Sunday, July 30, 2006

Iran Nuclear Issue: Lonely Iran Vs Hegemonic Nuclear State

By Perry PADA

The approach to end Iran’s nuclear program has indeed once again proven that the new world order has been characterized by a hegemonic ideological mindset. To date, the on going contentious debate over Iran’s nuclear program is an uneven one, as it is heading toward the predictable conclusion imposed by the existing nuclear states that Iran must “abolish” its nuclear program or accept punishment. After so many years struggling for its rights while stressing the peaceful nature of its nuclear program, Iran now is forced into isolation for what it rightful believes is the acquiring of nuclear technology for the sake of Iranian future prosperity. Viewing this issue through an objective lens, the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is in fact in line with the International Atomic Energy Agency -- IAEA Comprehensive Safeguard Agreements and it is an “inalienable right” for NPT member states. Regrettably, this protocol arrangement for nuclear technology acquisition has been distorted by the leading nuclear technology state.

Coincidently, it is Iran, which has been characterized by the US as among the “axis of evil” and as a state with nuclear weapons ambitions. Therefore, the US has made its position eminently clear that it will not tolerate a nuclear armed Iran. As an initial approach, the US urged the UNSC to act against Iran. Being embarrassed by Iran for rejecting its development aid packaged, in exchange for abandoning its enrichment program the EU3 (United Kingdom, France and Germany) followed US direction and orchestrated an international echo of this policy. The last fortress for Iran at the UN Security Council, China and Russia, on the other hand, both of who initially supported Iran’s peaceful nuclear program in defiance of the US and the EU, have modified their position. Iran’s refusal to accept the Russian compromise of enriching uranium on its soil on behalf of Iran has to date been rejected by the Iranian side. This accumulated pressure most likely has made Iran reconsider its strategic position in light of changing circumstances.

P5+1’s Carrot and Stick Package

Even though, there are multiple interpretations as to why both China and Russia have joined the three other SC members plus Germany (P5+1) in pressuring Iran to abandon its enrichment program, the fact is that they have coalesced. P5+1 have been pressuring Iran to accept its ‘carrot and stick incentives proposal’, or be ready for further action. The nature of that further action remains unclear with Russia and China arguing for enhanced diplomacy, while the US and its allies urging harsher sanctions. All diplomats gathered in Vienna at the International Atomic Energy Agency echoed the same tune that the incentives to Iran would be in return for Iran giving up its nuclear enrichment program. The Vienna meeting also set a deadline for Iran to positively respond to the offer by July 15, 2006 when the G-8 was to hold its meeting in St. Petersburg. Iran opposed the deadline and set August 22, 2006 as its date of response. With this brief sketch, it is reasonable to state that Iran is a lonely singer facing a large and antagonistic audience.

The role of EU 25 in the Iranian nuclear issue was also clearly marked by the mission of Dr. Javier Solana, EU Secretary General to Tehran on the 2nd of June 2006 as an official (P5+1) messenger carrying with him the new incentive package (the old EU package has been rejected by Iran August 2005). The new incentive package while its full contents remain unclear, contain among other points (1) Nuclear program cooperation and assistance, specifically to provide for a sophisticated technology light water nuclear reactor; further, Nuclear countries would support Iran with enriched nuclear material. Accordingly, it would not be necessary for Iran to enrich uranium by itself; and (2) Economic and political cooperation, at the broadest level (emphasis added)

Now, comes the interesting part, that should Iran give up its enrichment right and accept the incentive package it would prove to be a unique global phenomenon in the year of 2006. To date, Iran has not given a definitive response beyond indicating the package was worth considering by the Iranian people. Haunted by the probability of an Iranian negative response, the nuclear states led by the US might be prepared to organize a coalition force through the ‘legitimate’ arrangement of Chapter 7 of the UN Security Charter as its instrument of multilateralism action. For the US, the position is initially clear that ‘you are with me or my enemy’ as clearly echoed by the previous US Ambassador to the UN Negroponte, who had targeted Iran as the prime supporter of International terrorism.

Iran, China and Russia: a new reminisces collaboration?

Historically, Iran has good strategic partnerships with Russia and China for many years not only in the field of trade and commerce but also for military cooperation. Therefore, it is worth wondering why both countries who previously stood with Iran and opposed other UNSC members - US, UK, and France have changed their position. Russia and China for the long haul shared the same perceptions on the issue of global security. According to the media, Russia through Gazprom (state company) is also ready to support the development of a natural gas pipeline linking Iran, India and Pakistan with the length ranging around 2600 km. The US strongly opposes the plan, on the pretext that it would strengthen Iran. Nevertheless, what made their change of attitudes from active support to less support? While it is a speculative argument, the signal given by Iran that it might accept the incentive package with some modification might be a part of a Russia/China strategic partnership in the future. There would be some negotiations between Russia, China and Iran itself to find a way of winning the battle without an open confrontation. Confronting the US might make Iran another Iraq or Afghanistan. The stumbling block may still be Iran’s insistence on independently carrying out even a limited enrichment program

It is interesting to identify the full bilateral relationship between Iran and China. Both countries have a strong foundation in the area of economic cooperation, particularly for energy - gas and oil cooperation. China for many years has been sourcing Iranian gas and oil resources. It is revealed in the media that China recently has made a major purchase of 250 million ton of natural gas from Iran under a 25 year contract valued at 100 billion dollar. In terms of arms sales between the two countries, The US Federal Register Notice claims that nine Chinese Companies have exported material to Iran, which has “the potential to make material contribution to the development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or cruise or ballistic missiles system”. (New York Times, January 18, 2005 – The significant of the People’s Liberation Army White Paper - Noumoff)

Moreover, Washington more recently criticized the June 2006 meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) - attended by leaders from China, Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and Iran, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan as an anti-US organization. The US concern is not without foundation since those countries are by its ‘clear and presence danger’ definition, concomitantly; first, they are obviously outside the US alliance terminology [except Afghanistan] , second they are embryonic of an ideological threat and third, In terms of the current energy crisis, they are abundant in natural oil and gas resources. President Putin denied that the group meeting is top heavy with an ideology of anti Americanism. However, according to the media, some speeches made by the Iranian, and Uzbekistan Presidents clearly conveyed an ideological message by alerting the SCO to the possible involvement of superpower hegemony into the organization, without mention of any specific country (Kompas, Juni 2006).

Where is the ‘third world camp’ position?

For Iran, the hope of gaining support from other Moslem Middle East countries is likely impossible as their own state strategies are disinclined to oppose the US Therefore, for many Arab countries, it is preferable if the Iranians abandon their nuclear ambitions. In addition, it is not a secret that for a long time Arab countries have gained benefit by leaning to the western camp. If we factor in other groupings– OIC, the Non Align Movement (NAM) and The Group of 77, can Iran gain any significant support? Apparently, not. While, the NAM refused to support bringing the Iran Issue to the UNSC it asked all parties to solve the problem peacefully. However, this response is too obscure and vague. This type of ambiguity is always expressed by many third world countries within NAM or The Group of 77 when their own national interests so dictate. The immediate examples coming to mind are Iraq and Afghanistan, which resulted in a great deal of talk and no action; they are indeed powerless giants.

What ever the result what is important to identify is the central issue, which led to the current situation. I suggest it is Iranian ‘success’ in the sense that Iran never conceded its rights, a rarity in today’s world. The ability of Iran to stand firm courageously for what it believes in, amidst huge pressure from EU countries and the US and its allies is remarkable. Therefore, it should be acknowledged by many nations that Iran has displayed great courage. In addition, Iran’s standing firm improves its leverage within the region, as well as globally. The strategy and tactics in dealing with western countries to its advantage has to be acknowledged by the rest of the world. Viewed from the loss and gain theory of International Relations, it is obvious that Iran, at least so far, has won the game.

Finally, while it does not have any direct connection with Iran, I am reminded of the bold and aggressive statement made by the first President of Indonesia, Soekarno. His famous statement “go to hell with your aid” and immediately acted to establish a Conference of New Emerging Forces (CONEFO followed by GANEFO) as a balance to western domination. While what he did was controversial and counter productive in the view of many, including the Indonesian elite, he did exhibit a bold leadership style. For how long are we to be dictated to by the super power menu? Is a big question for this short paper. What Soekarno reacted against was the arrogance of the superpower some decades ago. When we look at the contemporary era, there are few leaders with comparable courage with the possible exceptions of Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and now President Ahmaddinejad.

Depok, 8 July 2006

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