Iran Won’t Be Bullied

TEHRAN – With Russia and China signaling opposition, the draft resolution circulated in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) by Britain, France, and Germany, asking Iran to halt uranium enrichment, is unlikely to enjoy smooth passage.

The resolution demands that Iran stop its nuclear research and development activities, as well as the construction of a heavy water reactor, or face “further measures” under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Resolutions passed under this chapter are binding, and their breach can lead to penalties such as sanctions or military action.

This resolution, backed by the United States, further escalates the West’s pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear activities, suspected to be for military purposes. It follows Iran’s defiance of a non-binding UNSC resolution on March 29 asking Iran to suspend its nuclear activities, and two adverse votes at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna.

However, pressure or threat of military strikes is unlikely to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear program, which, it maintains, is entirely peaceful and fully compatible with its obligations and rights under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Indeed, Iran has stiffened its stance and announced that it has increased the level of uranium enrichment in its pilot-scale facility at Natanz from 3.6 percent to 4.8 percent.

Discussions with nongovernmental security affairs experts here suggest that direct talks between Iran and the U.S. leading to a compromise would be a far superior and realistic way out of the present crisis than diplomatic or political pressure.

A possible compromise would involve agreement by the U.S. and the European Union that Iran can conduct research on uranium enrichment on a pilot-scale on its own soil. It can also send uranium for industrial-scale enrichment to Russia and then use it in its nuclear power reactors without reprocessing their spent fuel for plutonium. Iran must get guarantees of security and nonaggression by the U.S. In return, Iran would place its nuclear activities under intrusive IAEA inspections to ensure that materials are not diverted to military use.

Such a compromise would become possible only if the U.S. gives up its obsession with “regime change” in Iran and revises its assessment of the government in Tehran as irredeemably fundamentalist and the greatest source of “international terrorism” and extremism.

Washington’s European partners do not share this assessment. Last week, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told a conference in Brussels that no one is thinking of military action against Iran and that the EU would not join a “coalition of the willing” to attack Iran.

On Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met President George W. Bush in Washington for discussions on, among other things, Iran. While agreeing with him that Iran should not have nuclear weapons, she also advocated a step-by-step and peaceful approach within a diplomatic framework, drawing “as many partners as possible into the fold.”

In contrast, the U.S. is less interested in “behavioral change” than in “regime change.” It has reportedly drawn up plans for military strikes on up to 400 targets in Iran to take out its nuclear facilities.

Influential members of the U.S. establishment, such as former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, have warned against such an adventurist course, which will have a devastating impact on U.S. influence and image in the Middle East.

Many Iranian experts, who insisted on anonymity for fear of harassment by the government, told IPS that such saber-rattling and military threats are unlikely to cow Iran into abandoning its nuclear activities. “On the contrary,” said one, “threats will strengthen the hands of the hardliners and unite the people behind the government. Iranians, especially the youth, who form a majority of the population, want greater freedom and democracy. But they probably value national sovereignty and independence even more.”

Another analyst said: “Most Iranians retain a strong historical memory of Western meddling in their affairs throughout the last century, including the toppling of the nationalistic, democratically elected Mossadegh government, support for the shah’s bloody regime, visceral hostility towards all Islamic leaders. They are unlikely to be impressed by the nuclear hypocrisy of the big powers. These powers want Iran not even to have a peaceful nuclear program, but they have no intention of fulfilling their commitments under the NPT to disarm their nuclear weapons, which run into thousands.”

A central assumption behind the West’s hostility toward Iran is guided by a stereotype. Iran is seen as a kindred version of Saudi Arabia or Talibanist Afghanistan, with a brand of Islam that is intolerant, doctrinaire, and inflexible. Iranian society is regarded as backward, anti-modern, and marked by medieval attitudes. Within the stereotype, most people readily submit themselves to fanatical mullahs, who regulate their daily life.

These assumptions are not supported by reality. Sociologists and scholars say that Islam in Iran is more ritualistic than ideological or doctrine-driven. In the streets of Tehran, one comes across portraits of various prophets and the great Shia imams, including Hossain.

Middle-class Iranians are more interested in Hindu spiritual gurus and cult-figures like Rajneesh, Sai Baba, Mahesh Yogi, Satya Sai Baba, and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar than in Islamic clerics. Many are yoga enthusiasts and vegetarians.

The clerics do not command universal respect in Iran. Taxi drivers often refuse to be hired by them. They are seen as overbearing and intrusive on people’s privacy. The hijab dress code can only be imposed with a degree of coercion. Many women defy it subtly or overtly. They routinely wear lipstick, expose their ankles, and cover their heads only partially.

Young Iranians hate to be regimented and are thoroughly modern in outlook. In their behavior on a university campus or in cafes, they are not particularly distinguishable from say, Indian, Thai, or South African students. Iran has high Internet connectivity and the world’s third largest number of blogs. Farsi is the fifth most-used language by bloggers worldwide.

Unlike in many parts of the Middle East, Iran has an active, lively civil society as well as a vibrant intellectual and artistic life.

(Inter Press Service)

Author: Praful Bidwai

Praful Bidwai is a New Delhi-based political analyst and peace activist, a columnist with twenty-five Indian newspapers and co-author (with Achin Vanaik) of New Nukes: India, Pakistan and Global Nuclear Disarmament. He shared the International Peace Bureau's Sean MacBride International Peace Prize for 2000 with Vanaik.