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A Very Tangled Web - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Yes, no, may be! Here we go again. Humanist diplomacy is back at work and, if the current signs are correct, quite a few simpletons are tempted to fall for it again.

The while show, of course, is about the Islamic Republic’s dispute with the United Nations over the nuclear issue. The Un Security Council has passed a series of resolutions demanding that the Islamic Republic take a number of specific actions or face economic and diplomatic sanctions. In time, the process could lead to the adoption of a resolution under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, opening the way for military action against the Khomeinist regime.

To prevent war one of two things must happen. The first is full compliance by Tehran with the UN resolutions already passed. Such a move would stop the clock of war from ticking, setting in motion the clock of negotiations. The other thing that could stop war is for the UN to surrender to the Khomeinists by withdrawing its demand for specific action on the part of Iran.

Both options have a number of supporters and opponents on both sides.

On the UN sides, some powers such as Russia and China, both of whom voted for the Security Council resolutions, would be prepared to eat quite a bit of humble pie to avoid military conflict. Their stance is not entirely prompted by their love of peace. They know that military conflict could lead to regime change in Tehran, and that a future regime might restore Iran’s close ties with the US. If that happens, Russia and China, now major influences in Tehran, could end up like bridesmaids holding silly bouquets. In contrast, the United States, and possibly the new French administration under President Nicolas Sarkozy, appears determined to force Tehran to comply even at the risk of war. Washington and Paris are convinced that, without bringing Iran on board, the Middle East cannot develop a new architecture of security. Iran is the biggest piece in a jigsaw puzzle that cannot be solved unless it finds its proper place.

On the Iranian side, some of the factions opposed to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s radical posture also wish to reach an accommodation with the UN. These factions know that if Ahamdinejad wins his battle against the UN he would achieve almost cult status within the Khomeinist sect.

That, in turn, would assure Ahmadinejad of victory in next year’s presidential election. His opponents would have to wait four more years to make a bid for power, by which time many of their leading figures would be too old or too discredited by corruption charges to bring against them to mount a serious challenge.

If Ahmadinejad wins there will be no room for “half pregnant” Khomeinists, those who talk like revolutionaries but live luxury lives, including prolonged sojourns in Europe and North America. Ahmadinejad’s victory could mobilize the still considerable energies of the Khomeinist sect for a project of world conquest which might look fantastic to outsiders but holds strong appeal to those convinced that the “Hidden Imam” is about to reappear. It is precisely that prospect that prompts Ahmadinejad and his radical revolutionary base to continue defying the UN in the belief that steadfastness will be rewarded with victory.

All these divisions and conflicts of ideology and interest on both sides have created a tangled web that cannot be easily disentangled.

If the UN were to cave in and hand Ahmadinejad a clear victory, whatever is left of the so-called “international authority” will evaporate, at least for the foreseeable future. If, on the other hand, Ahmadinejad were to be pushed aside so that the Islamic Republic could surrender, the countdown for the Khomeinist movement’s domination of Iranian politics would begin in earnest.

In other words, this is no longer about uranium enrichment or even the Iranian nuclear program as a whole. Right now eight countries enrich uranium and at least 20 others have the scientific and industrial means needed to do so without provoking an international crisis with the threat of war at its end. Also at least eight countries have nuclear weapons while a further 15 have the scientific and industrial means needed to make the bomb. Again, none of that generates any crisis or the risk of war.

The Iranian case is different because the regime in place in Tehran does not look like its neighbors. Indeed, it does not look like any of the 192 other regimes that together make the United Nations. The real question, therefore, is whether or not the Islamic republic is prepared, or indeed capable, of becoming like everyone else or, as Ahmadinejad apparently believes, is in a position make everyone else like itself.

A safe bet is that the dispute over uranium enrichment will not be solved until one of two things happens. First, Iran decides to try a major change of its domestic and foreign strategies, thus emptying the nuclear issue of its symbolic charge. Secondly, a new US administration under President Barack Obama decides that a nuclear-armed revolutionary Iran is no immediate, or even mid-term threat to the United States.

This is why everyone is playing for time. And, in the meantime, the Islamic Republic produces more enriched uranium with which more bombs could be made.

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

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