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Countdown to War on Iran


Published 7 June 2007

U.S. Foments Unrest and Spurns Overtures

Silently, stealthily, unseen by cameras, the war on
Iran has already begun. Many sources confirm that the
United States, bent on destabilising the Islamic
Republic, has increased its aid to armed movements
among the Azeri, Baluchi, Arab and Kurdish ethnic
minorities that make up about 40% of the Iranian
population. ABC News reported in April that the US had
secretly assisted the Baluchi group Jund al-Islam
(Soldiers of Islam), responsible for a recent attack
in which some 20 members of the Revolutionary Guard
were killed. According to an American Foundation
report (1), US commandos have operated inside Iran
since 2004.

President George Bush categorised Iran, along with
North Korea and Iraq, as the "axis of evil" in his
State of the Union address in January 2002. Then in
June 2003 he said the US and its allies should make it
clear that they "would not tolerate" the construction
of a nuclear weapon in Iran.

It is worth recalling the context in which these
statements were made. President Mohammed Khatami had
repeatedly called for "dialogue among civilisations".
Tehran had actively supported the US in Afghanistan,
providing many contacts that Washington had used to
facilitate the overthrow of the Taliban regime. At a
meeting in Geneva on 2 May 2003 between Javad Zaraf,
the Iranian ambassador, and Zalmay Khalilzad, Bush’s
special envoy to Afghanistan, the Tehran government
submitted a proposal to the White House for general
negotiations on weapons of mass destruction, terrorism
and security, and economic cooperation (2). The
Islamic Republic said it was ready to support the Arab
peace initiative tabled at the Beirut summit in 2002
and help to transform the Lebanese Hizbullah into a
political party. Tehran signed the Additional Protocol
to the Non-Proliferation Treaty on 18 December 2003,
which considerably strengthens the supervisory powers
of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) but
which only a few countries have ratified.

The US administration swept all these overtures aside
since its only objective is to overthrow the mullahs.
To create the conditions for military intervention, it
constantly brandishes "the nuclear threat". Year after
year US administrations have produced alarmist
reports, always proved wrong. In January 1995 the
director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency
said Iran could have the bomb by 2003, while the US
defence secretary, William Perry, predicted it would
have the bomb by 2000. These forecasts were repeated
by Israel’s Shimon Peres a year later. Yet last month,
despite Iran’s progress in uranium enrichment, the
IAEA considered that it would be four to six years
before Tehran had the capability to produce the bomb.

What is the truth? Since the 1960s, long before the
Islamic revolution, Iran has sought to develop nuclear
power in preparation for the post-oil era.
Technological developments have made it easier to pass
from civil to military applications once the processes
have been mastered. Have Tehran’s leaders decided to
do so? There is no evidence that they have. Is there a
risk that they may? Yes, there is, for obvious

During the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein’s
regime, in breach of every international treaty, used
chemical weapons against Iran, but there was no outcry
in the US, or in France, against these weapons of mass
destruction, which had a traumatic effect on the
Iranian people. US troops are deployed in Iraq and
Afghanistan, and Iran is surrounded by a network of
foreign military bases. Two neighbouring countries,
Pakistan and Israel, have nuclear weapons. No Iranian
political leader could fail to be aware of this

How to prevent escalation?

So how is Tehran to be prevented from acquiring
nuclear weapons, a move that would start a new arms
race in a region that is already highly unstable and
deal a fatal blow to the non-proliferation treaty?
Contrary to common assumptions, the main obstacle is
not Tehran’s determination to enrich uranium. Iran has
a right to do so under the Nuclear Proliferation
Treaty but it has always said it was prepared to
impose voluntary restrictions on that right and to
agree to increased IAEA inspections to prevent any
possible use of enriched uranium for military

The Islamic Republic’s fundamental concern lies
elsewhere. Witness the agreement signed on 14 November
2004 with France, Britain and Germany, under which
Iran agreed to suspend uranium enrichment temporarily
on the understanding that a long-term agreement would
"provide firm commitments on security issues".
Washington refused to give any such commitments and
Iran resumed its enrichment programme.

The European Union chose not to pursue an independent
line but to follow Washington’s lead. The new
proposals produced by the five members of the Security
Council and Germany in June 2006 contained no
guarantee of non-intervention in Iranian affairs. In
Tehran’s reply to the proposals, delivered in August,
it again "suggest[ed] that the western parties who
want to participate in the negotiation team announce
on behalf of their own and other European countries,
to set aside the policy of intimidation, pressure and
sanctions against Iran". Only if such a commitment was
made could negotiations be resumed.

If not, escalation is inevitable. Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad’s election as president in June 2005 has
not made dialogue any easier, given his taste for
provocative statements, particularly about the
Holocaust and Israel. But Iran is a big country rich
in history and there is more to it than its president.
There is much tension within the government and
Ahmadinejad had severe setbacks both in the local
elections and in elections to the Assembly of Experts
in December 2006. There are substantial challenges,
economic and social, and forceful demands for more
freedom, especially among women and young people.
Iranians refuse to be regimented and the only strong
card the regime has to win their loyalty is
nationalism, a refusal to accept the kind of foreign
interference suffered throughout the 20th century.

Despite the disaster in Iraq, there is no indication
that Bush has given up the idea of attacking Iran.
This is part of his vision of a "third world war"
against "Islamic fascism", an ideological war that can
end only in complete victory. The demonisation of
Iran, aggravated by the attitude of its president, is
part of this strategy and may culminate in yet another
military venture. That would be a disaster, not only
for Iran and the Arab world, but for western,
especially European, relations with the Middle East.

Translated by Barbara Wilson

Alain Gresh is editor of Le Monde diplomatique and a
specialist on the Middle East

(1) Sam Gardiner, "The End of the ’Summer of
diplomacy’: Assessing US Military Options on Iran" (in
.pdf), Century Foundation Report, Washington, 2006.

(2) See Gareth Porter, "Burnt Offering", The American
Prospect, Washington, June 2006.

This article first appeared in the excellent monthly
Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition
can be found at mondediplo.com The full text appears
by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique and
CounterPunch will feature one or two articles from LMD
every month.