Monday, June 5, 2006

German policy toward Iran

The position that former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, also the former leader of the Green Party,  is taking on Iran is an illustration of the continuity of German policy toward the Middle East between the current Grand Coalition government under Angela Merkel and the red-green government under Gerhard Schröder.

This comes via Justin Raimondo Showdown over Iran 05/29/06, who rather oddly implies that Fischer is calling for "regime change" in Iraq.  Raimondo may be overzealous here in trying to distinguish his Old Right isolationist position from left positions like the former Green Party leader Fischer.  (But his article contain links to two Laura Rozen articles that are worth reading.)

The article is Iran: last exit for diplomacy by Joschka Fischer Financial Express 05/27/06, in which he writes:

The Iran crisis is moving fast in an alarming direction. There can no longer be any reasonable doubt that Iran’s ambition is to obtain nuclear weapons capability. However, at the heart of the issue lies the Iranian regime’s aspiration to become a hegemonic Islamic and regional power and thereby position itself at eye level with the world’s most powerful nations.

I believe Fischer is right about Iran's nuclear goal.  But it is worth noting here that Iranian officials have consistently denied that their aim is a nuclear weapons capability.  Obviously, we shouldn't just take them at there word.  Ronald Reagan's formula on arms control, "trust but verify", applies to Iran as well.  On Ayatollah Khamenei's statement this past weekend, see Juan Cole's Informed Consent blog 06/05/06.

Fischer also does a good job of laying out the basic strategy dilemma for the US and Europe:

It is precisely this ambition that sets Iran apart from North Korea:whereas North Korea seeks nuclear weapons capability in order to entrench its own isolation, Iran is aiming for regional dominance and more. Iran is betting on revolutionary changes within the power structure of the Middle East to help it achieve its strategic goal.

To this end, it makes use of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also of Lebanon, Syria, its influence in the Gulf region, and, above all, Iraq. This combination of hegemonic aspirations, questioning of the regional status quo, and a nuclear programme is extremely dangerous. Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear bomb - or even its ability to produce one - would be interpreted by Israel as fundamental threat to its existence, thereby compelling the West, and Europe in particular, to take sides.

Fischer diplomatically but clearly lays responsibility for the failure of the European initiatives over the last two years on Washington:

First, the European offer to open up technology and trade, including the peaceful use of nuclear technology, was disproportionate to Iran’s fundamental fear of regime change on the one hand, and its regional hegemonic aspirations and quest for global prestige on the other. Second, the disastrous US-led war in Iraq has led Iran’s leaders to conclude that the leading Western power has been weakened to the point that it is dependent on Iran’s goodwill, and that high oil prices have made the West all the more wary of a serious confrontation.

The point about Iran's need for security guarantees about regime change promoted by the US is one that is not sufficiently emphasized in most of the analyses I see in the press about Iran.  The Bush administration is pursuing a policy of regime change that can be understood as similar to the immediate post-revolution policy of the Soviet Union.  The Bolshevik Party came to power there with an ideology that said it was their duty to support revolution against all capitalist countries of the world.  They fairly quickly decided that "peaceful coexistence" was at least theoretically prefereable for the immediate future.

That's a basic problem of adopting a formal policy of "regime change".  Facing the world's "hyperpower" that officially declares its goal is to unseat their regime, the Iranians have to take into account the extreme nature of the threat direct against them (whether one thinks the threat to Iran is right or wrong).  From their point of view, is it safer to make a deal to forego nuclear weapons based on security assurances from the US, or to get their own nuclear weapons knowing that would make the US far less likely to attack them?

Fischer makes it clear that, in his view, Europe should support meaningful sanctions short of war to move Iran toward giving up its nuclear ambitions:

The high price for refusing such a proposal [giving up nukes for particular benefits] has to be made absolutely clear to the Iranian leadership: should no agreement be reached, the West will do everything within its power to isolate Iran economically, financially, technologically, and diplomatically, with the full support of the international community. (my emphasis)

He also makes it very clear that, for a deal to occur, the Bush administration will have to guarantee the sovereignty of Iran against US attempts at regime change:

Iran’s alternatives should be no less than recognition and security, or total isolation. Presenting Iran with these alternatives presupposes that the West does not fear rising oil and gas prices. Indeed, the two other options - Iran’s emergence as a nuclear power or the use of military force to prevent this - would, in addition to all of its horrible consequences, also increase oil and gas prices.   (my emphasis)

But in Fischer's view, the course of US foreign policy toward Iran in the months to come is a major test for Europe of the actual intentions of the Bush administration and the nature of the US-European relationship:

After all, the issue at the heart of this conflict is this: who dominates the Middle East - Iran or the US? Iran’s leaders underestimate the explosive nature of this issue, and how it is answered, for the US as a global power and thus for its own future.

Nor, however, is the debate about the military option - the destruction of Iran’s nuclear programme through US air strikes - conducive to resolving the issue. Rather, it rings of a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is no guarantee that attempts to destroy Iran’s nuclear potential and thus of its capability for a nuclear breakout will succeed. Moreover, as a victim of foreign aggression, Iran’s nuclear  weapons ambitions would be fully legitimised.

Finally, a military attack on Iran would also mark the beginning of a regional, and possibly global, military and terrorist escalation - a nightmare for all concerned. So what should be done? There remains a serious chance for a diplomatic solution if the US, in cooperation with the Europeans and thus certainly with the support of the Security Council and the non-aligned states of the Group of 77, offers Iran a “Grand Bargain.”

One might think that with the endless analogies to the Second World War we hear in justification of Bush's war in Iraq and now toward Iran  - for the neoconservatives it's always 1938 and the West is always about to surrender to Hitler at Munich - that our Big Pundits would be struck by the irony of Germany and German leaders trying hard to discourage the United States from undertaking yet another unprovoked preventive war.

But one would be wrong in thinking that.  I wonder if the David Broders of our world even know the meaning of terms like "preventive war" and "aggressive war".  Whether or not they care is already pretty obvious.

Current German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) last week made clear his country's backing for the current Security Council proposal to Iran (German Foreign Minister Urges Iran to Consider Nuclear Offer Deutsche Welle 06/02/06):

Frank-Walter Steinmeier said there were "very strong signs" that the proposals made by Western powers in Vienna on Thursday would help resolve the ongoing dispute over Iran's nuclear program.

"Very important progress has been achieved in the efforts for solution and there are very strong signs that they will be successful," he told reporters after talks with his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gül. ...

The offer came with a threat of penalties, including UN sanctions, if Iran refuses to suspend uranium enrichment.

Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) is also pushing Iran for a settlement based on the Security Council propsal:   Merkel spricht von "unglaublicher Chance" für Iran: Ein Paket von Anreizen soll Teheran von seinem Atomprogramm abhalten von Peter Müller Die Welt 05.06.06 (Merkel speaks on an "unbelievable chance" for Iran: a package of incentives should Teheran halt its nuclear program):

Die Einigung der fünf ständigen Mitglieder des Weltsicherheitsrats und Deutschlands auf eine gemeinsame Haltung im Atomstreit mit dem Iran ist nach Ansicht von Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel eine "unglaubliche Chance" zur Lösung des Konfliktes. "Ich appelliere an alle Kräfte der Vernunft, daß man diese Chance auch sieht und auf dieser Chance aufbaut", sagte sie in Berlin. Aus Teheran kamen jedoch Signale, daß der Iran auf die Forderung nach einem Stopp der Urananreicherung nicht eingehen wird.

[The unity of the five standing members of the UN Security Council and Germany on a common position in the nuclear debate with Iran is, according to Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, an "unbelievable chance" to solve the conflict.  "I appeal to all powers of reason, that they also see this chance and also build on this chance", she said in Berlin.  From Teheran nevertheless came signals that Iran will not agree to a half of the uranium enrichment.]

It's notable that Merkel's appeal to reason could also be directed across the Atlantic, and her phrasing most likely was chosen to include that possibility.

As Müller reports, the sanctions included in the proposal if Iran does not agree could include an embargo of nuclear technology, freezing of financial accounts of any company working with Iran on its nuclear program, an arms embargo, suspension of bilateral relations, and banning Iranian officials from countries observing the sanctions.

He also reports that the Bush administration is pushing for agreement by the July 15 G-8 summit in St. Petersburg.

EU Foreign policy chief Javier Solana (Atomstreit: Solana warnt den Iran Die Welt 05.06.06) also made it clear that the EU was supporting the Security Council proposal.

"Wenn die iranische Führung die Offerte zurückweisen sollte, wäre das ein klarer Beweis, daß sie nicht Energie wollen, sondern Nuklearwaffen", he said (If the Iranian leadership rejects the offers, that would be clear evidence that they want nuclear weapons instead of nuclear power".)  He also said it would be "a huge mistake" on Teheran's part to reject this offer.

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