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US-Iran Crisis Fall-Out

Iranian Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Alexei Makarkin
UPI Senior News Analyst
Moscow (UPI) May 01, 2006
Escalation of the U.S. conflict with Iran directly affects the interests of its neighbors. A military solution may generate serious problems for Iraq, where it took the political forces several months to agree on the distribution of government positions.

Moreover, a Shiite has again become prime minister, and the Iraqi Shiites have historical ties with their brethren in Iran. Understandably, political risks in Afghanistan and Pakistan will markedly grow. The states of the South Caucasus, also Iran's neighbors, will face problems too.

The media report that the United States is hoping for Azeri cooperation -- its territory could be used as a potential bridgehead for military action against Iran. This may or may not happen, but nevertheless is on the agenda. The agenda may include the use of Azeri air space and airfields, and the deployment of U.S. troops on Azeri territory.

Obviously, Baku is not very enthusiastic about this prospect. To begin with, Azerbaijan maintains close relations with Iran. They signed a non-aggression and cooperation treaty in 2002. Last December their representatives attended the inauguration of the gas pipeline -- under a 25 year-long bilateral agreement, Iran will supply 80.5 million cubic m of natural gas a year.

During his recent trip to Baku, Iranian Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar said: "The security of Azerbaijan is the security of Iran. Our defence capability is your defence capability." He seemed keen to find out the Azeri position on the eve of Aliyev's visit to the U.S. It is clear, however, that if Azerbaijan becomes an American ally in the war against Iran, it will itself become a target for Iranian missiles."

Moreover, Iran is the home for at least 35 million Azeris -- their number being bigger than the population of Azerbaijan itself -- many of them with relatives in Azerbaijan. It is rumored that the Americans may try and use the ethnic factor -- contradictions between the Azeri diaspora and the Tehran regime, as Stalin tried to do in 1946). If so, the United States will find it hard to do without Baku. But let's not forget that Stalin did not succeed, although the Iranian central government was much weaker than it is now. In addition, if hostilities break out, refugees may flood Azeri territory and create serious problems for the Baku authorities. Finally, the Islamic fundamentalists in Azerbaijan may use military action to enhance their positions by espousing anti-American rhetoric.

While Baku is thinking about its position in the Iranian crisis, Armenia is worried that it may have a negative effect on the Karabakh problem, in which the United States is increasingly trying to act as a go-between. So far, the point at issue is whether Baku will grant Karabakh the right to self-determination, and sanction a referendum, the results of which are already clear. Only in this case will Armenia agree to concessions, and return to Baku control over the areas of the country, outside Karabakh, which are now occupied by its armed formations.

For the time being, Aliyev rejects the idea of a referendum as a matter of principle -- if he agrees to it, he will weaken his position inside the country and give the opposition an excuse to lash out at him.

Today, the Americans are emphasizing their role of an "honest broker" at the Karabakh negotiations, and are trying to exert equal influence on either side. But the question is if they are so interested in Azeri territory as a bridgehead for military action against Iran, how can they "compensate" Baku for the tremendous political risks involved?

At the very least, the United States could support the Azeri option of the Karabakh settlement, which Armenia finds unacceptable. At most, Washington may look the other way if Baku possible attempts to resolve the issue with military force. The leader of the Armenian opposition Stepan Demirchyan said with good reason: "The consequences of a war in Iran will be destructive for the whole region." He added that a war in Iran would spell disaster both for Nagorny Karabakh and Armenia.

Although unlikely, even the possibility of such a war causes concern in Armenia and other Commonwealth of Independent States nations, which have a vested interest in peaceful settlement of conflicts on their territory.

Thus potential U.S. military intervention in Iran may not only result in huge casualties, part of which will be caused by Tehran's retaliation, but also exacerbate old seats of tension, which have been almost extinguished. In short, it could trigger a chain reaction with unpredictable consequences.

Alexei Makarkin is Deputy General Director of the Center for Political Technologies in Moscow and wrote this commentary for the RIA Novosti news agency. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. 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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In the 1980s it was Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime vying to fill a power vacuum left by the demise of the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran. Today the roles have reversed, as we witness the Islamic Republic of Iran trying to exert its influence in post-Saddam Iraq and beyond. Tehran's efforts to subvert progress next door betray an over-arching scheme to dominate the Middle East.

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