The Handling of Iran

This doesn’t look very good for anybody:

Iran’s chief negotiator renewed a threat to interrupt petroleum exports if the IAEA board of governors followed through on its vote last month to report Iran to the Security Council pending a last stab at a diplomatic solution. Iran is the second-largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

“If we are referred to the Security Council, problems might occur for others as well as us,” Ali Larijani said at a news conference. “We would not like to use our oil as a weapon. We would not like to make other countries suffer.”

How mafia-esque of him. Don’t worry, the United States is always ready to descend to any dictatorship’s level:

“The Iran regime must be made aware that if it continues down the path of international isolation, there will be tangible and painful consequences,” Bolton said at the convention of a pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Reuters news agency reported. He said the United States was prepared to “use all the tools at our disposal to stop the threat.” President Bush has repeatedly said the possibility of military strikes remains “on the table” even as Washington endorsed an intense international diplomatic effort.

While this dynamic is obviously unhelpful, it is worth unpacking the issues here to see just how badly Bush has handled this problem. If you have a large, oil-wealthy nation whose theocratic rulers are obsessed with appearing strong, proud, and courageous, and then you threaten them to bend them to your will, what exactly do you expect to happen? Mr. Larijani makes an enlightening statement at the end of the piece:

He repeatedly warned, however, that Iran would not tolerate the issue of its program being sent to the Security Council, given the humiliations neighboring Iraq endured during forced inspections through the 1990s.

“But we’re not willing to be like Iraq, to let them come into the country whenever they want and look in any corner they want,” he said.

This is the crux of the matter. Iran’s primary goal is to appear strong, and to retain their self-determination. We Americans can understand that. Rather than planting our feet and digging in on the nuclear issue, we must recognize that the problem here is the government of Iran, and until the Iranian people decide to change that, there is relatively little we can do. When we faced a similar problem with the USSR, we had a highly effective nuclear policy: Mutually Assured Destruction. Until political change comes to Iran, that is the way to keep them from wanting to develop nuclear weapons.

This New York Times piece tries to strike an optimistic tone, but really, the facts of the situation are not all that great:

In the past three years, Dr. ElBaradei noted today, the agency has been conducting intensive investigations of Iran’s nuclear program to provide assurances about its peaceful nature.

“During these investigations, the agency has not seen indications of diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices,” he said. “Regrettably, however, after three years of intensive verification, there remain uncertainties with regard to both the scope and the nature of Iran’s nuclear program.”

. . .

Iran agreed with Britain, France and Germany in November 2004 to voluntarily freeze all of its uranium conversion, enrichment and reprocessing activities. But when promised economic and political rewards were not forthcoming, Iran broke the agreement. It restarted uranium conversion last August and then began tests of enriching uranium on Feb. 11.

Iran believes it has the right to pursue nuclear research. The U.S. and Europe would really rather it didn’t. We are faced with bribing them, threatening them, or invading them to prevent this. Or we could admit that they will probably move ahead with the research no matter what, and focus on social and humanitarian efforts in Iran with an eye towards long term regime change.

2 Replies to “The Handling of Iran”

  1. Didn’t we just give the nuclear keys to India. there is no evidence that Iran is building nuclear weapons, just an assumption op
    n the behalf of people who told us Iraq had WMD. You do make some interesting points here.

  2. Lew, you point out interesting facts. The disparity between our treatment of India and Iran poses another difficulty. Even though, from our point of view, the difference in government (Democracy vs. Theocracy) makes a difference, to Iran it probably seems that all can be forgiven once you develop nuclear capabilities outside of international law.

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