zondag 7 november 2010

How an Iranian analyst stands up to his Western prospective peers


Sponsored by the US Embassy in Berlin and aimed at developing “policy recommendations for increased transatlantic co-operation”, the German "online think tank” Atlantic-Community.org (AC) [1] organized a competition for German students on three categories of foreign policy: “Iran's Nuclear Program”, “Russia and the West” and “Climate Change”. The first leg of the competition, the one focusing on Iran’s nuclear programme, ran for a week, starting 26 October, 2010. AC asked entrants to write op-eds on “how the West can best engage with Tehran” and encouraged “fresh ideas, strong theses, and provocative arguments”. AC published six shortlisted articles for discussion, for which it expressly invited all its members [2]. AC’s editorial team and the six contestants are yet to summarize the key recommendations in a "policy memorandum destined for decision makers”.

The first piece [3], written by Niklas Anzinger, a student of philosophy and economics, sets the stage for a heated debate. One can dispute AC's wisdom of shortlisting a bellicose piece that seems to defy AC's brief, and the demeanour of its editor in closely moderating a few reactions, whilst giving this hardliner free rein to dominate the debate. The author accuses Iran of planning “a second Holocaust” and of seeking "nuclear weapons to take this project into action”. He rejects any negotiation with Iran and argues that it must be coerced into giving up “its murderous ambitions”. He feels “the Iranian regime understands only the language of force” and recommends “consistent political and economic isolation”, with Germany in a position to “single-handedly stop Iranian nuclear ambitions” and “prevent a military confrontation”. The author argues that the West pays lip service to the problem of a nuclear-armed Iran and hence “Israel is running out of options”. Barring action by world powers, the author suggests the world to “stand on Israel’s side” if it decides “a pre-emptive military strike [on Iran]”. In his view “the Israelis cannot get involved in any experiments”, they “must not make the mistake of underestimating Iran’s power”, acting “too late would bring [them] into an extremely dangerous situation”.

Tobias Sauer [4], a student of political science, history and cultural anthropology, observes that threats of regime change and military strikes are counterproductive. He suggests to boost diplomatic efforts and to focus on “sticks and carrots”. For Felix Seidler [5], a student of political science, law and history, the issue is “the regime and its ideology”, not Iran’s nuclear programme. The author sees compelling evidence of a military component in Iran’s “enrichment activities, camouflage tactics and ballistic missiles”. Rejecting military initiatives, he favours maximum Western support for the opposition in Iran and direct communication with the population aimed at regime change by democratic means. Sascha Lohmann [6], a prospective political scientist, recommends de-escalating the conflict. Referring to the historic interference in Iran’s internal affairs, the author argues that Iran’s highly traumatized relationship with the United States continuously feeds a vicious circle of mutual suspicion. The author suggests a face-saving alternative rather than increasing the pressure, and the gradual normalization of US-Iran relations. Restoration of confidence is Felix Haass[7] (a prospective political scientist) key point. His proposals to create a permanent negotiation forum, normalization of diplomatic ties, restoration of UNSC’s authority and an incentives package seem stillborn in that they would also include “tough sanctions”.

Arguing that the threat of a military strike can only reinforce Iran’s determination to acquire deterrence, Alexander Pyka [8], a law student, suggests taking the military option off the table. The author questions the legality of the UNSC resolutions pressing Iran to suspend its programme. The IAEA found no evidence of a nuclear weapons programme, a statement that was never repeated but neither revoked. The IAEA merely expressed "concerns" about the "possible existence" of a military programme. For the author, the US lacks the moral authority in demanding a suspension of Iran's programme. In the discussion, the author explains that Iran did violate its safeguard agreement by not declaring its nuclear facilities prior to 2002, but a country has the option to heal such breaches, which is exactly what Iran did by voluntarily applying the INFCIRC/540-safeguard Model and co-operating with the IAEA far beyond its legal obligations. A violation of Art. III NPT - which requires Iran to conclude a safeguard agreement with the IAEA - is highly disputed in international law and in the author's view not ascertainable in the case of Iran. Under any circumstances, the possible violation would not have forfeited its right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and merely serve as an indication of military intentions, not proof.

Mr Pyka furthermore argues that the IAEA board of governors' decision to formally declare a "non-compliance" of Iran with its safeguard-agreements in 2005 was an unprecedentedly narrow decision. Compared to the board's reaction to other incidents, for example the discovery - almost concurrent to the Iran-decision - of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium in South Korea and the subsequent decision to not pursue this issue, Iran's accusation of a "politicized" process appears less far-fetched. The author feels a negotiation aimed at the suspension of nuclear enrichment is not realistic as the nuclear programme is widely supported in Iran. He suggests the lifting of sanctions and the start of negotiations aimed at multilateralization of the nuclear fuel cycle in or outside Iran, with the help of Europe, Brazil, Turkey and the IAEA. Mr Pyka also underlines the discriminatory nature of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, perpetuating existing power structures. He argues that every step towards nuclear disarmament is a step towards a nuclear free Iran, whose nuclear ambitions in the early 1980s follow on Israel's nuclear armament in the late 1970s. The author suggests the creation of a nuclear-weapons-free-zone in the Middle East and Israel to give up its nuclear arsenal.

Nabi Sonboli, Research Fellow at the Iranian Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS) [9] and previously Attaché at the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Tokyo [10], enters the debate on Sascha Lohmann’s piece. For him, the main problem is the behaviour of “global powers” in Iran’s vicinity. He feels that face saving and confidence building measures must be concrete and mutual, in which Germany can play an important role. He points out that Iran is rational and pragmatic in its regional policy and could assist the US in state-building in Afghanistan and Iraq. With the West having discontinued co-operation with Iran and blocked Iran’s shares in nuclear facilities in France and beyond, how can Iran be fully transparent, he wonders. This has led to the failure of the Russia-France nuclear swap. Iran also offered to deposit fuel in Turkey, to no avail. Mr Sonboli questions Washington’s political will to solve power politics, external interventions, misperceptions, the lack of a common vision toward the future of the Middle East, etc. Quoting Ron Grace [11], he argues that US behaviour has destroyed trust and prolonged the current stalemate on the nuclear issue. He feels that a halt to sabotage is a first priority in Iran-US relations. With the Bush administration having earmarked Iran as part of the “axis of evil”, the author feels it deprived itself from Iranian co-operation in its regional wars which “imposed three trillion dollars on the US taxpayers”.

In the debate on Alexander Pyka’s contribution, Mr Sonboli argues that the US politicized the Iranian nuclear case. He said that Iran - in the framework of mutual confidence building - has been open to implementation of the additional protocol required by the IAEA. In his view, the US and its allies have escalated the conflict. He underscores that Iran can defend itself and sees no reason to appease the US under these circumstances. He suggests a de-escalation and a reversal of steps within a face saving mechanism. To him, that is no concession to Iran but a concession to the US. Mr Sonboli realizes the key problems of the West: any undeclared nuclear facilities and the use of the dual use technology for “wrong” purposes. In his view these concerns are not real, as diversion is not possible under IAEA observation. Addressing Niklas Anzinger, Mr Sonboli argues that isolation and sanctions have led to the current deadlock. With “15+1 neighbors (the US is our biggest neighbor) and surrounded by all international problems" in the wider region where Iran plays a key role, he feels it is an illusion to think that the West can solve its problems without Iran’s co-operation. In his view, engagement is the only realistic solution. And he concludes that “instead of turning the Greater Middle East into a rivalry area between global powers, it is [in the interest of all concerned] to define it as a region of peace and development and [to] concentrate on how to achieve that.”

What can we learn from AC’s competition? Arguably, the US State Department unceremoniously uses foreign public media to further its agenda. The single Iranian voice in the debate - who could have received a warmer welcome by some of his prospective peers and AC’s editor - succeeds in exposing the deep misconceptions of the West about the greater Middle East. Ironically, four of the six students take the "wipe Israel off the map” quote for granted, where it is established that this amounts to sheer propaganda distortion [12]. And interestingly, none of the pieces mentions the Brazil-Turkey-mediated fuel swap mischievously torpedoed [13] by Washington and its European allies. Neither did any of the students expose the pro-war lobby, for which this deal was a "threat" as it thwarted the option of a military “solution” and "regime change".

The one bright spot in this saga is the unconditional loyalty to international law that Alexander Pyka voices in the discussion: “a pre-emptive military strike by Israel or any other nation would be illegal under international law. Violating and therefore further eroding the prohibition of force in Art. 2 Nr. 4 UNCh would be a huge setback for promoting international law as the only legitimate framework in which decisions of military action should be made.” In doing so, he joins Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who famously said [14]: "This is the time to discuss whether we believe in the supremacy of law or the law of the Supremes and Superiors ..."

[1] see http://www.atlantic-community.org/
[2] Jörg Wolf (AC's editor-in-chief): “AC has 4.847 members
[3] Niklas Anzinger: "Isolate the Regime in Tehran"
[4] Tobias Sauer: "Carrots Not Sticks: Incentives are the Way Forward with Iran"
[5] Felix Seidler: "Regime Change Online. Iran's Internet Generation Holds the Key"
[6] Sascha Lohmann: "Mutual Trust Building is Required Between the West and Iran"
[7] Felix Haass: "Iran: Practical Incentives Instead of Punitive Measures"
[8] Alexander Pyka: "Political Concessions Prevent Nuclear Weapons"
[9] see IPIS' website "About IPIS"
[11] Rob Grace: “Covert ops sabotage US-Iran ties
[12] Jonathan Steele: “If Iran is ready to talk, the US must do so unconditionally
[13] Pepe Escobar: “Iran, Sun Tzu and the dominatrix
[14] ibid.

3 opmerkingen:

Paul Lookman zei

Shortly after publication of my op-ed, Mr Anzinger sent me a direct e-mail. Although he declined to post it direct on Geopolitiek in perspectief, I feel it is worth publishing, so here it is:

----- Original Message -----
From: Niklas Anzinger
To: Paul-Robert Lookman
Sent: Sunday, November 07, 2010 10:35 PM
Subject: Re: Atlantic Community - Message

Hi Mr. Lookman,

Mr. Sonboli writes for the pro-regime Newspaper "Tehran Times" - http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:D3F9INPaOm4J:www.tehrantimes.com/index_View.asp%3Fcode%3D218352+nabi+sonboli&cd=4&hl=en&ct=clnk&client=firefox-a

It is an official international press organ of the regime, which is directly financed by the Iranian intelligence service and Khamanei´s bureaus. Mr. Sonbolis articles are only possible with support of the Iranian regime. He uses a well-known lobbying-language in order to address advocats of European appeasement policy. As I am active for a secular and democratic Iran, I strongly reject ties to the terror-supporting Islamic lunatics of the Iranian regimes and its allies. You, Mr. Lookman, are a well-calculated useful idiot of the Iranian regime, as you consequently deny terrorist activities, human rights abuses and holocaust denial.

Me and my Iranian friends are sick of this constant ignorance towards the peaceful ambitions of the Iranian people, which are in no way represented by Mr. Sonboli. That is what we argue for years about: the Islamic regime is not the legitimate representative of the Iranian people. It finally will spread the world with terror and aggression, if it will not be stopped. The Iranian people can stop the regime, if we support them. You decided to support the regime and its terrorist bypasses.

Your enemies is the US as the only full-hearted supporter of the Jewish people - not the despotic slaughters in Sudan, Nigeria, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the rest of the world.

Mr. Lookman, I think this is not a very decent manner.


Paul Lookman zei

Interestingly, on November 8, AC posted TWO Atlantic Memo’s on the Iran debate. Memo 26, captioned “Consistent Regime-Change Policy in Iran” summarizes the views of the two “hawks”, which AC defines as “…rapprochement with the West is impossible. Therefore, a systematic policy of undermining the regime is the only way …”.

I posted a comment on AC’s site, saying that regime change amounts to interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign State which is a clear violation of international law, quoting both contender to the competition Alexander Pyka, a student at Bucerius Law School (Hamburg) and Sir Michael Wood, barrister, Legal Adviser to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from 1999 to 2006 (London), implying that it was remarkable that a serious “open think tank” such as AC would publish opinions which utterly defy the rule of international law. I also said it was remarkable that AC had defied its own brief by publishing six op-eds instead of five and two Memo’s (destined for decision makers) instead of one, implying that the competition had gotten out of hand.

My post was immediately removed by AC’s editor-in-chief Jörg Wolf, who emailed me, saying that he declined to debate the wisdom of the competition with me. Declining to address my query about the existence of TWO Memo’s, he simply replied: “Both memos will be sent to decision makers.” I replied, arguing that he was “bending his own rules and appeared to be publishing articles that argue proposals which are clearly in defiance of international law, to which you as a responsible editor-in-chief should take offense, especially in the case of students.” I added: “If you immediately remove my today's comment, that is indicative of how open your think tank is and how prepared you are to accept criticism, to which you expressly and repeatedly invited me.”

So far so good about the degree of “sérieux” of Atlantic Community.com, having “developing policy recommendations for increased transatlantic co-operation” high on its agenda…

Sonja zei

Hallo Paul, ter attentie:

Nederland 'adopteert' nederzettingen en outposts


met vriendelijke groet,