Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1160, (15 - 21 August 2013)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1160, (15 - 21 August 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Ways forward on Iran

The election of Hassan Rouhani as president of Iran may lead to a breakthrough in negotiations over the country’s nuclear programme, writes Camelia Entekhabifard

Al-Ahram Weekly

Iran’s nuclear programme has been one of the most talked about subjects over recent years. The programme, which Iran claims is for peaceful purposes, is being contested by the West, and the series of increasingly harsh international sanctions that have been imposed on Iran has proven that the negotiations with Iran have failed so far and that the international community does not believe Iran’s claim that it is carrying out only a peaceful nuclear programme.

But what would Iran do with nuclear weapons, were it to create them one day? Would it use them to launch a strike against its Arab neighbours or against Israel? Would these weapons make life easier for the regime, giving it prestige in the international community, or would they cause the regime further trouble and make life more dangerous?

The answers could be that such weapons could do all of these things. A glance at the history of the stalled negotiations between Iran and the West suggests that Iran’s tricks and prevarications, if such they are, come from a fundamental fear of the West and particularly of the US.

Looking back to 2003 when the current Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, was the country’s chief nuclear negotiator, Iran agreed to suspend uranium enrichment, though this later resumed when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became the Iranian president. One has to ask why Rouhani would take such a decision to suspend enrichment, since any such decision could not have been taken without the approval of the Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei.

The historical context may provide the explanation. At the time when Iran made the decision to suspend its enrichment of uranium, the US was occupying neighbouring Iraq and had a heavy presence in Afghanistan. With the US surrounding Iran both to the west and the east, it was quite possible for the then US president George W Bush to order a strike against Iran, and it seems that the American government was then very close to taking such a decision. 

However, Rouhani’s excellent diplomacy saved Iran and the regime in Tehran during this critical time. Should we conclude from this that Iran’s nuclear programme is merely a card that it has been doing its best to play against the Western powers?

The 2003 sequence of events is important because it supports the argument that Iran’s nuclear programme is really just a cover for another more important one since the Islamic regime in Iran has never felt safe or accepted by the Western powers. The regime’s strategy has accordingly been to create a strong defensive capability to support and defend itself against all foreign threats.

Such fears of foreign threats stem from the eight-year war that the country fought against Iraq, after Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 and Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which calls for member states to defend an attacked country, was not used to protect Iran. Instead, the international community either tacitly or openly supported the regime of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, a fact that has remained all too present in the Iranian psyche since.

Over a decade later, and with events unfolding in Iraq and Afghanistan post-9/11, the Iranian regime was convinced that it needed a strong self-defence capability. However, the international sanctions prevented it from strengthening its air force, and so it was left with little option but to develop its missile programme instead.

The UK magazine Jane’s Defence Weekly, an outlet of the IHS Jane’s Military and Security Assessments Intelligence Centre, recently published a photograph taken last month of a newly discovered nuclear site located 25 miles southeast of the city of Shahrud in northern Iran.

According to the centre’s analysts, the unfinished site has no storage facilities for the liquid rocket fuel used in Iran’s domestic satellite programme, suggesting that it has been built to house ballistic missiles using solid fuel. According to the magazine, Western intelligence analysts say a new missile-launching facility in Iran will likely be used for testing ballistic missiles, not for launching satellites into space as claimed by the regime.

However, Iran’s achievements in launching a satellite into space have been significant. Iran’s first satellite was successfully placed in space eight years ago, making the country the ninth nation in the world to launch its own satellite. Iran is very ambitious about developing its air and space programme, and it has also been talking about sending its own astronauts into space.

Many of Iran’s missile and satellite projects have been interrupted due to the recent sanctions, but the Iranian government has continued to finance these projects despite the obstacles. While the world focuses on Iran’s nuclear programme, the country has been developing its missile programme, which without doubt has the technology today to launch short and long-range missiles.

The Jane’s report about the missile site notes that in the past the United States has worried that Iran could be able to test a ballistic missile by the end of 2015. While it is now too late to stop Iran’s missile programme, it may be the right time for Iran to fully cooperate and negotiate with the international community over its nuclear programme.

What Iran has been striving all of these years to do is nothing more than protect its regime from potential foreign threats. If today the country is confident enough about its missiles capability, it could simply negotiate with the 5+1 powers responsible for the nuclear negotiations in a more cooperative manner, helping to justify the peacefulness of its nuclear programme.

Even if the international community began to lift the sanctions against Iran, it would take years for the Iranian economy to recover. Perhaps the first year of Rouhani’s presidency will be one of the most significant and important yet for the Islamic Republic of Iran.

 

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