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Diplomacy

The things that are really at stake in the Iranian crisis

Tensions continue to escalate between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Atlantist powers, which are eager to control the last hydrocarbon reserves. Under British pressure, the permanent members of the UN Security Council accepted to redefine relations between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations. This commitment should facilitate the work of those who advocate an armed conflict. Russia and China, however, put their bets on the time factor. In effect, Vladimir Putin is about to reveal an important project that could definitely resolve the issue of proliferation and which, at the same time, guarantees every nation’s legitimate right to use the atomic energy with peaceful purposes.

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The Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Li Zhaoxing (second to the left) and his Russian counterpart Serguei Lavrov (second to the right), in London, on January 31st, 2006, discuss the details of their common strategy prior to the ministerial private dinner on Iran
(Photo Xinhua - Cheng Min)

The conflict among the big powers on the Iranian issue continues. Since December 2002, the United States has accused Iran of trying to acquire the atomic bomb, which would violate the Treaty of Non Proliferation (TNP). Thus, the United States is trying to have the UN Security Council condemn Iran as a pretext to attack the Islamic Republic [1].

If Washington succeeds in controlling Iran, it would also have the military control of the eastern coast of the Gulf and the southern coast of the Caspian Sea, its oil and gas reserves, both regarded as the second largest in the world [2].
The United States already has the military control of part of the Caspian basin and the corridor that allows for communication between that area and the Indian Ocean (Afghanistan and Pakistan). Most of the Gulf (Saudi Arabia and Iraq) is also under the US’s military control. Thus, at the end of this operation, Washington would own the most important current hydrocarbon exploitation areas and the main reserves still to be exploited. The world economy would then be in the hands of the United States, which would have absolute power.
In the current stage of the conflict, the powers are divided as to the US’s accusations. The United Kingdom, France and Germany are convinced of the military nature of the Iranian nuclear project. They base their opinion on reports from US intelligence services, which affirm, in official documents, that Tehran is carrying out a Green Salt Project to develop and to launch nuclear warheads. On the contrary, Russia, China and India believe that Iran’s nuclear program has peaceful purposes [3]. They base their opinion on a ruling by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hoseini Jamenei condemning the production, possession and use of the atomic bomb as contrary to the Islamic ethics.

Objectively, the difference established by the Treaty of Non Proliferation (TNP) between authorized civil nuclear technology and forbidden military nuclear technology is no longer suitable under the current conditions. The know-how and civil facilities can be easily and quickly adapted to military purposes. The strict interpretation of the TNP would imply the prohibition, for all states, of the development of a civil nuclear industry while, a liberal interpretation would open the doors to a generalized proliferation. As this issue has not been solved, it is impossible to solve it in the Iranian case. This lack of definition is the factor that the United States hopes to use to launch a war. [4].

However, there is a way to clear things up. A specific method of uranium enrichment, previously known in a partial way, apparently can serve to establish a difference between military and peaceful use. Russia developed this method and thus intends to let Iran - and the international community - use it. This seems to be one of the three main proposals that President Putin will take to the G8 summit, a meeting that he himself will preside over this summer in Saint Petersburg.
It will be necessary to prove the feasibility of this project. Russia would then produce the nuclear fuel, in its own territory, in factories jointly built with the beneficiary states and under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It would also be necessary to create detailed protocols to guarantee the interests of all parties. The implementation of this project would represent a radical change in international relations. The energy security that Russia would give to the world would eclipse the authority of the United States, a country that currently satisfies its own energy security needs to the detriment of the rest of the world.

Iran has turned its project of civil nuclear development a symbol of its independence in front of the Anglo-Saxon colonialism that has brought so much suffering to its people [5]. Contrary to an idea widely spread by the Atlantist media, this project does not belong only to a Iranian power elite but it is an element of consensus of the entire Iranian society. In addition, the Islamic Republic abandoned its dream of expanding the Jomeinist revolution and today aims at becoming the driving force of the Movement of Non Aligned Countries, which is currently in a revitalization stage. Iran wants to share its current demand with others and to succeed in exercising their right to develop a civil nuclear industry, not only for its own people but also for all the others.
Thus, far from being exclusively linked to Iran’s future, the current political game has to do with international balance and the US ambitions, confirmed during President Bush’s most recent speech on the State of the Union, to control the world.

In 2004 and 2005, the different actors of this game carried out several manoeuvres. A European troika (France, United Kingdom and Germany) supposedly played a mediating role between Washington and Tehran; they asked the Iranians to freeze the situation and ended up leaning to the US side. After having accepted a two-and-a-half-year moratorium for research work, Iran resumed it on January 10, 2006, saying that it had waited enough as to show its good will while the Europeans had not made any serious offers. In the meantime, the Russian position was sort of undecipherable as the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs suggested that they could side with their western counterparts before he was publicly put in his place by President Putin who expressed his interest in reaching a peaceful solution. Finally, during the last weeks, many trips allowed Iranian, Chinese and Russian diplomats to design a common strategy.

The issue had a sudden evolution after the United Kingdom organized on January 30th, 2006, a “private ministerial meeting” where the British, French, German, Russian, American and Chinese foreign ministers held a meeting. During the gathering, Britain’s Jack Straw suggested that the IAEA should present the issue before the UN Security Council, the first stage of the process towards war. His Chinese and Russian counterparts noted that, in the current situation, a decision of this type would not have any judicial foundation. Due to their confidence in the feasibility of its own uranium enrichment project, the Russian Federation only wanted to “let time pass by” in order to prepare a protocol with Iran, which would only take one or two months according to experts. The guests ended the dinner setting an agenda that both parties see as a victory: next week. The IAEA Board of Governors will not transfer the Iranian file to the Security Council as it does not have the authority to do it but it will give it a report asking for the adoption of measures that strengthen its own authority to be able to do it in the future.
This commitment allows the Europeans and the Americans to keep the pressure while the Russians and the Chinese can make use of time. Saying who won that evening would be like determining if a glass is half empty or half full when water is in the middle.
In practice, supposing that the Security Council gives that prerogative to the IAEA Board of Governors, the latter could not exercise this prerogative until its next meeting, on March 9th.

The Iranians pretended to interpret the shady deal as if the Russians had abandoned them. However, it is possible that they obtained a written commitment from the Russian Federation that it will use its veto at the Security Council in the event that a resolution to authorize war is presented.

Anyway, the Iranians immediately resorted to their colleagues of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries. President Mahmud Amadineyad spoke over the phone with his South African counterpart, Thabo Mbeki, who gave him his support (although the apartheid regime produced the atomic bomb along with Israel, South Africa later renounced to it). For its part, Indonesia issued several pacifying statements while Venezuela and Malaysia will soon welcome the Iranian president.

Simultaneously, Iran is preparing “a world without Israel and the United States.” Tehran hopes to create an oil stock market that will not accept the dollar. It is already working on an experimental basis. Although no country has officially announced its participation, many will encourage the participation of firms that will serve as intermediaries. As the dollar is very overvalued because it is the exchange currency in oil transactions, [6] a stock market of this kind, even if it covered only 10% of the oil market, would cause a collapse of the dollar compared only to that of 1939. The US power would then be dragged by the devaluation and Israel itself would be doomed to bankruptcy.

Thus, Washington has no other choice than using all its influence over the international economic actors to break up with Tehran. In the absence of a war, the United States at least has to isolate Iran in the economic aspect.

Paradoxically, none of these options seems realistic. Reasonably, the US Air Force and the Israeli army can not attack the Iranian nuclear facilities as there are Russian advisors and technicians there. To attack Iran would also mean to declare war on Russia. In addition, such an attack would be followed by an Iranian response that would use the devastating Thor M-1 missiles – acquired in Russia – against Israel, not to mention that the Shiites of Iraq would make life even more difficult for the occupation forces. In the event that the United States tries to use an economic blockade, Iran could easily get around it through its agreement of privileged partner with China. However, it would deprive the “West” of part of its oil supply, thus causing a 300% increase in the price of the barrel of oil and a deep economic crisis.

In sum, the result of this game depends on the ability of each participant to adapt its own calendar to the others’ while the Bush administration insists on dragging them into a conflict although it does not have the necessary resources and it takes the risk of losing its authority.

[1] See articles “Washington and Tehran face to face ”, by Thierry Meyssan, Voltaire, September 6, 2005, and the section Forums and Analyses “Iran: made satanic before what?”, Voltaire, January 27, 2006.

[2] For more information on hydrocarbon reserves, see our articles“The Power of Oil in the XXI Century ” and “L’avenir du gaz naturel”, Voltaire.

[3] See, in our section Forums and Analyses, «Iran and Russia want to renew ties with western Europe», Voltaire, September 30, 2005, and the article «Iran allies with China to face the United States», Voltaire, November 17, 2004.

[4] See article «François Géré: «La position iranienne à propos du nucléaire est légitime», by Ahmad Nokhostine, Voltaire, May 22, 2005.

[5] See article “BP-Amoco, coalition pétrolière anglo-saxonne”, by Arthur Lepic, Voltaire, June 10, 2004.

[6] See article “The US’s Achilles Heel”, by L.C. Trudeau, Voltaire, April 4.

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