Don't Be Fooled. The Iraqi Maelstrom Won't Save Iran 
by Jonathan Steele
The cloud is still no larger than George Bush's hand
but the storm of concern which the
US is orchestrating
Iran is beginning to show uncomfortable
similarities with the row over Saddam Hussein's
A deadline has been set for
Iran to make a full
declaration of its nuclear energy program by the end
of this month. There is a demand for international
inspectors to go in and examine any site to check for
a possible hidden weapons project. Punitive measures
are threatened in the case of non-compliance.

Many British and American critics of the last war take
comfort in the view that the mess the
United States
Britain have got into in post-war Iraq has the
benefit that Bush and Blair will not repeat their
adventure. Do not be fooled. That, increasingly, looks

Blair's speech this week showed that he stands by his
view that preventing the spread of weapons of mass
destruction - if necessary by pre-emptive force - is
top of his foreign policy priorities. It was not to be
expected that the prime minister would publicly admit
he got
Iraq wrong. Had he done so, it would be a
resigning matter.

But if he had private regrets he might at least have
shifted the focus of future British policy to
different challenges, like his old rhetoric about
world poverty and
Africa being a scar on the
conscience of humankind. But no. He told the
conference that dealing with WMD proliferation headed
the agenda for the 21st century. On the BBC's Today
program, he went further by claiming a new success for
the war on
Iraq. It had helped to get Iran to
cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency,
he said.

For Bush, too, dealing with WMD proliferation is still
a high priority in spite of the fiasco of the failed
search in
Iraq. While North Korea has long been in the
frame, the new element is
Washington's heavy focus on
Iran. Power, it is often said, lies in the ability to
set the agenda, and it is remarkable how
has managed to switch the world's spotlight to

The White House is already hinting at using force.
Warning Iranians that "development of a nuclear weapon
is not in their interests", Bush said in late July
that "all options remain on the table". The Los
Angeles Times subsequently reported that the CIA has
briefed friendly foreign intelligence services on a
contingency plan for air and missile strikes on
Iranian nuclear installations.

Much of the pressure is coming from the Israeli prime
minister, Ariel Sharon, and the same neo-conservative
friends of his in
Washington who drove the war on
Iraq. They recently formed a "Coalition for democracy
Iran", which advocates the overthrow of Iran's
regime. It includes well-known hawks like Michael
Ledeen and Morris Amitay, a former executive director
of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee.
According to the Washington Post,
Sharon recently told
Bush that
Israel might strike Iran's nuclear
facilities, just as it destroyed Saddam Hussein's
nuclear reactor in 1981. Whether
Sharon only meant his
warning as a device to get the
US to take the issue
seriously and strike first is not clear.

Few would deny that global nuclear proliferation is a
serious danger. But as Ken Coates of the Bertrand
Russell Peace Foundation points out in a new pamphlet,
the Bush administration's talk of
"counter-proliferation" is diametrically opposed to
the old language of non-proliferation. The original
idea was that all nuclear-weapons states would move
towards disarmament, a pledge that the
US, Britain and
the other three declared bomb-owners made in 1995. Now
we have a kind of class distinction. The
US continues
to develop new forms of nuclear weapons. US-friendly
states that refused to sign the non-proliferation
treaty (NPT) but have nuclear weapons - like India,
Israel and Pakistan - are treated with kid gloves. An
NPT-signer such as Iran, against whom Washington bears
ancient grudges, is threatened with punishment, and
possible force.

Iran is not North Korea. It has no bomb and has
consistently said it has no plans for one. It has a
nuclear power program and plans for full-cycle fuel
enrichment, but one reason for its drive towards
self-sufficiency is that its world trade already
suffers from US sanctions, as well as US pressure on
Russia and other European states to restrict their own
exports to Iran.

All Iranians, not just the regime's supporters, resent
international pressure on their country to renounce
nuclear power. As one of the first countries in their
region which industrialized, they feel they have a
"right to technology".

If Iran is secretly trying to develop a bomb, only a
few politicians are behind it. "Iran has no military
lobby for the bomb like Pakistan, nor a
civilian-scientific one like India," according to
Shahram Chubin, one of the most clear-headed analysts
of Iran's national security policy, now a Swiss
citizen. Marginalizing Iran, refusing to consult it
where its interests are involved, and generally
demonizing it would strengthen those in Iran who argue
that nuclear weapons confer status and influence, he
wrote some months ago. The war in Iraq and the
stepped-up US campaign against Iran have only
reinforced his case.

The time has surely come for some sort of "grand
bargain" with Iran, a dialogue in which everything is
put on the table, including a lifting of sanctions,
the renunciation of the use or threat of force, and
the restoration of diplomatic relations with the US in
return for nuclear transparency. Sadly, the recent
trend has been the other way. On Monday the European
Union issued its toughest statement on Iran, echoing
Washington's hard line. The French went along happily
- no sign of Chiraquian revolt on this one. The EU
warned that even if Iran signed the International
Atomic Energy Agency's additional protocol to allow
for snap visits by outside inspectors, this would only
be a "first step" towards "restoring international

In the case of Iraq, the Clinton administration and
Britain made a serious mistake in 1998 by making clear
sanctions would not be lifted in return for Saddam
Hussein's compliance with inspections. Now the mistake
is being repeated with Iran, giving it no clear
incentive to cooperate, and making people in Tehran
ask what the next demand will be.

Until this summer, the EU took a different line from
Washington. Instead of "containment", it argued for
more dialogue and trade with Iran. Unless the EU
quickly breaks with Bush and resumes the path of
incentives rather than threats, Iran is more likely to
be pushed into wanting a bomb than renouncing it.

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003