Iran News ...


6/28/06

Iran cannot engage in serious talks with the US

By Jalal Alavi, UK

 

A careful assessment of Iran's recent statements on its nuclear standoff with the West should make at least two things crystal clear: Iran's rigid and unwavering position on its right to enrich uranium at home (if only for research purposes) and America's staunch resolve not to let that happen.  This being the case, it would be logical to assume that Iran will tactfully reject any and all incentives aimed at impeding its enrichment capability.  Though Iran is mainly using the West's lack of regard for its inalienable right to pursue enrichment under NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) regulations as excuse for not welcoming the recent offer of incentives by the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, the fact of the matter is, in my opinion, that after careful deliberation Iran's oligarchs have decided to subtly opt out of direct negotiations with the US, fearing that such negotiations will rob them of their raison d'Ítre, devotees, and, eventually, of their privileged position in domestic affairs.  Such consideration by the Islamic Republic would, of course, be as much structural as it would be political in nature.

 

It is political insofar as it conversely relates to the Bush administration's avowed support for freedom and democracy in Iran.  It is structural insofar as it partially relates to the clerical regime's fragmented nature, which necessitates the utilization of perpetual antagonism towards the US as a consolidating mechanism.  Accordingly, any significant move by the Islamic Republic toward 'normalizing' relations with the US would run the actual risk of gradually undermining the survival of the regime and its most powerful elements.  A quick look at the clerical regime's 27-year history of antagonism toward the US - and toward all those who, at some point, dared to advocate closer relations with the US - is all it takes to clearly establish the above fact beyond doubt.

 

For the Islamic Republic, the combination of Russian and Chinese support along with the Bush administration's self-inflicted military entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan, preoccupation with upcoming elections, low domestic approval-ratings and myriad economic issues linked to high energy prices further provide the kind of protection necessary for continuing with a policy of indifference toward international concerns.  To this end, Europe, of course, does not fare any better than the US in its assessment.  As a result, those in charge of the Islamic Republic see no reason for either curtailing their enrichment activities or entering direct negotiations with the US.  For them, even a semi-isolated, low-profile existence will suffice, so long as they do not have to democratize or lose much of their oil and gas revenues.

 

Absent the opportunity to constructively engage the Islamic Republic - constructive in the sense that the West would pursue a simultaneous, two-pronged policy of nuclear curtailment and genuine democratization - the international community needs to consider dealing with the Iranian regime much as it did against South Africa's apartheid regime - especially since there is no shortage of similarities between the two.  Considering the Islamic Republic's severe suppression of domestic dissent and movements, and the catastrophic consequences usually associated with any military operation or violent regime-change from abroad, the above option seems highly plausible.  Though Iran's global position and status as a major oil and gas exporter does not easily compare with that of apartheid South Africa, the world's democratic community can, through careful collective planning, manage to accomplish in Iran the kind of meaningful transformation previously accomplished in South Africa.

 

To this end, any sort of an unscrupulous compromise (for example, along the lines of what has become known as the 'Libyan model') or dilly-dallying with the Iranian regime - whether it be fragmented or, at some point, forcefully purged in nature - will be perceived by the Iranian democratic community as a cynical and deliberate abandonment of worldwide democratic ideals by the West.  Like former Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, who once famously said: "Apartheid cannot be reformed, it has to be eliminated," I am of the opinion that the Islamic Republic cannot be reformed due to inherent structural limitations, and that it has to be transformed through a gradual and sustained mix of domestic and international efforts at democratization.  Any doubts in this regard can effectively be eliminated through careful examination of the eight-year history of the failed reform movement under the leadership of former President Mohammad Khatami.

 

About the author: Jalal Alavi is a sociologist and political commentator residing in Britain.  The appearance of this article, first published by Mail & Guardian Online on June 27, coincided with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's declaration a few hours later that "Talks with US would not benefit Iran" (Reuters, June 27). 

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