Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Iran's Nuclear Programme - Assessment of Goals and Future Actions

Meir Javedanfar, The Middle East Economic and Political Analysis:
The negotiations between the EU3 (France, UK and Germany) and Iran on Wednesday produced a temporary win – win result for all parties.

The EU finished the negotiations with the positive image of being able to convince Iran not to continue with its enrichment program – for three months.

Meanwhile the Iranian government came away from the negotiations with the immediate prize of US dropping its opposition to Iran's WTO entry talks. READ MORE

This was followed by promises of economic rewards from the EU – in return for future Iranian promises not to continue with the enrichment program. More importantly the fact that the negotiations will resume in late July provides Tehran with an important window during which it can complete its Presidential election (scheduled for June 17). Therefore by the time negotiations resume in late July Iran's new President (Hashemi Rafsanjani as predicted by meepas©) will be in office and ready to deal with the next stage of the negotiations.

The all important question on everyone's mind is: what is next? Is the Iranian government likely to accept economic offers from the EU such as a Free Trade Agreement at the expense of its nuclear program?

In order to answer that question this analysis by meepas© will first address the Iranian government's ultimate goal for the development of its military nuclear capability. Once that has been established the analysis will then forecast the Iranian government's next steps.

Goals and Ambitions

According to a number of analysts the ultimate goal of the Iranian government for its nuclear program is to threaten Israel's existence. It is the opinion of meepas© that this goal is not the first, but the second goal of the Iranian government's clandestine plans to acquire military nuclear capability.

The first and most important reason why the regime of Ayatollah Khamenei wishes to become nuclear is to ensure its own survival against internal and external threats.

The changing political landscape in the Middle East region has heightened the Ayatollah's sense of fear. Iran of today is not the Iran of 1980s when Iran's best and brightest were sent to the front to fight Saddam's forces, an experience which cost Iran's youth population hundreds of thousands of lives. Despite the fact that Iran was fighting an invading army, nevertheless the war was a useful tool for the regime to divert the attention of the country's population away from the corruption, the unemployment and the abuse of human rights at home.

Today Iran's legions of young people are becoming more and more aware of the abuses at home by the government. To make matters more worrying for the authorities the economy cannot provide the 800,000 jobs required per year to keep those joining the workforce off the streets. This is despite the recent financial gains from high prices charged for oil. So far the disenchanted youth of Iran have not been able to bring much change. Nevertheless they are a potential which upon the introduction of a catalyst can turn into a powerful mechanism for change. Heightening the sense of threat for the religious regime in Tehran is the fact that the catalyst for such an implosion is getting closer and closer to Iran's borders.

Regional developments

Iranians consider themselves to be the elite of the Middle East in many areas such as art, culture, science and literature. Such sense of pride is based on such noble figures as the world renowned poet Omar Khayam, Ali Razi (inventor of industrial alcohol over 3000 years ago) and King Darius who wrote the first Human Rights Charter some 2,500 years ago. It was this concept of human rights, freedom of religion and the equality of all races that lead to the freedom of the Jews from the captivity of Babylon by Cyrus the Great of Persia. Furthermore it has also been suggested by a number of historians that Persian developed Sanskrit which is considered to be the mother of all modern languages.

Nevertheless Iran's population are becoming more and more aware of how Iran is in fact falling behind in the region. Looking around at Iran's neighbours with the exception of Turkmenistan all other countries in the immediate vicinity of Iran have multi party elections. Afghanistan, long considered to be the poorer Persian speaking cousin of Iranians now has a political system far more advanced and open compared to Iran's. Even Iraq, long ruled by the despised Saddam who much like the Ayatollah's regimes forced the public into submission now has a creaking yet present multi party election system. To add insult to injury, even Iran's one party election system is viewed as being biased due to the fact that the Guardian Council disqualified all reform candidates except two members for the upcoming elections. Iran's population are becoming more aware of how they are missing out on the positive political changes sweeping the region. This concerns the Iranian regime as a potential threat.

However what heightens the regime's sense of fear are terms such as “regime change” coming out of Washington. Such words were backed by action in the recent Iraqi campaign to topple Saddam. Although many analysts including the author do not believe that America will launch a full military invasion of Iran, nevertheless there is no evidence to suggest that Washington may not and will not support internal change in Iran as it has said it would do so.

The Iranian government is becoming more and more concerned about the potential threat of America's long term stay in the Middle East plus the fact that the Iranian economy is and will be unable to meet the growing population's needs. Realising that it does not have capability to eliminate the ensuing threats emanating from the aforementioned factors the Iranian regime has decided that it needs to take immediate and concrete measures to ensure its survival in the face of ensuing dangers.

The ultimate defence

The nuclear option is one of the most effective methods which would immediately ensure the survival of the current regime.

At a military level the regime's nuclear capability would act as a deterrent to any foreign force planning to invade Iran for the purpose of “regime change”. At a separate level a nuclear Iran is likely to make any country think twice before it becomes directly involved in supporting internal opposition forces.

In case of an internal uprising by the Iranian people if and when the Ayatollahs do get the bomb, the fact that they will have their fingers on the nuclear button would make the task of removing them infinitely more difficult and dangerous.

Nuclear capability also has political advantages which would contribute to the regime's survival. Even before its development and deployment it has provided the Iranian government with much needed new external threats which it uses to divert the public's attention from the problems at home. Ayatollah Rafsanjani's speech on 14 December 2001 in which he called on the Muslim states to use nuclear weapon against Israel were clearly aimed at provoking a response which the regime in Tehran could use to create a new perceived enemy for the Iranian people. If Iran becomes nuclear it will make the job of creating and provoking external enemies for the regime a much easier process which it can and will use time and again as a tool to increase its popularity.

Future Plans

It is the opinion of meepas© that the Iranian government will continue with its nuclear program in a clandestine manner, even if an agreement is made with the EU. This is based on our assessment that nuclear capability will be an insurance policy which has the capability to ensure that the current regime stays in power as the sole ruler of Iran perhaps for the next hundred years, or even eternity. Therefore as far as the regime would be concerned a Free Trade Pact with the EU is far more expendable than the rewards directly offered to its own security and survival by a nuclear bomb. This argument is further backed by the fact the threat of UN sanctions against Iran seem unlikely due to the fact that China would most probably veto such a move at the UN. This is due to the fact that sanctions would deprive China of 270,000 barrels per day of oil which it currently imports from Iran, replacement of which would be a very difficult task. Notwithstanding the fact that higher price of oil due to sanctions against Iran would hurt the Chinese economy whilst depriving it of a $4 billion a year Iranian market.

Even economic sanctions are imposed it is also the opinion of meepas© that such an act would not stop the current regime's clandestine drive to acquire nuclear capability as much like the sanctions against Iraq, it would be the civilian population who would bear the brunt of the sanctions and not the ruling authority. On countless occasions before the regime has sacrificed the Iranian people's lives and wellbeing to suit its own needs. It would do so again as by then it will be equipped with the most powerful deterrence the regime has ever had against those daring to challenge its actions and policies.
The author argues that the EU3/Iran compromise is a win/win situation. But it is a lose/lose for the U.S. and the Iranian people. He agrees that Iran wants nuclear weapons and argues that their reason for needing nuclear weapons is due to the Iranian people's desire for real democracy. In otherwords,the Mullahs want to create a fireewall around Iran to keep others out so they can oppress their own people.

The author then argues that Iran will not keep any promises not to develop nuclear weapons.

So where is the Win/Win?