Friday, October 22, 2004


Iran, Nukes, and Reform

Mustafa El-Labbad writes in Al-Ahram that "foreign pressure [stemming from Iran's nuclear program] might tip the balance in the reformers' favour" in Iran. Well, actually, he doesn't really do a good job of writing that. After reading the article, El-Labbad doesn't give any clear explanation of how the international pressure will help the reformers. But he does make some points that would lead one down that path of reasoning, which I will now take myself. El-Labbad points out that Iran is essentially coming to a turning point. "The storm clouds are gathering over Iran and the wind is howling," El-Labbad writes. "But, even if this particular storm blows over, there is no doubt that the meeting of the IAEA in November will mark a turning point in the history of Iran and the Middle East as a whole." It would be nice if he would tell us why.

Here is what I can gather: The international community has reached a concensus against Iran's attaining nuclear weapons and is willing to turn the matter over to the UN Security Council. El-Labbad writes: "By merely coming under UN Security Council scrutiny over its nuclear capabilities, Iran effectively loses its sovereign status. Iran would become subject to internationally stipulated deadlines, conditions and inspection demands, as was the case with Iraq from the end of the second Gulf war until the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003." Even though the Iranians have "proved themselves skillful negotiators, tacticians and hagglers in the global political bazaar," they look out "at a barren and brutal international landscape. It has no major allies to speak of now that the countries of the G8, following their latest meeting, have ranged themselves against it." Thus, Iran has reached a point where it is pushed up against the wall. And it is hardly willing to allow itself to be Iraqized in terms of UN Security Council involvement, deadlines, weapons inspectors, and all that. So how does this benefit the reformers? Here, I think, is the paragraph that is key to answering this question:
Europe is currently using the carrot-and-stick approach towards Iran, offering it economic and political privileges if Iran abandons its possession of nuclear technology. The US, on the other hand, has succeeded in tightening the legal and diplomatic siege on Iran preparatory to homing in its sights following the US presidential elections.
I think the reformers win if the European way is the one that works. As Europe offers economic and political priveleges, this cannot but help to open up more Iranians to Europe. The reformers are given an avenue by which they can return to the Iranian political landscape and by which the Iranian conservatives are in less of a position to deny them. In fact, the increased European role cannot but be much more helpful to the adversarial position of the US (which some see as the reason that the conservatives were able to reassert their dominance over the reformists). Anyhow, its something interesting to think about. If somebody else can better articulate how the IAEA and European involvement would benefit the reformist movement in Iran, please post comments, links, etc. I think this is interesting, important, and much overlooked in the US (where the Iranian nuclear threat is rarely if ever viewed with an eye toward Iranian domestic politics).

There are always good articles here: think a key aspect of the situation is that the Iranians feel they have the right to nuclear technology. In fact Iran's mullah president Mohammad Khatami, said: "We demand respect for our rights to have nuclear technology for civilian use and that no-one tries to deprive us of this."

I don't think the EU's scheme to give them incentives for not using Nuclear Energy is going to work. It kind of reminds me of the "oil for food" deal with Iraq. However, I think that good old fashioned "friendly" foreign policy good do a great deal of good. Khatami has talked about how he hopes the US will adopt a less extremist foreign policy. If we offer an friendly hand to Iran instead of a raised fist maybe we can get more information about their nuclear capabilities (as far as fuel and weapons). If they feel they have a right to nuclear fuel, maybe we should help them with technology to use it safely for assurance that they won't continue with weapons programs.

Like El-Labbad said, "[Iran] has no major allies to speak of now that the countries of the G8, following their latest meeting, have ranged themselves against it." So why not become an ally? I think this could help the US in terms of the "war on terror" as well. If we can have friendly relations with Iran maybe they would be more willing to offer help with disrupting terrorist cells operating in the country instead of helping them.

I don't know maybe I'm being naive, but I don't see how unilateral, cowboy, foreign policy is going to do any better of a job than what I've suggested.
No, no. I am definitely with you. Or at least, if not an ally, offer something productive instead of the raised fist that you talk about. I guess my main question is how one links the nuclear situation with the question of reformists vs. conservatives inside Iran.

Following your oil for food analogy, that obviously didn't help allow any voices of dissent or more open thinking to emerge in Iraq. Or maybe that is exactly the point - that once the UNSC is involved in a sort of tightly regimented program then the chance to reform the system is shot. I don't know. In either case I guess it would be hard to compare the Ba'ath regime to the Iranian system.

I think I am just pissed that El-Labbad piqued my interest by promising to explain how "foreign pressure might tip the balance in the reformers' favour" and not following through. Thanks very much for the comment and the link though. I'm gonna have to do some reading.
I've been reading some more stuff on this. It's really interesting, but I still can't find any clues as to why outside forces could help increase the strength of the Reformist party... It's funny that a lot of articles mention it, but no one gives evidence why. Weird.

One guess would be, if the EU/US/IAEA are putting my scrutiny on Iran maybe the conservatives would be less likely to do crazy shit, like when they threw out tons of reformists from the elections in January.

Check this out: Iran reformers.

It looks like many people are just pissed that the Reform party hasn't gotten much done since 2000. If they can get talks started with the EU/etc and get things going it would give more viability to their party... That seems to, at least, be a part of it...

Anyway, if I find anything substantial, I'll comment... I'd like to see if you get anything else too, good luck!

now it's time for french class
thanks for the link - it was an interesting article. and maybe if the nuke talks with the EU et al yield some good vibes between Europe and Iran then people might start thinking of the reformers as having something to offer again.

on the other hand, it seems equally likely that some people will think "hey, the only reason europe paid attention in the first place was because they were scared of our nukes" which i can see playing into the hands of the conservatives.

i guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens.
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