The United States should welcome a nuclear Iran - her foreign policy needs realignment
Abdur Rahman Chowdhury

March 25, 2012

The International Atomic and Energy Agency (IAEA) has in its report released in November 2011 complained that Iran was not cooperating with the agency and its inspectors were not allowed unfettered access to the sites suspected to have stocks of enriched uranium. This report sent a shock wave to the capitals in Western Europe and the United States. The report was viewed alarming as if Iran would soon start invading the neighbors and even the European countries would not be spared of Iranian onslaught. Israel, as expected, began consulting its principal ally, the United States, on how to confront Iran. Its Prime Minister flew to Washington, met with President Obama and tried to convey its position that if necessary, It would go ahead alone to disarm Iran. The meeting of the Security Council was convened and a resolution of tougher sanction on the export of Iranian oil was passed in January 2012. Now the sponsors of the resolution are fervently hoping that Iran would listen to their warning and reverse its nuclear program. If history is of any relevance their hopes are misplaced.

Iran has been under American sanction since 1981 after the hostage crisis. Though the commando operation to rescue 52 American officials in Tehran failed and they were released after a behind the scene and protracted negotiation Washington imposed economic sanction against Tehran. During the eight years war with Iraq Iran was unable to get military hardware due to the sanction but it did not falter and fought heroically against Iraq. Iran was able to regain the territory lost at the beginning of the war. After the war was over the United States did not provide humanitarian or development assistance to Tehran to facilitate the recovery process. Tehran did not endorse Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 but it also disapproved the military buildup by the coalition led by the United States and Britain to chase the invader.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s belief in the Islamic revolution and his myth to export the spirit of Islamic revolution to the Gulf States and beyond frightened the Western European countries and the United States. Khomeini’s verdict to kill Salman Rushdie for his book “satanic verses” further antagonized the west. Tehran’s support to the Palestinians and the arming the Hezbollah in Lebanon made the Western Europe and the United States suspicious of the intention of Iran’s leadership. The secular west was not alone in suspecting Iran. Egypt and Saudi Arabia joined the western countries in opposing the Persian influence in the Middle East. Reformist President Mohammad Khatami tried to allay the fears of the west by putting on hold the death sentence passed against Salman Rushdie. He supported the two states formula for the Palestinians and reiterated Tehran’s commitment to the territorial integrity of Lebanon. Khatami tried to improve relations by visiting other countries, encouraging dialogue between different cultures and faiths, and welcomed foreigners to invest in Iran. Several European countries began renewing economic ties with Iran in the late 1990s and trade and investment increased. In 1998 Britain reestablished diplomatic relations with Iran severed in 1979. The United States loosened its economic embargo, but it continued to block improved relations arguing that the country had been implicated in international terrorism and was developing nuclear capability.

The conservatives in the Iranian majlis opposed President Khatami but as long as he was in power Tehran did not oscillate from the declared policy. The Western Europe and the United States did not seize this historic opportunity to come forward and restore the relationship with Tehran during the tenure of President Khatami. The moderate policy initiated by President Khatami suffered a reversal after hardliner Mahmud Ahmedinejad came to power. He reportedly declared the holocaust a myth and dismissed the existence of Israel on the Palestinian soil.

The successive administrations in Washington maintained a distance with Tehran and viewed its policy with disdain. History is replete with examples that adversaries engaged in secret and behind the scene dialogue in order to usher a new era of trust and friendship. Beijing and Washington were hostile to each other for over two decades and Washington frustrated China’s attempts many times to join the United Nations. In 1971 the Secretary of State Henry Kissinger made a secret trip to Beijing which marked the beginning of new era. In the same year Washington recognized Peoples Republic of China and welcomed it in the United Nations. China occupied one of the five permanent seats in the Security Council. Taiwan who had so long been claiming to represent mainland China as well had to leave the world body betrayed and humiliated. In case of Washington-Tehran however this did not happen and as a consequence mistrust and suspicion deepened. President George W. Bush went to the extent in branding Iran as axes of evils together with Iraq and North Korea. The Bush administration invaded Iraq ignoring the United Nations and world public opinion on the pretext that Baghdad was in possession of weapons of mass destruction. This was later on proved unfounded and even the Secretary of State Colin Powell admitted that he was misled. In case of North Korea it is no secret that the secluded country has been in possession of the nuclear arsenal but the Bush administration and the present government pursued a policy of restraint. They are mindful of the consequence that an attempt to destroy the nuclear facilities in the North Korea would trigger an unprecedented retaliation which would destabilize the peninsula and even put the lives of the American soldiers stationed in South Korea and Japan at risk. The United States therefore has been relentlessly trying to persuade North Korea with the help of China to come to a negotiated settlement. North Korean economy is in critical condition and needs urgent supply food and medicine. U.S, Japan and South Korea are providing emergency supply of food and medicine from time to time. United States and her allies know very well that they will have to evolve a formula which must also be acceptable to North Korea. In other words a resolution at the Security Council imposing sanction against North Korea would be counterproductive and escalate tension in the region. In case of Iran, however the United States and her allies would like to make a decision and expect Tehran to comply with it. This double standard in international relation can hardly be conducive in reaching a just solution. Since 1995, the United Nations Security Council passed resolutions imposing sanction after sanction against Iran and these were either sponsored or co-sponsored by the United States. The American unilateral sanction, imposed in 1995, suspended all trade with Iran accusing Tehran of supporting terrorism and pursuing nuclear weapons. Sanction blocked all Iranian assets within the jurisdiction of the United States. Iran has always been at the receiving end.

Iran has all along been claiming that its nuclear program is for peaceful purpose and it has ratified the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Its nuclear program began in 1970 in concert with the United States when Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was in power. The Shah had a plan to set up 23 nuclear plants by the year 2000. However, after the Shah was overthrown and the Islamic revolution took place the United States withdrew its support. It also put pressure on France and Germany to suspend assistance to Iranian nuclear program. After the withdrawal of foreign assistance Iran put its nuclear program on hold but resumed it long after the war with Iraq was over. The United States and her allies began to suspect that Iran was in pursuit of nuclear bomb and mounted pressure on Iran to suspend the program. Israel became an enthusiastic partner of the U.S to deny Iran the nuclear program. It started to campaign that Iran was on the brink of acquiring nuclear capability and that would mark the end of not only Israel but the democratic societies in the west as well. The IAEA in its November report suspected that Iran might have achieved 20 percent enrichment of uranium while the scientists believe that a minimum 90 percent enrichment of uranium is essential to make a nuclear bomb. Thus Iranian enrichment of uranium has been blown out of proportion only to thwart a peaceful program. The Bush administration resolved to disarm Iran by all possible means and the former President even declared that all options including military strikes on the nuclear facilities in Iran were under his serious consideration. The National Intelligence Report (U.S. government) however confirmed that Iran had suspended work on developing nuclear warhead in 2003. Bush administration therefore could not pursue a military option against Iran after it became evident that the later was not in pursuit of nuclear weapon.

The war monger Republican presidential hopefuls are in chorus in blaming President Obama for not doing enough to disarm Iran. Mitt Romney tried to characterize Obama as a weak leader and made a forecast that “if Barack Obama gets reelected, Iran will have a nuclear weapon and the world will change.” Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich also castigated President Obama for being soft on Iran. It is difficult to judge how concerned they are on Israel’s security but it demonstrates clearly how desperate they are to attract Jewish votes and funding in the upcoming primaries. Dr. Ron Paul sounds rational. He opposed military options and urged patience to allow diplomacy to work. Dr. Paul has cautioned the war mongers of the consequence of military actions. The Washington Post in its issue of 11 March 2012 termed the military option a grave choice – one that Obama’s predecessor never seriously considered.

Why Israel is so nervous about Iran acquiring nuclear capability? The answer is simple. Israel was created at the patronage of the United States, United Kingdom, France and the Soviet Union-the victors of the World War II and it always look towards its creators for support and protection. Israel has successfully exploited the sympathy of the European countries and the United States in equipping its military with modern armaments. She is very quick to point fingers at her neighboring Muslim countries not friendly with her. Israel fought three wars with her neighbors and in these wars she occupied lands which she annexed to the main territory. Despite the U.N. Security Council resolutions Israel never surrendered the lands to the neighbors but her friends never bothered to impose sanctions for disregarding the Security Council resolutions. Israel with the technical assistance from France and financial support from the United States acquired nuclear weapons capability decades ago but she denied the IAEA access to her nuclear sites. Israel is believed to be in possession of over 150 nuclear arsenals. Being in possession of hundreds of nuclear warheads on what moral ground Israel demands Iran to be disarmed?

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmedinejad is not within his competence to rewrite history and deny holocaust. It happened in countries occupied by Germany in the thirties as the carnage happened in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon in 1984. Israeli army and its local militia let loose the killing spree for thirty six hours where thousands of Palestinian men, women and children were slaughtered. The massacre was stopped only after the international community made an outcry. President Ahmedinejad is not alone in his attempt to rewrite history. The former Prime Minister of Israel Golda Meir told Alan Hart, a British journalist, in a television interview that “there was no such thing as a Palestinian and that the Palestinians did not exist”. Golda Meir knew she was wrong. She left a note with her trusted assistant with a request to pass this to Alan Hart after her death. In the note she regretted that “as soon as these words left her mouth, she knew they were the silliest damn thing she ever said.”

Ever since Israel was created the United States became its most beloved and trusted friend. Apart from receiving US$ 4.00 billion per annum Israel continues to get massive military assistance from the United States. The U.S. government became its ardent supporter in the international forum. The United States had applied veto in the U.N. Security Council more than forty times to block resolutions critical of Israel. Many of these vetoes have brought international condemnations to the United States and tarnished its image abroad. President Jimmy Carter in his book Palestine- Peace not Apartheid wrote, “There is little doubt that the lack of persistent effort to resolve the Palestinian issue is a major source of anti-American sentiment and terrorist activity throughout the Middle East and the Islamic world.” President Carter also wrote that “the United States is squandering international prestige and goodwill and intensifying global anti-American terrorism by unofficially condoning and abetting the Israeli confiscation and colonization of Palestinian territories.” The International Herald Tribune quoted a survey in October 2003, of 7500 citizens in 15 European countries indicating that Israel was a major threat to world peace. In a recent survey conducted by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in 12 Arab countries, it was revealed that over 93 percent of the respondents believe that the U.S. - Israeli coalition poses major threat to the security of their countries. Around 84 percent believe that the Palestinian issue, is not only an issue of the Palestinians, but for the entire Arab world but they also support the right of Israel to exist. The survey also reveals that 55 percent population believe that since Israel has acquired nuclear weapons the Arab countries have the inalienable right to pursue nuclear capability as well.

The one sided biased policy of the United States in the Middle East has brought no dividend for her. Instead it has alienated vast majority of the population in the Muslim world. Israel attacked Lebanon in July 2006 and the country was torn to shreds. The United States government strongly supported Israel, encouraged bombardment of Lebanon and blocked the efforts of France and other countries for five weeks to seek an immediate cease-fire. This brought worldwide condemnation. By according unconditional and absolute support to Israeli actions the United States has lost the moral authority to broker a peace deal in the troubled region. France, Germany, China and Japan are now held in higher esteem than the United States in the Far East, Central Asia, Africa and in Latin America. Israel has become a liability for the United States. The American love and affection for Israel have risked its own security. Given the unfavorable if not, hostile sentiment of the people, it is high time the Washington realigns its foreign policy.

Iraq is recovering from the post war turmoil and it would not be in a position to provide leadership in the region in the near future. Given half of Iraqi population pursuing same faith as that of the people of Iran and most of Iraq’s present leadership having had enjoyed Iranian hospitality during their exile, it would be natural to expect that Baghdad would prefer a friendly relation with its southern neighbor. The people of Iran are emotionally attached to the holy places of Najaf and Karbala. Millions of Iranians visit these places on pilgrimage every year. Iraq has a long border with Iran and both would gain from trade and commerce with each other. The cultural, social and political influence of Persia will now spread from the Shaatil Arab to the Gulf of Aqaba and beyond. Persia and Mesopotamia both have rich culture, literature and tradition to draw inspiration for moving forward. If they could forge unity and guard against falling prey to foreign intrigues, they would be well placed to contribute to the peace in the Middle East.

Iran is a country of 80 million people. It has huge oil reserve apart from other natural resources. It has hosted millions of Afghan refugees since its neighbor was invaded by the then Soviet Union. In 1991 about a million Iraqi Kurds took refuge in Iran. Because of its size and its population the gulf countries have already accepted the de facto regional leadership of Iran. The United States should accept the reality and reconcile its relation with Iran. It should no longer remain hostage to its obsolete policy towards Israel. IAEA has so far failed to produce compelling evidence that Iran is on the brink of acquiring nuclear capability. If India, Pakistan, China and Israel have the rights to acquire nuclear arsenals and the United Sates can happily deal with them, why Iran should be perceived as a potential threat to the west? China which was once denied of membership in the United Nations is now the leading trading partner of Europe and the U.S. China is indeed the major lender of the United States. Japan, Germany and Italy were adversaries of the West in the World War II. After the war was over former enemies were even welcomed to the military alliance like NATO. They fought jointly in Serbia and Afghanistan.

The hard line policy of Iran is bound to change once the U.S and the European countries begin to treat her with respect and as equal partner. As a regional leader it cannot seek dual government or leadership in Lebanon nor can it lend support to a fraction of the Palestinian society. It will pursue a just solution of the Palestinian problem or might even settle down with two states formula. The United States will be required to take a balanced position in the Middle East. It will have to depart from the one eyed biased policy towards Israel – a policy that has cost her dearly in the past six decades. The United States can play a historic role in brokering a peace deal but in order to do that she must not be seen, in the words of President Carter, “in the pockets of either side”. The existence of Israel is an established fact; even overwhelming Arab population acknowledges her right to exist. No country in the region can ignore the wishes of the people. In due course and once trusts and goodwill are restored between the two, the United States and Iran will be able to transform the troubled region into a region of peace and tranquility. Israel would receive the highest dividend from this transformation. If Iran joins the world community with its huge oil reserve there would be healthy development in the world economy. The people of Iran will benefit from the advanced learning and technology in the U.S and the West will benefit from trade and commerce in the Persian region. Peace will dawn in the straits of the Harmuz and on the bank of the Shaatil Arab. The United States, in the words of President Ronald Reagan, will also stand taller in the committee of nations.

· The author is a former official of the United Nations