I read the recent articles by Abdul Rahman al Rashed on Iran with a great deal of interest and his view of the implications for the Gulf “when the language of dialogue dries up” in trying to reach agreement on the nuclear file. However, I was concerned by the impression that this article created that the option for countries in the region was between taking sides or neutrality, as if the military option was inevitable. Surely it is more important for all of us to work together now, to ensure that dialogue makes a difference, and that this issue is resolved through diplomatic means.
I feel that part of the problem is that the Iranian regime’s propaganda has to some extent succeeded in propagating the idea that this issue is all about a stand-off between Iran and the US; President Ahmadinejad resisting imperialist might. Of course, the regimes are not the only ones to use this dichotomy to establish their credentials; Al Qaeda would also not exist if this ultra-simplistic model of the world didn’t have some appeal for many.
Yet the main threat Iran wields is to the stability of the Middle East region as a whole. I know from my discussions with Ministers and commentators from the region that Iran under its present regime possessing a nuclear bomb is a terrifying prospect. They know already, that Tehran is prepared, whenever and wherever it believes it will gain itself advantage, to meddle in the affairs of Middle Eastern countries. It finances and arms murderous militias in Iraq, and has illegally captured and detained British sailors who were trying to combat smuggling in the Gulf. Iranian elements smuggle guns and explosives to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Many others already are deeply disturbed by the implications of direct Iranian interference in their internal affairs, most notably in Lebanon and the Occupied Territories of Palestine.
Instead of spending its oil wealth on improving the lives of ordinary Iranians and grappling with spiralling economic problems, this regime showers millions of dollars across the region, much of it on weaponry, bankrolling any armed group, from Yemen to Gaza, prepared to undermine with terrorism legitimate governments.
The cradle of civilization and the rich intellectual culture which gave birth to Al-Khayyam, Hafez and Al-Fidawsi could be a huge force for good in the region. Many in Iran were pleased to see the back of Saddam and the Taliban – and Iraq and Afghanistan would both stand to benefit from honest efforts to help rebuild these countries. This would guarantee them as future allies for Iran.
Many of us hoped before the election of President Ahmadinejad that we were beginning to see an Iran interested in promoting dialogue and understanding between civilizations and cooperation for a better future. However, over the past two years the regime has appeared to be heading in entirely the opposite direction, with its leaders speaking in an increasingly xenophobic, hostile and uncompromising language.
British and Iraqi troops have seen regular evidence of arms of Iranian origin coming across the long border with Iran. The jury is still out on which part of the Iranian ruling elite is supplying these weapons and helping Iraqi militia groups make use of them, but what is very clear is that there are Iranian elements investing heavily in creating a violent and fragmented Iraq, presumably in the hope that eventually they will succeed in controlling the politics and wealth of Iraq’s overwhelmingly Shia southern provinces.
The regime’s embrace of Syria seems similarly designed to stay the Syrian hand and prevent it from changing from a net supporter of those committed to instability to a partner for peace which is ready and willing to work with other Arab governments for the good of the region. This embrace, in which Syria for the time being seems willing to be ensnared seems likely to reap only further isolation along with a rag-tag bunch of other dubious allies who have fallen foul of the international community, like North Korea and Burma.
While key regional states like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have put much effort into brokering peace between the warring Palestinian factions and have tried to reduce tension in Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere, Iran has played a largely negative role, backing, funding and arming groups committed to wrecking these efforts. Their aim apparently is to ensure a Middle East that continues to suffer from simmering violence, while at the same time trying to ensure the hegemony of Iran’s Islamic revolution across the region.
As the Foreign Secretary has made clear, the UK believes that Iran has every right to be a proud and respected member of the international community. But to do so, it must also accept that it has responsibilities to the region and the wider international community. It does not have the right to violate the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) nor undermine regional stability.
The United Nations has passed unanimously two Security Council resolutions calling on Iran to cease uranium enrichment. Iran must comply with IAEA Board and Security Council requirements. The whole of the international community wants a peaceful, diplomatic solution to this problem. We are working hard to make sure that the diplomatic process succeeds. Continuing progress in dismantling North Korea’s military nuclear infrastructure is a testament to the fact that united and sustained international efforts can succeed, even against a regime apparently determined to spend the lion’s share of its budget on weapons of mass destruction while its people go hungry.
Now is the time for everyone to work effectively to ensure that we bring about a diplomatic solution which is in the best interests of the region and to persuade Iran to work positively with its neighbours to solve the Middle East’s most long-standing and intransigent problems. This is not about taking sides, it is about the countries of the Middle East working together to safeguard their own national interests and guarantee their security and prosperity.
Britain has the greatest respect for the Iranian people who have borne the excesses of their leaders with patience and fortitude. We have no quarrel with them and we recognise that the vast majority of them want a peaceful and prosperous future, living in harmony with the states bordering them. We support those in the Middle East who are privately and publicly sending a clear message to the Iranian regime: Your attempts at subversion and intimidation won’t work; your defiance of the UN and pursuit of atomic weapons is not the way to build a constructive regional role for Iran. Work with the region not against it.
We must place our faith in the language of dialogue and persuasion to promote peaceful and sustainable resolutions to the problems that continue to generate misery, injustice and hatred in this troubled region.