In many points, the recent events connected with the Iran nuclear issue lack originality. Like in 2002, when the Iraq nuke was the one on stage, media actors – each in his way – talked of a looming menace that needed be counteracted without further delay. In both Le Monde and the Wall Street Journal, France, German and UK Foreign Ministers Philippe Douste-Blazy, Joschka Fischer and Jack Straw respectively, as well as EU High Commissioner for Foreign Policy Javier Solana, urged Iran to “work toward fostering confidence again”. For that, they urge Iran to stop all uranium enrichment and recovery activities while discussions are under way, and ask Teheran to prove the real peaceful nature of its nuclear program. If it is true that they don’t condemn Iran’s right to have a civil nuclear program, they claim all along though to be doubtful about Iran’s peaceful purposes, putting forward the fact of the secret nature surrounding these activities in Iran since 20 years ago, as well as Iran President’s attitude in the matter – rated as “intransigent”.
This debate goes public after the dailies addressed to European readers have been showing for the last few weeks the same old map depicting the (hypothetical) range of Iranian missiles. This map includes most of Europe, so that all readers become convinced of the magnitude of the threat. As early as 1989, a similar map was used to explain that Saddam Hussein’s SCUD missiles could – theoretically – reach Lyon.
All four ministers think that Iran shows no respect for the Non-proliferation Treaty and that the whole region is at great risk of being destabilized. In order to prevent this, they resort to the idea of making the Middle East a nukes-free zone. It is interesting to see how the European fear concerning this goal is focused on a country which is still far from owning the means to get equipped with such weapons – and which vehemently states not to intend to do it – at the time that Europe completely ignores the only country in the region currently having such an arsenal: Israel. Anyway, for these four ministers who represent EU foreign policy, taking action and appealing to a possible sanction by the UN Security Council is top-priority. In opposition to these hardly veiled threats, Tehran Times editorialist, an almost official spokesman for the Islamist Republic Hassan Hanizadeh brings up Iran’s official posture and denounces the EU blackmailing. For this, Hanizadeh relies on a strong ally – IAEA President Mohammed El Baradei (who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize), and whose repeated reports have always made clear that Iran’s nuclear program has a peaceful nature. Noting the European governments division in relation to this topic, Hanizadeh reiterates Iran’s diplomatic accusations that both the U.S. and Israel want to turn a business of North-South technology transference into an artificial political issue. Consequently, the solution to this controversy goes beyond the regional framework to get the whole Third World and the Muslim World involved together. We have also witnessed lately Teheran’s (possible) hardening of tone. Iran President Mahmud Ahmadineyad stated in an interview published by Dubai’s Khaleej Times that his country would not rule out the possibility of using the oil weapon and expelling the international nuclear inspectors in case the Security Council adopted sanctions on the simple basis of suspicions. The Iranian President referred again to this interview two days later when he asserted that he had never said so. However, he recalled that right from the moment religious authorities in the country issued a fatwa prohibiting the use of nuclear weapons and mass destruction weapons “the Parliament could not pass any law [in this sense]”. Despite the repeated Iranian denials, the international press opened its columns to regional experts for whom there seems to be no alternative but for the sanctions. Russian Academy of Science member Georgui Mirsky stepped away from the Russian press common opinion that Iran is only exercising its right to become equipped with a technology in order to strengthen its energy autonomy. So Mirsky’s view in Moscow’s Rossiskaya Gazeta is that Iran undoubtedly would like to have the nuclear bomb. According to him, Teheran is not trying to get the nuke to attack Israel but to ensure its security in the event of a U.S. aggression. The Iranian government, which learned from the Iraqi experience, seems to be persuaded that the U.S is setting out to attack the country. In that case, Iran would be willing to ignore any agreement and obtain the bomb as India and Pakistan did. Also, European dissensions and the embargos within the UN and IAEA allow Iran to gain time while the new geopolitical situation created by the U.S. stalling in Iraq poses a very little chance for a military attack. In Mirsky’s opinion, sanctions still remain the only way to pressure Iran.
Such an opinion has been shared by different think-tanks or centres for research, propaganda and dissemination of neo-conservative ideas as well as by their mouthpieces. The Daily Star – main English daily of the Arab world – made public Sanam Vakil’s debate (she is a researcher in charge of Iran at the Council on Foreign Relations). Vakil regretted the inconsistencies and weaknesses of the George W. Bush policy towards Iran. While having a strong conservative government, the U.S. has let go of the situation to such an extent that first puts the issue in the hands of the EU and then in the hands of UN international bodies such as the IAEA. Under such circumstances, there is no other alternative left for Bush than taking a unilateral action or, according to the euphemism once used in Iraq, “defining a consistent policy” in view of the fact that this is an urgent issue: the President’s popularity is extremely low now and the oil price is reaching 67 dollars a barrel. In this debate we can find the classical rhetoric used before the war in Iraq: there is a terrible threat, an imminent danger and international structures are paralyzed. Though quite different subjects, the press has been publishing articles comparing Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear issues. By doing so, it tacitly validates the association of both countries, first established by George W. Bush in a mysterious “Axis of Evil”.
As expected, Atlantist analyst and researcher of the Rand Corporation’s European Branch Thérèse Delpech wielded arguments similar to those of Sanam Vakil, but this time in relation to North Korea. In Libération, she denounced the agreement reached in Beijing and said that it was a “fictitious agreement”. Delpech questioned North Korea’s sincerity when its regime has said it wants to get rid of its nuclear arsenal, to which North Korea had committed itself to in an agreement announced last September. She noted that the regime in that country is famous for its sudden shifts of opinion. Last September agreement was hurriedly signed basically for the Bush administration to be able to make a prestige-winning announcement while China needed it to prevent a crisis that could lead to a Japan-U.S. joint reaction. Japan and the U.S. could strengthen their anti-missile defense system bonds. Delpech thinks that the September 25 agreement is not such and it should not be an example to settle crises of the kind.
In Ha’aretz, North Korea’s Diplomatic Mission Adviser in Israel Young Sam Ma presented a completely different approach. For him, this agreement, the success of which must be an inspiration for the Iranian case negotiators, means that North Korea is quitting its nuclear program and joining again the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The lessons we should take out of this negotiation are: the importance of a clear common posture by the states, based on further consultation, the role of a mediator capable of establishing a link among all sides involved, in this case China, and finally the proposals of interesting alternatives, from the political and financial point of view, in exchange for relinquishing the military nuclear program.
Saudi daily Al Riyadh editor-in-chief Turki Al Soudairi also developed this perspective by analyzing Iran’s triumph cards in comparison to those played by North Korea. If Iran has not been able to establish strong geopolitical relations with its neighbours or get support from Russia as North Korea got support from China, its geographic position and the consequences that a military operation might have on the already tense situation in the region will nullify any choice in this sense. The same thing will be true of a possible embargo, which though approved by a UN Council with differing opinions, it would be hard to apply. For Al Soudairi, the solution to the problem can only come from negotiations, following the model of North Korea. He concluded by saying, in a somehow optimistic mood, that the negotiations on Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear issue could imply the closing of George W. Bush’s unipolar parenthesis.