyway, why cooperate with the IAEA on the nuclear issue?

If the United States and Iran hope to escape these sadly familiar episodes of heightened tension and warmongering, they need to reach a simple grand bargain that will cut through the sanctions’ impossible conditions. Perhaps the best way to do so is to offer Iran a simple quid pro quo: If Iran agrees to more intrusive inspections under the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, both the unilateral and U.N. Security Council sanctions will be dropped.

Such an agreement has a chance to convince doubters that Iran is not on the reckless path to a nuclear weapon that Heinonen outlines. Only through shifting the conversation from the impossible goal of eliminating Iranian nuclear capability to a focus on better monitoring it can the world prevent another harmful rush to war.

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