Iran Is on a Roll

By Dalton, Richard | The World Today, January 2007 | Go to article overview

Iran Is on a Roll


Dalton, Richard, The World Today


For all the cynicism it has evoked, the United States' Iraq Study Group report might still lead to a regional diplomatic process, which could ease Iran and the US into negotiations. A grand bargain is very unlikely, but with Washington at the table, there might be enough advantage for both sides in a gradual process to halt the current slide towards a deeper confrontation.

Iran now enjoys projecting itself as a relevant and powerful radical Islamic force. It does not covet more territory, nor will it make an early move to exploit Shi'a/Sunni tensions in the Arabian peninsula - for the moment the Iranian priority is to detach Gulf states from the US and induce them to propitiate Iran.

There is new confidence behind what had seemed a tired Iranian clerical slogan: that 'the fight against world arrogance is one of the main principles of the Islamic revolution over which there can be no compromise'. In plain language, the conservatives and radicals in Iran see their best chance for years to deter and roll back United States, Israel and western influences including 'western' democracy and political rights.

What Iran wants as well is a greater sense of security for the country and regime. There is internal debate about this. The Supreme Leader Ayatolla AIi Khamenei has at times ruled one way, and at times the other. The faction in control of the government at present believes strength grows from fidelity to the early days of the revolution, from opposition to the US and Israel; and, at home, a combination of autarky, military strength and political mobilisation using oil wealth for spending programmes and repression to diminish open dissent.

The reformists and former President Akbar Rafsanjani, who are down but not out, put less weight on the ideology that inspired the defence against Iraq in the 1980s, and on what might be called Iran's internationalist duty, and more weight on economic and social change to arrest Iran's decline relative to other major emerging economies.

Both parties insist on national strength and with it respect and influence. Both believe it is Iran's turn to walk tall after years, as they see it, of being on the receiving end. A transformation of the relationship with the US would not only provide that, but it would be an election winner for the Iranian faction that delivered it.

OPEN TO CHANGE

When he made his first public comments on the Iraq Study Group report on December 7, US President George Bush avoided saying anything on its central idea of a new diplomatic offensive with a regional mechanism to support it. The Study Group presented this as an essential part of its new way forward: without it, the reconciliation among Iraqi groups, and beginning to remove US forces responsibly, would be infinitely harder. Bush, however, stuck to well-worn responses on engaging Iran and Syria.

He repeated that Iran and Syria knew what they had to do to talk to the US: to take decisions that favoured peace and in Iran's case - suspend nuclear enrichment activities. One key to his reluctance to endorse the recommendation may lie in what he said about the Middle East peace process: 'When nations lay out principles, you've got to adhere to those principles - just like when we laid out a vision, you adhere to that vision'.

The Study Group, m effect, made a persuasive case that not dealing with Iran and simply demanding it should fall into line, is now unrealistic. Further, they appear to be saying that it is not a fundamental principle but merely a policy and hence is capable of being changed. As it should be.

Iran is on a roll. Khamenei claimed on November 8 that Iran was all-powerful in the international community. Exaggeration apart, the current coalition policies are not broad enough to help Iraq or reduce the harm Iran is causing elsewhere.

In October, Chatham House's own study 'Iran, its Neighbours, and the Regional Crises', chathamhousc. …

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