Friday, January 13, 2006

No Good Options

It was hardly unexpected that the EU3 at their meeting in Berlin yesterday called for an emergency meeting of the Governing Board of the IAEA to discuss the latest nuclear moves by Iran, and that they now advocate that the issue the one way or the other should be brought before the UN Security Council.

But it is important to read the fine print as well.

There is considerable uneasiness in European policy circles over where we are heading. The latest maneuvers of Teheran left the EU3 with no real alternative, but the move they are now taking is a move they would have preferred to avoid.

The reason is that it is very unclear what a discussion at the Security Council could achieve.

It will certainly give Iran a public platform that is rather effective. And one shouldn't overlook the fact that Teheran does have some arguments on its side.

Why is everyone increasing cooperation with an India that never even adhered to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and that went on and acquired nuclear weapons? We might argue that India, after all, is a democracy, while Teheran is a regime of a very different character and orientation. But part of the world will see it as us applying double standards.

And then there is the issue of the application of sanctions. Can it be done? And - if it is done - what effect will it have?

Will they drive the regime into a desperate rush to get nuclear weapons as it develops a fortress mentality even more acute than at the moment? Or will it force it to open up, perhaps under the pressure of an increasingly frustrated middle class of the country?

There is simply no way of knowing.

Add to that the risk that a failure by a UN Security Council process to secure a rapid resolution of the issue might be used as a pretext by those advocating taking unilateral military action against Iran.

And on that point there is a unanimous view in Europe that it would be disastrous.

The possibilities for Iran to strike back are numerous - the fragile states of Iraq and Afghanistan, or the energy supply line of Asia and Europe through the Strait of Hormuz. Add to this that a military strike is most unlikely to stop the nuclear ambitions of the country - it might slow them down technically, but will certainly solidify a political determination to eventually get there.

When Israel attacked the nuclear reactor Saddam Hussein was building at Osirak, it certainly destroyed that facility, but caused the overall program to accelerate using different and more hidden facilities.

It is however in the nature of foreign affairs that you have to play the hand that you have. There are sometimes no good options.

As I head for a weekend in Switzerland with discussions about the international security challenges of the year, I'm as certain as can be that this will be the issue that will be at the very top of the agenda of our talks.

Iran’s Present Government Is Stranger To Compromise and Detente (Iran Press Service)