Last Updated: Sat Nov 12, 2011 10:19 am (KSA) 07:19 am (GMT)

Iran: Learning to whistle and walk away

Amir Taheri

As expected, Iran is back in the headlines, once again, because of its nuclear program.

The latest report by Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Yukiya Amano suggests that suspicions regarding Tehran’s intentions may not be totally groundless after all. Iran may well have a clandestine nuclear program paralleling its official one.

To be sure, suspicion alone cannot be the basis for policy. However, the trouble is that, in this instance, the Islamic Republic is a recidivist.

A decade ago, Tehran admitted having cheated for 18 years by secretly building facilities to enrich uranium in violation of guarantees to the IAEA.

At that time, IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei was unwilling to demand sanctions under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) which Iran signed in 1970.

The message to Tehran was clear: you could ignore the NPT and the IAEA and do as you please!

This was precisely what Tehran did. According to Hassan Rouhani, a mullah who was Tehran’s point-man on the issue, the clandestine program was accelerated.

In 2003, after the fall of Saddam Hussein, for a brief moment the mullahs feared that they might be the next target for “Bush cowboys” in Washington.

To mollify the Americans, President Muhammad Khatami declared a moratorium on uranium enrichment plus cooperation with Washington in Afghanistan and Iraq. (Khatami ended the moratorium just before leaving office in 2005.)

Since they seized power in 1979, one aim of the mullahs’ diplomacy has been to buy time on all major issues.

Like other totalitarian ideologies, Khomeinism is incapable of compromise. It will not give even an inch unless it is forced to do so.

Even in its best years, the USSR behaved in the same way. Where it was impossible to avoid compromise, Moscow promised, but cheated on delivery. This is why, in dealing with the Soviet Union, U.S. President Ronald Reagan coined the adage: Trust but verify!

The modern world finds it hard to imagine leaders of any normal country insisting on total victory on all issues.

In Western democracies, politics is all about compromise, give-and-take, deal-making and coalition building. Politicians are admired if they are “consensus builders.” In normal countries, a leader’s ability to deal with the outside world, avoid conflict, and ensure stability and peace are greatly valued.

In the Islamic Republic, the opposite is true.

For Khomeinists, the ideal leader is one who never compromises on any issue, recognizing no law except that fixed by “The Imam.”

In his usual colorful way, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad put it well: Our train has no brakes and no back-gear!

To Khomeinists all governments in the world, including all but one of the governments of the 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) are illegitimate. (The exception is the Islamic Republic itself!)

As the world’s sole truly legitimate government, headed by a “Supreme Guide” who claims to be the sole leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims, whether they like it or not, the Islamic Republic cannot be seen to compromise on any issue.

Its diplomatic relations could be handled only through diktats

Where Tehran cannot impose its diktat there is stalemate.

This is the case in 20 years of negotiations between Iran and the four other littoral states of the Caspian Sea. All four have agreed on a legal system for the great inland sea. However, the Islamic Republic wants an entirely different system. Unable to impose its diktat, it creates a stalemate.

Earlier this month, Iran and Afghanistan were engaged in a border clash over two villages. Since the fall of the Taleban, Afghanistan has asked Tehran to redraw part of the border to take into account changes due to rivers altering their course. This is a minor technical issue which, before the mullahs seized power, would have been handled by border authorities.

Now, however, Tehran sees any settlement as a sign of “capitulation” to the American “Great Satan” which has a military presence in Afghanistan.

A similar stalemate continues over sharing the waters of border rivers, such as Parian, Harirud, Arghandab and Hirmand. Again, no compromise, even if that means wrecking the lives of farmers on both sides of the border.

Tehran has similar problems with Iraq.

The Shatt al-Arab, a border estuary, cannot be dredged and reopened because Tehran would accept a 50-50 deal with Baghdad.

Last month, Iraqi Kurdish farmers blocked border entry points with Iran to protest against Tehran’s decision to divert a river. Such was the mullahs’ contempt for Iraqis that they did not even bother to inform the Iraqis of what was afoot.

Tapping the immense oil reserves of the Majnun islands, astraddle the border, is also postponed for the same reason: no compromise!

Tehran’s negotiations with the World Trade Organization (WTO) are also frozen because the mullahs insist that the rules of the club they want to join do not apply to them.

Even on symbolic matters, the “no compromise” dogma applies. Twelve years of talks to restore diplomatic relations with Egypt have led nowhere because the mullahs insist that the Egyptian embassy be located in a street named after the terrorist who murdered Anwar Sadat.

The mullahs have imposed their no-compromise method on their satellites such as the Ba’athist regime in Damascus and the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah.

In 2009, Damascus was ordered to pull out of talks with Israel, brokered by Turkey, to avoid the prospect of any compromise. And Hassan Nasrallah has orders to ignore Lebanon’s interests even if that meant pushing the country to war.

To Khamenei and his faction the nuclear issue is a matter of the highest honor. Convinced that the “international community” will back down once again, they are unlikely to take much notice of what Amano says.

The mullahs hope that, in time, Amano will learn from his predecessor, Muhammad ElBaradei when to whistle and walk away.

Published in Asharq AlAwsat on Nov.11, 2011

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