Tuesday, June 20, 2006

EDITORIAL: Realpolitik in region

Saturday, June 17, 2006

-- Iran and Syria have signed a military cooperation pact against the “common threats” presented by Israel and the United States. In a joint press conference in Tehran, the Iranian defence minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar and his visiting Syrian counterpart, Hassan Turkmani, said the agreement was based on consolidating their defence efforts and strengthening support for each other. Iran and Syria have been allies for a long time but the agreement formalises that relationship and puts it up front. It is not clear whether the two sides have decided to support each other in the event of a direct aggression against one or both sides — the Syrian defence minister dismissed the possibility of an Iranian military base on Syrian soil — but it would seem odd for a military cooperation pact not to have such intent, especially in the use of Iran’s Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles. The likelihood that some such cooperation might be in the offing was also signalled by the reference of Iran’s defence minister to the policy of deterrence.

The development is interesting and links up with the broad Iranian strategy of complex signalling to frustrate the American policy of dominating the region. The day after the pact was signed in Tehran on Thursday, in Shanghai in the southeast, the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was busy doing two things, again in consonance with the same Tehran policy: facing up to the United States while covering its flanks. President Ahmadinejad said that the six-nation incentives package aimed at getting his country to halt uranium enrichment and brought to Tehran by Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, was a step forward in resolving the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme. “Generally speaking, we’re regarding this offer as a step forward and I have instructed my colleagues to carefully consider it,” Mr Ahmadinejad told the press after meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Mr Ahmadinejad’s remarks — the highest-level sign so far that Iran is prepared to negotiate the package of incentives — synced with a statement in Washington by US National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley that the proposal was heavy on incentives, not on possible punishments for refusing to stop uranium enrichment. “The focus at this point in time... is trying to show to the Iranian regime a positive path that is available to it, and to the Iranian people,” Mr Hadley was quoted as saying. The issue of Iran’s programme and Tehran’s response is likely to be a top priority at next week’s US-European Union summit in Vienna, though Mr Hadley said that he didn’t “expect any news out of this,” indicating that negotiations will be a long process.

Mr Ahmadinejad’s statement came a day after he had stressed that the Shanghai Cooperation Council needed to create a wider front against the US, urging China, Russia and other Asian nations to pool their economic resources and diplomatic clout to bolster the region’s resistance to the US.

The Iranian policy seems to be working. The effort is directed towards making the US appreciate that it cannot road-roller the states in the region. Iran knows that the US military is stretched in Iraq. Neither is it a secret that President George Bush’s ratings are falling and his unpopularity is linked to a growing perception among the Americans that the policy of shooting from the hip has not redounded to America’s advantage. Russia and the United States are increasingly falling apart; Moscow is finally prepared to assert itself in regions of interest and may not be averse to supporting states that are prepared to stand up to the US. Iran is an ideal candidate, from its point of view. But equally, none of these states wants to gang up on the US overtly. So they seem to have decided to play the long and arduous diplomatic game, sending alternating signals to Washington. The underlying theme can be translated thus: “while we are not afraid to negotiate, we are not prepared to negotiate out of fear”.

For its part, while the US is not about to quit pressing Iran and continues to say that all options are on the table — a veiled reference to the use of force if required — analyses within the US have increasingly tended to rule out that possibility. Iran is abreast of such thinking. As the Iranian defence minister put it in Tehran after signing the agreement: “US threats are a kind of psychological operation. It is not new. With unity among the region’s nations, these threats will not prevail.”

The situation offers complex policy choices to Pakistan. From President Pervez Musharraf’s statement it is obvious that Pakistan is desperate to become a full member of the SCO. It does not look as though this policy is entirely dictated by India’s bid to also get full membership. Pakistan may not be on the official list of bad boys in Washington but many analysts in the US find Pakistan a greater threat than any other state. It therefore makes sense for Islamabad to find allies and alliances outside of its current relationship with the US. It is a policy that needs to wed the requirement of being friends with the US to the requirement of hedging one’s bets in a world beset with the vagaries of realpolitik.

Nothing illustrates this better than Pakistan’s approach to Iran. It is in Pakistan’s interest that Iran’s defiance should withstand US pressure; but it is not in Pakistan’s interest to have a nuclear-capable Iran. On one issue, Pakistan needs to support Tehran; on the other it needs to be with states that are trying to get Iran to accept limits on its nuclear programme. This part of the sea is rough and contains hidden rocks. Any simplistic policy will make a shipwreck. *

Source:Daily times
Posted by ali ghannadi-irannuk


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