Wednesday, June 21, 2006

IRAN: THE WORLD PUNTS

By AMIR TAHERI
June 20, 2006
-- JUDGING by reports from half a dozen capitals, lots of people seem to be negotiating with lots of others about future talks between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Five Plus One Group - the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany. Talking about talks is an old tactic, used whenever adversaries run out of ideas about their next move.
The assumption is that, so long as the two sides are talking about talks, neither will do anything to jeopardize the possibility of holding "real talks" later on.
Sometimes one side or the other uses the tactic to buy time. In 1934, for example, the new Nazi regime in Germany initiated talks about talks with Britain and France. By 1938, those talks about talks had paved the way for real talks between Chancellor Adolf Hitler and British and French Prime Ministers Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier. Both sides had bought time - but each used it differently. Hitler used his time to rebuild Germany's war machine; Britain and France used theirs to deepen their illusions about an ever-elusive peace.
Talking about talks can also be used as substitute for policy.
This is what has happened in the case of North Korea. By the mid '90s, it became clear that the Pyongyang regime was developing a nuclear capacity that would affect the balance of power in the Far East. The United States and its regional allies, South Korea and Japan, decided that preventing Pyongyang from getting the bomb should be their prime objective. That led to talk about talks - a process that was halted when North Korea decided to accelerate its nuclear buildup.
One advantage of talking about talks is that if it continues long enough, it can bore the public into shifting its attention away. In the case of North Korea, the fog created by years of talking about talks created a murky landscape in which it is no longer clear whether or not Pyongyang actually has the bomb and, if it does, what it might do with it.
The way things are shaping up, we may be heading toward a similar situation with regard to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The current talk about talks is likely to continue until next month's G-8 summit in St. Petersburg - which will then propose a new framework for more talks about talks that could take months. Because the Bush administration has fixed no deadlines for Tehran to accept or reject the latest deal on offer, the Islamic Republic would have many opportunities for prolonging the whole talks-about-talks process until it becomes the policy.
Many of the protagonists might want that to happen. Why shouldn't the Bush administration kick this particular can down the road until 2008, leaving it for the next president to deal with? Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice must know that four successive U.S. administrations, Democrat and Republican, met with disaster dealing with the Islamic Republic. They tried everything from appeasing the mullahs to actually using force against them. In the end, all failed either to kill the Islamic republic or to turn it into a friend.
The Europeans, Russia and China obviously have no interest in seeing the Islamic Republic abandon its anti-American strategy - which has enabled them to dominate the Iranian market and enjoy privileged access to Iranian energy resources.
Thus, the United States and its supposed Five Plus One partners might all be tempted to try the North Korean formula for dealing with the Islamic Republic.
The trouble is, Iran is not North Korea.
To start with, Iran is 13 times larger than North Korea in territory and three times bigger in population. And North Korea is tucked away in a remote corner of Asia - while Iran is not only a crossroads to Africa, Europe, America and the heart of Asia but also at the center of a region that holds nearly two-thirds of the world's known energy resources. Iran has far more neighbors (indeed, it abuts more nations than any country except Russia) - and is larger or more powerful than most of them (only Turkey and Russia are definite exceptions). North Korea, by contrast, is the weakling in a neighborhood of economic and military giants.
The biggest difference, however, pertains to global ambition.
Even the maddest ideologues in Pyongyang no longer dream of imposing their brand of communism on South Korea. The North Korean regime is acting more out of fear than of hegemonic dreams. The Islamic Republic, however, feels that it is riding on the crest of history. It sees itself as a rising power at a time the status quo powers of the West, plus Russia, are facing demographic decline and a weakening of the will to fight.
While North Korea is a lone wolf, the Islamic Republic considers itself the bellwether of 1.3 billion Muslims, majorities in 57 states, and has the ambition of creating an Islamic power bloc under its leadership.
So, where North Korea, no matter its nuclear arsenal, can be ignored, Iran cannot be. Eventually, other world and local powers will have to stop dancing around the Iranian issue. Sooner or later, they must shape real policies for dealing with a regime that, if not included in the global system, could develop into the most dangerous source of instability, even war, in one of the world's most sensitive regions.
Amir Taheri, a former executive editor of Kayhan (the top Iranian newspaper under the shah), is a member of Benador Associates
source:new york post
posted by ali ghannadi-irannuk

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