Does an Opportunity for Diplomacy Remain in Iran?


In the wake of the latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) casting a doubt on the peaceful intentions of Iran’s nuclear program, an intense debate has ensued whether the country’s suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons needs to be curbed through military means. The feeling of the international community in this regard has been that the comprehensive UN sanctions imposed against Iran for violating the norms of nuclear non-proliferation have not deterred the leadership of that country from advancing secret acquisition of nuclear weapons.

The group of countries i.e. five permanent members of UN Security Council such as China, France, Russia , UK, and the U.S. plus Germany has been involved in negotiations trying to persuade Iran give up uranium enrichment activities in exchange for imported nuclear fuel, which the latter claims it needs for operating reactors to conduct medical research. So far this endeavor has not seemingly borne any fruit viewed from the eyes of the western powers especially the Americans as attested by the IAEA report on Iran’s  nuclear program.

President Barack Obama during his speech (March 4, 2012) at the AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee) Policy Conference has categorically expressed that “A man is judged by his deeds, not his words”. Probably, he is referring to Iran’s recent behavior vis-à-vis nuclear program. Not amazingly, Iran had threatened a few months back the closure of Strait of Hormuz through which one fifth of world’s crude oil flows, in case its Central Bank is targeted by U.S. sanctions for squeezing the country’s oil revenues.

A former Pentagon defense planner Matthew Kroeing in his commentary carried by Foreign Affairs, portrays the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran as both grave and imminent. In this vein he even argues that the U.S. has little choice but to take military action against Iran now before it is too late. In his opinion attacking Iran to deter it from producing nuclear weapons is preferable to other available alternatives and that the U.S. can manage all the associated risk emanating from such use of force.

In sharp contrast to this view, however, Associate Professor at Georgetown University Colin H. Kahl counters the argument presented by Matthew Kroeing saying that a realistic assessment of Iran’s nuclear progress and how a conflict would likely unfold leads one to a conclusion that now is not the time to attack Iran. Through his Foreign Affairs essay “Not the Time to Attack Iran” Professor Kahl cautions the Obama administration to exercise restraint and seek other peaceful options, which have not been completely exhausted.

Reassuringly, David Albright, President of the Institute for Science and International Security, recently told the Agence France-Presse, as quoted by Carl H. Kahl, that there is a “low probability” that the Iranians would actually develop a bomb over the next year even if they had the capability to do so.

Those who oppose the use of force against Iran under the pretext of pursuit of nuclear weapons program contend that the Iranian leaders have staked their domestic legitimacy on resisting international pressure to halt the nuclear program. That is why they inevitably view an attack on the program as an attack on the regime itself. It seems that they have logic behind their statement.

Against the background of Israeli perception that Iran’s nuclear capability would pose an existential threat to it and also the history of destruction of nuclear facilities by pre-emptive Israeli attacks in the past, fear looms large in the Middle East that there might be repetition of military strikes as in 1981 Osirak nuclear facility, Iraq and 2007 al-Kibar nuclear facility, Syria.

Recent rhetoric contained in Obama’s speech delivered to AIPAC conference adds credence to above apprehension about the likelihood of military action against Iran. While emphasizing the deepened U.S.-Israel bilateral relationship, President Obama has said that no Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel’s destruction. Obama further elaborates that a nuclear-armed Iran is a counter to the national security interests of the U.S. In this connection he has recalled former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt and argued that now is the time to heed latter’s timeless advice, “Speak softly; carry a big stick”.

Some analysts have presented Doomsday scenario in the aftermath of an attack on Iran under the present circumstances. If worse becomes worst with sanctions not obtaining desired results in halting Iran’s uranium enrichment activities, leading to military confrontation between the U.S. and Iran the latter might be triggered to launch missile attacks against Al Dhafra Air base in the United Arab Emirates. Such attacks may prompt UAE to try to seize Abu Mussa, Greater Tunb, and the Lesser Tunb, the three disputed Gulf islands currently under Iranian occupation.

They even predict that should U.S.-Iran confrontation assume military dimension, it could easily shift regional sympathies back in Tehran’s favor by allowing Iran to play the victim and, through its retaliation, resuscitate its status as the champion of region’s anti-Western resistance in the fashion similar to notorious terrorist group al-Queda’s.

One must not forget that Iran has the right to pursue civilian nuclear energy so long as compelling evidence is not available to prove that its nuclear ambitions are not peaceful. Military means hardly offer durable and internationally-acceptable solutions in most of the cases and in Iran it would not be an exception. Diplomacy requires to be given further chance in resolving controversy arising out of accusations that Iran has not been forthcoming in adhering to the provisions of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of the Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

The lesson of Iraq, the last preventive war (2003) launched by the U.S. is that Washington should not rush to adopt coercive means when there are other alternatives to war.

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