Countdown Iran
    By Alain Gresh
Le Monde Diplomatique

    Silently, furtively, sheltered from cameras, the war on Iran has begun.
Numerous sources confirm that the United States has intensified its aid to
several armed movements with an ethnic base - Azeris, Baluchis, Arabs,
Kurds: minorities that together represent about 40 percent of the Iranian
population - with the objective of destabilizing the Islamic Republic. In
this context, ABC television revealed in the beginning of April that the
Baluchi group, Jound Al-Islam ("The soldiers of Islam") which had just led
an attack against the Guardians of the Revolution (about twenty dead) had
enjoyed secret American assistance. A report by the Century Foundation (1)
reveals that American commandos have been operating in the interior of Iran
itself since the summer of 2004. January 29, 2002 in his State of the Union
speech, President George W. Bush classified Iran, along with North Korea and
Iraq, in the "Axis of Evil." On June 18, 2003 he asserted that the United
and its allies "w ould not tolerate" this country's accession to
nuclear weaponry. It is perhaps useful to recall the context of the time.
Mr. Mohammad Khatami was then president of the Islamic Republic and was
multiplying his appeals for a "dialogue of civilizations." In Afghanistan,
the United States had benefited from the active support of Tehran, which had
used its many connections to facilitate the overthrow of the Taliban regime.
On May 2, 2003 during a meeting in Geneva between Iranian Ambassador Javad
Zarif and Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad - then President Bush's special envoy to
Afghanistan - the Tehran leaders submitted a comprehensive negotiation
proposal to the White House that covered three issues: weapons of mass
destruction, terrorism and security, and economic cooperation (2). The
Islamic Republic declared itself ready to support the Beirut Summit (2002)
Arab Peace initiative and to contribute to the transformation of Lebanon's
Hezbollah into a political party. On December 18, 2003 Teh ran signed the
additional protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a
protocol that several countries only have ratified and which considerably
strengthens the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) surveillance

    All these overtures were purely and simply swept aside by the American
administration, which remains focused on one goal, the overthrow of the
"mullahs' regime." To create the conditions for a possible military
intervention, it continues to brandish the "nuclear threat." For years,
alarmist reports have been produced by successive American administrations
and always refuted. In January 1995, the director of the American agency for
weapons control and disarmament asserted that Iran could have the bomb in
2003; simultaneously Defense Secretary William Perry asserted that that
objective could be reached before ... 2000. These "forecasts" were repeated
the following year by Mr. Shimon Peres (3). Yet, in 2007, in spite of the
progress made by Iran with respect to uranium enrichment, the IAEA deemed
that Tehran will not have the "capabilities" to produce the bomb sooner than
four to six years from now.

    What is the situation, really? Since the 1960s, i.e., well before the
victory of the Islamic Revolution, Iran sought to develop a nuclear
infrastructure to prepare the post-oil period. With the development of
technologies, complete mastery of the civilian nuclear cycle makes the shift
to military usage much easier. Have the leaders in Tehran made that
decision? Nothing allows us to assert that. Does the risk exist? Yes, and
for reasons that are easy to understand.

    During the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), Saddam Hussein's regime used
chemical weapons against Iran - in violation of all international treaties:
neither the United States nor France became indignant over this usage of
weapons of mass destruction, which traumatized the Iranian people.
Meanwhile, American troops are encamped in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Iran is
surrounded in a dense network of foreign military bases. Finally, two
neighboring countries, Pakistan and Israel, have nuclear weapons. What
Iranian political leader could be insensitive to such a context?

    How then to avoid Tehran acquiring nuclear weapons, which would relaunch
the arms race in a region already highly unstable and which would deal a
fatal blow to the Non-Proliferation Treaty? Contrary to what is often
suggested, the essential obstacle does not reside in Tehran's desire to
enrich uranium: Iran, according to the NPT, has the right to do that, but
has always asserted that it was ready to voluntarily allow restrictions to
that right and to accept a reinforcement in the IAEA's controls to avoid any
potential use of enriched uranium for military purposes.

    The Islamic Republic's fundamental preoccupation lies elsewhere, as the
agreement signed November 14, 2004 with the European "troika" (France,
United Kingdom, Germany) proves: Iran agreed to provisionally suspend
uranium enrichment, with the understanding that a long-term agreement "would
furnish firm commitments on security issues." Those commitments having been
rejected by Washington, Iran resumed its enrichment program.

    Instead of pursuing an independent policy, the European Union has
aligned itself with Washington. The new proposals formulated by five
Security Council members and Germany in June 2006 did not contain any
guarantee of non-intervention in Iranian affairs. In its August response,
Tehran once again asked that "the Western parties who wish to participate in
the negotiations announce, in their own name and that of other European
countries, the laying aside of policies of intimidation, pressure, and
sanctions against Iran." Only such a commitment would allow a revival of

    Otherwise, escalation is inevitable. All the more so as the June 2005
election of Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does not facilitate dialogue, with the
new president multiplying his incendiary statements, notably about the
genocide of the Jews and about Israel. But Iran, a big country with a rich
history, cannot be reduced to its president. Tensions within the very seat
of power are strong, and Mr. Ahmadinejad has suffered an electoral debacle
in the municipal elections as well as the elections for the Assembly of
Experts in December 2006. More widely, economic and social opposition
remains strong and aspirations for more freedom are intense, especially
among women and youth. The society rejects all subordination. The only asset
the regime possesses for rallying the population around it remains,
precisely, nationalism, the rejection of foreign interference from which
Iran suffered all during the Twentieth Century ...

    In spite of the Iraqi disaster, nothing indicates that President Bush
has renounced attacking Iran. That objective falls within his vision of a
"Third World War" against "Islamic Fascism," an ideological war that may end
in total victory only. The diabolizing of Iran, facilitated by its
president's posture, falls within this strategy which may lead to a new
military adventure. That would be a catastrophe, not only for Iran and the
Middle East, but also for the relations that the West, with Europe in the
first place, maintains with this region of the world.

    (1) Sam Gardiner, "The End of the 'Summer of Diplomacy': Assessing US
Military Options on Iran," Washington, DC, 2006.

    (2) On this offer, see Gareth Porter, "Burnt Offering, The American
Prospect," Washington, DC, June 2006.

    (3) Read "Quand l'Iran aura-t-il l'arme nuclčaire? Nouvelles d'Orient,"
4 Septembre 2006.