Sunday, September 03, 2006

What a shambles over Iran

The Times--...The most that the permanent members of the Security Council were poised to agree on at this stage was a travel ban on senior Iranian leaders and a partial freeze on selected assets held abroad. Unless Mr Ahmadinejad ached to visit Disneyland Paris, he was hardly likely to be troubled by this possibility.

And, in truth, he has no reason to fear that such a trip may be cancelled. For after a brief period of relative solidarity, international policy towards Iran has returned to a shambles. Erkki Tuomioja, Foreign Minister of Finland, reacted to Iran’s latest nuclear defiance on behalf of the EU by insisting that it was way “too early” to consider anything other than diplomatic activity. The Russians are more interested in selling Iran nuclear technology and arms than in preventing it acquiring such resources. The Chinese, whose enormous oil needs are serviced by Iran, are mumbling in the corner. Britain and France, which once took a comparatively tough line, have begun retreating. When President Bush speaks of the need for something to be done, he is portrayed as the reincarnation of Dr Strangelove. Our collective stance today is all holes and no carpet.

Iran is a special case because, first, it is already an established menace. It has spent the past two decades consistently seeking to sabotage any prospect of a permanent peace settlement between Israel and its neighbours and it remains dedicated to that mission...Iran is also distinct because this project is not merely about national symbolism, but also religious aspirations. It would not be an “Islamic” bomb but a “Shia Islamic” bomb,...Sunni nations, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, would, rightly, be aghast at, and uncomfortable with, the notion that they have to rely on Israel as their de facto nuclear deterrent. The incentives for them, too, to pursue nuclear status would be overwhelming...An Iranian nuclear capacity would, finally, make a mockery of the United Nations. It would be seen as confirmation that the phrase “Security Council ultimatum” is close to a contradiction in terms...

The awkward reality is that Iran will only reconsider its plans if it decides that there is a plausible chance of a military strike against it. The equally inconvenient situation is that it has absolutely no reason at the moment to assume this. Señor Solana declared that a willingness to talk did not mean that Tehran had “infinite time” at its disposal. But Iran does not need infinite time, merely long enough to obtain nuclear weapons and thus close this debate in a manner of its choosing. It is time that it is being awarded. One last Persian proverb is appropriate. It runs: “A blind person who sees is better than a seeing person who is blind.” On Iran, the world is, alas, led by the seeing blind.