Iranian crisis produces a standoff between major powers

The recent announcement by the EU to offer Iran incentives in exchange for Tehran to surrender its right to enrich uranium is another blow for the Bush administration. The EU initiative comes at a time when rumbling amongst America’s political establishment is reaching fever pitch over the Bush administration’s refusal to engage Iran, especially after the publication of Ahmadinejad’s letter. Furthermore, the Bush administration has not helped its cause by antagonising relations with Russia and failing to assuage Chinese concerns over America’s ultimate aim–” regime change in Iran.

After having convinced the EU about Iran’s nuclear threat, pressurising the IAEA to refer Iran before the UNSC and then bullying the UNSC to produce a statement on Iran, the Bush administration has ended up where it was nine months ago- watching the EU-3 offer Iran incentives. The dual approach of adopting the UN route while raising the spectre of using military force unilaterally if the UN does not act has hitherto failed to yield any results. In many ways the approach mirrors the internal debate both within and outside the Bush administration between the realists and the neoconservatives on how best to deal with Iran. In a recent opinion editorial Zbigniew Brzezinski, blamed the Bush administration for the crisis. He writes: “Name-calling and saber rattling, as well as a refusal to even consider the other side’s security concerns, can be useful tactics only if the goal is to derail the negotiating process.”

But still worse for America is that the conflicting approach has marginalised pro-American clerics like Rafsanjani, emboldened Ahmadinejad and his clerical supporters, and infuriated Russia and China. The dispute is fast metamorphosing into a standoff between America and Russia that threatens to take on the appearance of cold war rivalry of yesteryears. Describing America’s attitude towards energy-rich countries of the world Putin said, “We are aware what is going on in the world. Comrade wolf knows whom to eat, he eats without listening, and he’s clearly not going to listen to anyone… Methods of force rarely give the desired result, and often their consequences are even more terrible than the original threat.”

At the heart of the dispute between the major powers is the British-French draft resolution, backed by the US which seeks punitive measures in case Iran’s does not halt its enrichment programmes. Both Russia and China refuse to endorse the resolution as they fear it will ultimately lead to US military action. This appears to be the real sticking point and threatens to not only undermine the current US approach but also to unravel the coalition that has been painstakingly put together by the US State Department.

In fact it is questionable how much support the European countries would lend to any military venture in Iran. Chirac is on his way out in 2007 and despite enunciating a new nuclear doctrine it is unlikely France would commit itself to such a cause. Merkel’s stance towards Iran seems to fluctuate depending upon whether she is conversing with Bush or Putin. As for Blair he has just replaced his foreign secretary for ruling out military action and will probably sanction US military action. Overall the European stance has always been to incorporate America’s unilateralism within the ambit of international law. The European support expressed so far is intended to draw and then consume American belligerence through multilateralism. The only exception is Britain which still wants to preserve her interests in the region and will side with the US on this basis.

As for the Russian and Chinese they desperately want to dissuade America from reshaping the Middle East which controls almost 50% of the world’s oil supply. Both countries, particularly Russia have signalled that they are prepared to make a stand over Iran and have offered Tehran incentives to nudge Iran closer to their sphere of influence.

At present the Iranian regime is undergoing an intense internal battle to redefine its standing in the region and its relationship with the rest of the world. The ruling bloc is split into three main factions- namely ultra conservatives, conservatives and the reformists. The latter two factions are pro-American and have supported American policy ever since the birth Khomein’s revolution. They still retain some control over Iran’s institutions and have a degree of influence over foreign policy matters. Hence it is not surprising to see mixed messages emanating from Tehran on a variety of issues ranging from the Palestinian issue to interference in Iraq. The ultra conservative group is trying to exert full control over Iran’s institutions via the Expediency and Guardian Councils. In doing so, this faction whose public face is Ahmadinejad appears to be independent and yet at the sometime is flirting with major powers other than America. This perhaps best explains why America is in a rush to change the regime in Tehran.

What turned out to be a unilateral mission to address the Iranian issue in April 2003 quickly descended into a multilateral quest. Shortly after Bush’s re-election with America drained by the war in Iraq reluctantly supported EU-3 negotiations in the hope of legitimising its nefarious designs on Iran. In the pursuit of this goal and the wider objective of reconstructing the Middle East, America has stood by helplessly to watch a resurgent Russia, a confident China, and a strong Europe challenge its supremacy across the globe. Little wonder then that famous US personalities are queuing up to denounce Bush as the worst president in American history.