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Misunderstanding Iran

The empowerment of the Iranian people, therefore, requires an end to the policy of hampering the main opposition movement. By appeasing the mullahs, the Clinton administration and the European Union did exactly the opposite.
by Mohammad Mohaddessin
UPI Outside View Commentator
Paris (UPI) May 31, 2007
Euphoria over the outcome of the talks between Washington and Tehran has given the die-hard proponents of conciliation with the Iranian mullahs a glimmer of hope. As illusory as they are, these expectations reveal a blurred understanding of the state of affairs in Iran and the essence of the Iranian mullahs' foreign and domestic policy.

A fundamental question needs to be answered in order to see through the fog that hangs over the policy on Iran: Are we witnessing the emergence of a regional power or the demise of a troglodyte theocracy?

Tehran's unscrupulous apologists project it as a stable and powerful state. The all-too-familiar argument is that the mullahs, owing to their interest in a stable and unified Iraq, would inevitably retract from their aggressive posturing. This logic leads only to one policy implication: Engage the mullahs in dialogue and encourage the regime to change its behavior.

In practice, pursuing such a policy, as has been the case for the past 16 years, has only strengthened the most radical and belligerent faction in the ruling elite, and effectively made the West and the Middle East vulnerable to the Iranian regime and Islamic fundamentalism.

Far from a position of strength, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's decision to propel an obscure, but ruthless, Revolutionary Guards' commander to the presidency in 2005 was a shrewd, yet inevitable, attempt to prevent the state as a whole from going down the abyss. The crippling effects of internal divisions, the seismic shift in regional geopolitics which saw the fall of the Iraqi government to the west and Taliban to the east, and, above all, the dangerously rising tide of public discontent made it plain to the supreme leader and his retinue that they had to close ranks and shore up their defenses in order to survive.

On the nuclear front and Iraq, Khamenei sprinted forward at full throttle, cognizant that without either, his regime's chances of withstanding the winds of change would be remote at best. During four years of nuclear talks, Tehran defied at least 12 ultimatums to stop its enrichment program, including Security Council resolutions 1696, 1737 and 1747. It also rejected a very generous package of international incentives in June 2006, in addition to the American offer to engage in direct talks in return for suspension of uranium enrichment activities.

If the mullahs had gained a degree of permanency, they would have used this golden opportunity and agreed to negotiate. That would have seemed particularly plausible considering that the U.S.-led coalition had eliminated Tehran's two primary external nemeses, Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, and caged its main internal threat, the opposition People's Mujahedeen.

Yet, keenly aware of the regime's vulnerability, the ruling clerics adamantly refused to bargain. Nowhere was this more evident than in remarks by the supreme leader in March 2006. "Any retreat will be followed by other chalices of poison. Our path is an irreversible one," Khamenei insisted.

Tehran's adamant refusal to resolve the nuclear standoff confirms the view held by many that for the Iranian leadership obtaining nuclear weapons is a strategic decision and a key accomplishment that would empower the regime to emerge as the hegemon in that part of the world.

On the home front, the new round of crackdowns nationwide has been the fiercest of its kind in recent history. It ironically reflects the regime's growing isolation inside the country. The citizenry's daring defiance of the mullahs, including several major uprisings in April and May, in addition to nearly 5,000 protests and strikes across the country last year, has prompted senior officials to express trepidation over losing control of the situation.

What are the options?

The West, in search of lucrative commerce with Tehran, has spared no effort in engaging the so-called pragmatic or "reformist" elements wi thin the ruling elite. Central to 16 years of conciliation was hobbling Tehran's only effective and organized opposition, the People's Mujahedeen, by branding it terrorist.

This policy netted billions for the Europeans and gave the ever-cunning mullahs the opportunity to make giant strides in their nuclear ambitions and spread their fundamentalist tentacles in the Middle East, thus increasing the chances of another war. The Iranian people, meanwhile, suffered both in terms of their livelihood and liberties at home and abroad.

With this misguided policy dead in its tracks, the alternative is not a foreign military intervention as that would be neither feasible nor desirable with calamitous regional and global repercussions.

A third option, which entails reaching out to Tehran's organized democratic opposition as the catalyst for change, offers the only effective and viable approach. Commenting on antigovernment protests a couple of years ago, a Tehran-based European diplomat made a remarkably accurate observation. "The pent-up anger is still there, beneath the surface. But for it to seriously take off you need a catalyst, you need a cause, you need organization and leadership. It's a big task," he said.

The empowerment of the Iranian people, therefore, requires an end to the policy of hampering the main opposition movement. By appeasing the mullahs, the Clinton administration and the European Union did exactly the opposite.

The annulment of the terrorist designation of the People's Mujahedeen by the Court of the First Instance of the European Communities last December rendered the terror tag on the PMOI illegal and illegitimate. The West should now move swiftly to rectify a colossal policy blunder. It could ill afford to let this opportunity slip away by continuing to engage in fruitless dialogue with Tehran.

No breakthrough in EU-Iran nuclear talks
Madrid, May 31 (AFP) May 31, 2007 EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani failed Thursday to break the deadlock over Tehran's nuclear programme but agreed to meet again in a fortnight. "I think we can say that there was no fundamental breakthrough, but we made advances on some important issues," Solana told reporters after the two held discussions for some four hours in Madrid.

"What is important is that we are going to continue working at a more intense rhythm than we have had in the past few months," he said.

The two agreed to talk again in a week and hold another face-to-face meeting in two weeks' time, but failed to make significant ground on the major sticking points: Iran's suspension of enrichment activities and UN sanctions.

"In the course of these negotiations, there has been some useful ideas on both sides," said Larijani.

"We have asked our deputies to act on these and in about two weeks' time there should be another meeting about the ideas that were introduced, including the issues raised about the IAEA," he added.

The International Atomic Energy Agency last week issued a damning report, saying that Iran persists in defying UN demands to stop enriching uranium and was hampering the job of its inspectors on the ground.

"We are quite serious about reaching a solution for this problem as soon as possible since we have found good common ground to work out," Larijani said, without specifying what the exact issue or problem was.

It was Solana and Larijani's second meeting in just over a month after a fruitless head-to-head in Turkey in late April.

Prior to the meeting, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on Iran to shift its stance of ignoring sanctions-backed UN demands to halt uranium enrichment work, but Tehran remained defiant.

Speaking in Vienna, the headquarters of the IAEA, Rice urged Tehran "to change tactics" and agree to suspend its enrichment work, which Washington charges is part of a covert nuclear weapons prog ramme.

"The international community is united on what Iran should do and that is to suspend; to demonstrate that it is in fact not seeking a nuclear weapon under cover of civil nuclear power," Rice said.

She also repeated Washington's offer to join multiparty talks on trade, security and technological benefits for Iran if the Islamic state acceded to UN demands.

The Madrid meeting was the first between Solana and Larijani since the expiration of a 60-day time limit set by the United Nations for Iran to stop enriching uranium, a process which can be used both to make nuclear fuel and, in highly purified form, the fissile core of an atomic bomb.

Iran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons, saying it wants only to produce energy for a growing population whose fossil fuels will eventually run out.

Observers said before Thursday's meeting that it had little chance of achieving any breakthrough, with Tehran showing no sign of buckling under increasing international pressure.

"There is no possible path for the suspension of the enrichment of uranium," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said.

"Iran will use all legal and judicial means to realize its legitimate rights and will not halt its nuclear activities," he added.

And Larijani, speaking before flying to Madrid on Wednesday, had said that suspending enrichment was "not a logical way" to resolve the nuclear issue.

Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight most industrialised nations said this week that they are prepared to back "appropriate measures" if Iran fails to compromise.

The US is leading calls by Western powers for existing sanctions on Iran to be tightened. The UN Security Council first imposed sanctions on Iran in December for rejecting its demands, and then modestly increased them in March.

Source: Agence France-Presse

(Mohammad Mohaddessin is chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran. He is the author of "Islamic Fundamentalism: The New Global Threat.")

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

Source: United Press International

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Deadlock On Iran As ElBaradei Calls Time Out On Discord
Moscow (UPI) May 29, 2007
Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, thinks that Iran has gone so far in its nuclear program that it is no longer relevant to demand that it should stop uranium enrichment. Moreover, he believes that since the major world powers have come to terms with a nuclear North Korea, they should do the same towards Iran.

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