Monday, June 05, 2006

Deep divisions at heart of Iran nuclear issue

Updated: 2006-06-05 05:42
Nuclear iran-President Hu Jintao, in his telephone conversation with US President George W. Bush on June 1, pledged to maintain the working of the international non-proliferation system, and urged a settlement to the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomatic channels and negotiations.
On the same day, officials from the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany met in Vienna and reached a consensus on a package of proposals on urging Iran to stop uranium enrichment, which was proposed by the EU3 (France, the United Kingdom and Germany).
The proposals state that sanctions would be imposed on Iran within the framework of the United Nations Charter if the country refuses to co-operate, stopping short of mentioning specific articles in the charter that lead to possible military action.
Under the agreement, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council will meet to discuss new measures to be taken. This contrasts with the previous position, in which the Iranian nuclear issue would be automatically submitted to the UN Security Council if Iran refused to halt uranium enrichment, for the Security Council to authorize punishing sanctions against the country.
US President Bush said at the White House on June 1 that the issue would not be reported to the UN Security Council on the condition that Iran suspends enriching uranium. But he warned that the international community would act together against Iran if that country ignores the wishes of the international community.
Iran's nuclear programme has been a key issue since the country resumed uranium enrichment last year, with the United States taking a very hard line on it. However, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced on May 31 that the United States would join other countries to have direct negotiations with Iran on condition that Iran halts its uranium enrichment activities.
Rice's remarks surprised many people. Her announcement signifies that noticeable changes have taken place in terms of US policy towards Iran. It came as the international community has constantly been urging the United States to negotiate directly with Teheran.
Washington has now sent out a positive signal that it is willing to have direct dialogue with Teheran, despite the fact that it still sets some preconditions.
As if to accompany this development, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki indicated on May 30 that the country was ready to resume negotiations with relevant parties. On the same day, the spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry reiterated that Teheran would not halt uranium enrichment.
Iran is staging multilateral diplomacy to regain the initiative in the face of mounting pressure from the international community, while also pursuing its nuclear undertakings according to plan.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reiterated last month at the Bali summit of eight large Muslim countries that Iran has the right to a nuclear programme and said that Western countries would not give Iran a chance, in a bid to win over sympathy and support from the public in Muslim countries.
In the final analysis, the conflict between Khomeinism and Bush Doctrine lies behind all of the manoeuvres on Iran's nuclear programme.
Ayatollah Khomeini masterminded Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979, which toppled the monarchy of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Khomeini formally came to power on February 11, 1979 and became the country's supreme spiritual leader.
An institution that incorporated Islam and secular power into one whole was created by the constitution enacted shortly after the revolution. Amendments were made to the constitution in April 1989, emphasizing that Islam, the republican system and the absolute power of the supreme leader were never to be altered.
Iran has a 5,000-year-old civilization. The ancient Persian Empire was in its heyday in the sixth century BC. But Iran was humiliated greatly in the last two or three centuries, being repeatedly dismembered and occupied by world powers and eventually becoming the semi-colony of the British Empire and Czarist Russia. This descent into the abyss of disgrace lends a grievous and indignant hue to the Iranian national characteristics, which finds an expression in strong nationalist feelings and a thirst for national revival.
Driven by its ambition, Iran hopes to gain an important position in the Middle East and, in turn, reclaim the status of an influential major power in the world arena. And the possession of a nuclear capability seems vitally important in this regard.
The Islamic revolution in 1979 and Iranians' strong anti-US feeling were closely associated with this nationalist complex. Iranian students stormed the US embassy in Teheran on November 4, 1979 and took 52 American diplomats hostage for 444 days. Many Americans regard this as a humiliation that ranks only second to the defeat of the United States in the Viet Nam War.
With Khomeini in power, Iran was bent on exporting revolution, spreading Islamic culture overseas and expanding Iran's influence. In the ninth presidential election in June 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinehad, a conservative candidate and former Teheran mayor, emerged victorious and was sworn in as the new Iranian president on August 3.
Ahmadinejad is likely to regard Iran's gaining of major-power status as the best way to secure further support from the grass-roots and conservative elements that helped bring him to power.
The United States has found itself in a "post-Cold War era" since George W. Bush took office in 2001.
The September 11 attacks struck the country like a bolt from the blue as the United States was relishing its status as the world's sole superpower. When the dust of the terror assaults settled, the United States found that it was much more vulnerable than expected. Hence, countering terrorism became an overriding task.
One pre-emptive strike was launched after another in the wake of September 11. The United States hoped to seek absolute security through these wars. The focal point is the Middle East, although this massive anti-terror undertaking covers all parts of the world.
This strategy, which involves components including force, pre-emption rather than reaction and countering terrorism with democracy is labelled the Bush Doctrine. It is obvious that the United States, under the guidance of the Bush Doctrine, wants to re-draw the political map of the Middle East. In such circumstances, Iran is threatened with marginalization. It is against this backdrop that the battle between the two doctrines has started.
Iran is a big country in the Gulf region whose influence should never be trifled with. The United States placed heavier pressure on Iran because it feared that the situation in Iraq would get increasingly volatile.
In view of all this, the battle between Khomeinism and the Bush Doctrine is expected to impact on the peace and stability of the Middle East and the Gulf region for a long time to come.
The author is deputy director of China Institute of International Studies.
(China Daily 06/05/2006 page4)
Posted by ali ghannadi-irannuk

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