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The Nuclear Chess Game - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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It is clear that the United States is exaggerating in its assessment that the world is getting closer together with regard to imposing international sanctions on Iran in order to convince it not to continue with its nuclear program. It is also clear that the United States together with the European Union, specifically France, Britain, and Germany, have not yet got tired of speaking about the possibility of reaching a UN resolution imposing sanctions and economic siege on Iran; at the same time Iran’s stance is getting more rigid, contrary to what the US and western reports indicate.

Because of its hard-line policy toward this issue, which is important for the Iranian politicians and religious leaders, “mullahs,” Iran has succeeded in mobilizing its home front – regardless of the weak green opposition – to support both the religious and the political authority. The peoples of the Third World unite in confronting the crises that are imposed from abroad. Unfortunately the west and the United States have not yet learned this lesson, and they think that international pressure perhaps would contribute to dividing the home front and to scattering its interests.

This is what has seemed so far to be a mistake or a sin, because the repeated talk about siege and sanctions has not succeeded in instilling terror in the hearts of the Iranians and in making them stop following up the nuclear program that deprives the world of sleep. On the contrary, the Iranians have learned an important lesson, namely to announce on nearly a daily basis the achievement of one success after another in completing the process of enriching uranium, which would ultimately lead to the manufacture of the nuclear bomb.

Every postponement that occurs to the implementation of any western-US pledge to succeed in imposing international sanctions on Iran leads to an implicit increase in the strength of the authority in Iran. The dates announced by US President Barack Obama and his aides are crumbling and end up with nothing. The western leaders have noticed this US mistake of mentioning specific dates, and have learned their lesson. Now, the western leaders avoid specifying agendas and dates, whether for imposing sanctions or for addressing ultimatums; this is so that the threats do not become useless.

Even the US reliance on some Chinese and Russian gestures of agreement to impose the probable sanctions is doubtful. This is because Beijing, for instance, is toying with Washington for China’s benefit, as the United States understands the extent of the dependence of the strongly rising Chinese economy on the Iranian oil. This dependence is not any less than the Russian dependence on the Iranian funds to support its military industries, specifically the missile industry. This has reached the level that the United States and Israel announced earlier that Russia had withdrawn from delivering to Iran a deal of “Russian Missile Defense System S-300,” which Moscow denied later by pointing out that there were procedural issues that hindered the completion of the huge military deal, and it was not a political stance adopted by Moscow to refrain from delivering the missiles, as Iran had concluded all its financial commitments.

Senior Obama Adviser Valerie Jarrett considers it probable that Tehran will retreat in the face of the cohesion of the international alliance. David Axelrod, one of the White House advisers, agrees with Jarrett, and adds that there is Russian cooperation that indeed supports the process of imposing international sanctions on Iran. However, the reality on the ground goes in the opposite direction of the expectations of Jarrett and Axelrod, even with Presidents Obama and Medvedev signing the “Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty START II.” It is sufficient to recall what Russian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vitaliy Churkin said that the talks about imposing sanctions on Iran would be extremely difficult and that his country did not want these sanctions and considered it better to reach a peaceful settlement.

One of the mistakes in which the United States and its allies fall is their reliance on Moscow’s stance alone, on the basis that a Russian decision will be followed by a Chinese one supporting it. This is in the sense that if Moscow agrees to a UN Security Council resolution imposing sanctions that deal only with the Iranian nuclear program, Beijing also will ratify these sanctions, with reservations, in order to avoid diplomatic isolation.

It is not wise to adopt this logic. In this analysis we rely on history. Russia and China have supported three previous resolutions imposing very limited sanctions on Iran in the years 2006, 2007, and 2008; these sanctions stipulate banning travel, freezing the assets, and targeting some Iranian officials and companies linked to the nuclear program. However, just bear in mind that these three resolutions are extremely symbolic compared to what the United States wants now of comprehensive sanctions to damage the entire Iranian economy.

China and Russia do not represent the only card in the hand of Iran in its diplomatic war. There is another extremely important card, which is represented by Tehran’s threat to prevent the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] from performing the programmed inspections work in the nuclear installations within Iran if the country is exposed to sanctions. In this issue Iran relies on the IAEA undertaking a new role that was not expected, and that is related to monitoring the extent of Moscow’s and Washington’s adherence to the articles of START II, as Iran will exploit any announced US violations, and expose the extent of US complacency in adhering to what it pledged in international agreements.

Let us move from the hypothetical sanctions to the nuclear reality. The reality seems clear in Obama’s new nuclear strategy, which equates between Iran and North Korea in not acquiescing to the non-proliferation systems, and which stipulates that all options are open for dealing with them. The strategy recognizes that Iran and North Korea represent a nuclear threat to the United States and its allies, because they violate the Non-Proliferations Treaty [NPT, they defy the directives of the UN Security Council, and they pursue the possession of missile capabilities, and resist the international efforts to resolve the crises through diplomatic means.

What interests us in the new US nuclear strategy is the conflict between its aims and its contents. One of the declared aims, even their most important, is preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism, while the strategy does not talk at all about Israel’s nuclear intentions, and its continuous threat to its neighbors utilizing the policy of nuclear deterrence and nuclear capabilities it has, and also exploiting Washington’s support for it in this field and the policy of nuclear ambiguity that prevails over its military project.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad goes to excess in his statements and descriptions of his US counterpart, whom he considers to be an amateur in the world of politics. Ahmadinejad exploits the announcement of the new US nuclear creed to fire arrows at Obama, and he likens Obama to someone who fell in a dilemma, but does not know how to get out of it safely. Ahmadinejad, together with the pillars of his rule Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki and Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi, has announced that the United States has two options only, namely “confrontation or dealing with the Iranian aspirations.”

What attracts attention is that Obama himself has not confirmed that the international sanctions will compel Iran to change its behavior; there are no guarantees that this will happen. Here, the US president has become confused, or is confusing himself, and cannot get out of this confusion, especially after he consulted history, which he masters, and found out that international pressure perhaps would not lead to fulfilling the aims of the west, and even that the opposite is true.

Also Obama is blamed for the absence of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu from the Nuclear Security Summit, which Washington hosted recently or at least for being the one who instigated Netanyahu not to attend, and to send Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor to chair the Israeli delegation. Washington will not spell out that it would be extremely embarrassed if Netanyahu were to attend, and then be exposed to an Arab-Islamic campaign about the Israeli nuclear project, which is equal in its danger to the Iranian nuclear program. Also it is naive to believe Tel Aviv’s announcement that Netanyahu’s absence from the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington was due to his unwillingness to be exposed to reproach by Obama and His Foreign Minister Hilary Clinton because of not answering the US demands related to the resumption of the peace negotiations with the Palestinian side.

However, the principal aim of the absence of the Israeli prime minister from the summit is to spare both Washington and Tel Aviv the embarrassment of the mobilization of the participants in the conference to launch a strong campaign against the Israeli nuclear weapons, and to demand treating and punishing Israel at the international level in the same way as Iran. Therefore, it is not wise for the United States to see Netanyahu sitting down with the world leaders, while Washington organizes the Nuclear Security Summit to show the dangers of the Iranian nuclear project, and its negative impact on the security of the region and of the world. Therefore, the United States has done Israel a favor when it deliberately allowed the Israeli prime minister to be absent from the activities of the conference.

The United States still relies on that Iran has entered a state of divisions because of the green revolution, as the United States believes. This is the opposite of the situation in the beginning of the Obama era, who started his Administration with the world divided and Iran united. For the United States, this means that time is on its side; however, the fear is that Iran might be able to contain this green revolution, and hence the hopes of the Washington leaders will be squashed, while the Iranians at the same time have exploited the announcement of Obama’s nuclear strategy to demand that Washington announces a date to destroy more than 2,500 nuclear warheads, which are the US stockpile of nuclear weapons.

Suddenly the world is standing between two strategies; the first is a nuclear one announced by Obama to put an end to the Iranian and North Korean nuclear terrorism, and the second is adopted by Ahmadinejad to threaten the US interests in the world through all the friends of the “Islamic Revolution.”

Ahmed Murshid

Ahmed Murshid is a Bahrain-based political analyst and writer.

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