Iran Sits Pretty in World's Hottest Region
the best efforts of the administration of U.S. President George
W. Bush to make Iran an international pariah, the Islamic Republic
keeps wracking up one diplomatic victory after another.
month after the surprise election victory of hardline President-elect
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran finds itself in a substantially stronger
position to resist the U.S. campaign to isolate it as part of a
strategy of "regime change."
weekend's three-day visit by U.S.-backed Iraqi President Ibrahim
Jaafari to Tehran, where he was warmly received by the regime's
top religious and government officials, was only the latest, albeit
the most spectacular, of a series of events that underlines Iran's
his visit, which followed a series of high-level meetings between
the two countries that produced a military-cooperation accord among
other agreements, included a prayerful pilgrimage to the tomb of
Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic and arch-foe
of the "Great Satan" itself, must have stuck deeply in
the craw of neoconservatives and other hawks here who had long assumed
that a "liberated" Iraq would gratefully cooperate in
ousting the mullahs in Tehran.
hawks, who welcomed Ahmedinejad's victory in the belief that an
ostentatiously hardline president would put to rest the notion that
there was a "moderate" faction the West could deal with,
have still not given up hopes for achieving regime change
be it through a U.S.-supported "democratic revolution"
à la Ukraine and/or by military strikes on selected nuclear
and political targets that would foment a popular uprising.
a greater-than-expected turnout and landslide victory by the winner,
the hawks have continued to argue that "the country is ripe
for revolution," as Jeffrey Gedmin, the neoconservative director
of the Aspen Institute in Berlin, wrote in the current Weekly
even if and most Iran experts here dismiss Gedmin's opinion
as more ideological than informed internal unhappiness with
the Islamic regime has reached an all-time high, the international
context is significantly more favorable to Iran in any confrontation
with the U.S. than it has been for some time.
Washington's military campaign in Afghanistan and invasion of Iraq
were designed in part to intimidate Iran, Tehran actually emerged
with as a big winner, according to most regional observers.
two greatest regional enemies, the Ba'athist government in Iraq
and the Sunni extremist regime in Afghanistan, were both smashed
without Iran having to fire a shot," notes Anatol Lieven, an
analyst at the New America Foundation.
it has governments in Afghanistan and still more in Iraq that are
basically very sympathetic to Tehran and Tehran's view of regional
affairs" an observation given much more force by last
weekend's festivities in Tehran.
even though Iran suddenly found some 160,000 U.S. military troops
just next door, that, too, was not necessarily as daunting as the
hawks had thought it might be. After all, Iran's unspoken potential
to make life much more difficult for many of its new and already
overstretched U.S. neighbors has always given it a certain amount
in recent weeks, Iran has found its position getting stronger, sometimes
even with Bush's seemingly unwitting assistance.
Bush administration's agreement this week to sell India advanced
nuclear technology despite Delhi's boycott of the Nonproliferation
Treaty (NPT), for example, has created the perception of a double
standard that Iran is likely to use to its advantage both in negotiations
with the EU-3 (Britain, France, and Germany) and in fending off
U.S. efforts to get the UN Security Council to impose sanctions
against it for allegedly violating the NPT.
will argue how can it be penalized for minor transgressions of the
NPT, which it has signed, when India, a nuclear power, gets full
nuclear cooperation from the U.S. when it is not even a member,"
noted Arjun Makhijani, director of the Institute for Energy and
can you argue that Russia can't sell [nuclear] reactors to Iran
after this?" said Joseph Cirincione, a proliferation expert
at the Carnegie Endowment for International peace. "That's
what Iran is going to count on."
of course, approved the nuclear deal as part of a diplomatic effort
to promote India as "a major world power in the 21st century"
and, more specifically, as a counterweight to China (whose growing
demonization by Republicans in Congress and Sinophobes in the Pentagon
also helps Iran by diverting attention to an even bigger "threat").
conferring on India regional superpower status to contain China
may further shield Tehran, which has long-standing and close ties
to New Delhi, from Washington's more aggressive designs.
fact that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his delegation, despite
having been given the red-carpet treatment at the White House this
week, reportedly rejected all appeals to reconsider their support
for the proposed multi-billion-dollar "peace pipeline"
that will transport Iranian gas to India via Pakistan offered clear
evidence that Delhi has no intention of acting as Washington's pawn
on the global chessboard.
Indians will not be corralled into any kind of containment policy
regarding China and Iran, but especially Iran," said Rajan
Menon, a foreign-policy expert at Lehigh University. Given the strength
of its own relationship with Iran and its large Muslim population,
he said, "The U.S. would risk a break with India if it actually
fact, of course, that Iran is an oil and gas exporter at a time
of record prices (in part due to the instability in U.S.-occupied
Iraq) and growing great-power competition for energy resources is
also a major factor in Tehran's increasing clout. In addition to
India, China, which late last year signed a 25-year, $100 billion
gas deal with Iran, has a great deal invested in Iran's stability.
sees Iran as a very important part of its energy strategy, and it's
powerful enough to stand up with them if they need support at the
UN Security Council," said Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia
University who advised former President Jimmy Carter on the National
Security Council. "For its part, Iran sees China as a potentially
very valuable ally."
is it just China. Russia, which continues to support Iran's civilian
nuclear program nuclear plant, is also more likely to support Iran
at the Security Council, less for love of Tehran than because it
has become increasingly alienated from Washington over the past
year, according to Wayne White, director of the Middle East Institute
(MEI) and a former top State Department expert on the Gulf.
alienation was on display earlier this month when Russia and China
encouraged the four other Central Asia members of the Shanghai Cooperation
Organization (SCO) to call on Washington to set a deadline for withdrawing
from military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, both SCO states.
bases, which have been used to support U.S. military and intelligence
operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq and which some have suggested
could be used in similar ways against Iran, was widely seen as the
opening shot by both Moscow and Beijing in a concerted effort to
roll back strategic gains made by Washington in Central Asia in
the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York
and the Pentagon.
even having orchestrated some master plan, Iran is sitting pretty
in Central Asia at the moment," said Menon, who recalled Russia
and Iran helped broker a peace accord ending the civil war in Tajikistan
in 1994. "It's a multipolar region, and the fact that we're
having problems with so many players gives the Iranians a lot more
the rapidly fading likelihood that Turkey will be admitted to the
EU in the wake of the French and Dutch rejection of the EU Constitution,
as well as growing concerns in Ankara about both Kurdish unrest
in a weakened Syria and its own Kurdish insurgency, offers yet another
opening to woo a key neighbor whose alliance with Washington has
been under unprecedented strain for more than two years now.
diplomatic advances have contributed to growing self-confidence
inside Iran, particularly among the new generation of leaders, including
Ahmadinejad, who "have grown up with the idea that Iran makes
its own decisions and takes its own path regardless of what outsiders
think," according to Sick. "From inside Iran, there's
a sense that everything is breaking for us."
I worry about is that they will conclude that they don't need to
worry so much about compromise, and that could be very dangerous,"
he went on. "They do still have to think about their neighbors,
which at this point includes the U.S."
Lobe [send him mail] is Inter Press
Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service