When dealing with Iran, don’t abandon those stuck living there

Why there is too much emphasis on nuclear capability


Frank Franklin II/AP

The United Nations Security Council has passed six resolutions requiring Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program. Most of the provisions in these resolutions are legally binding on all UN member states.

Now the Western nations that struck a deal with Iran on its nuclear program have — in the words of Brookings Institution scholar Michal Doran — “shredded” those resolutions by allowing Iran to continue enriching uranium over the next six months, so long as the enrichment process does not exceed five per cent.

Those resolutions were the result of years of difficult multilateral negotiations. That they’ve been tossed aside without so much as a return to the Security Council that originally passed them is a blow to the legitimacy of that body. What is a Security Council resolution worth, if it can be so easily dismissed?

And what exactly has the West received from Iran in return? So far, not much. It’s an interim deal that trades sanctions relief for increased inspections and that commitment to scale back uranium enrichment. Iran has bought itself time. The real test will come in six months, when it is hoped a comprehensive deal will be signed that will conclusively end Western fears that Iran’s nuclear program is a military one.

We can’t yet know what that deal might look like, but signs from negotiations so far suggest it won’t be one worth celebrating.

It’s worth noting what’s not on the table: human rights; political freedoms; the ongoing rampage of the Iran-backed regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Washington is virtually silent on all these issues — even as Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy Lebanese militia, keeps Assad in power, and the number of executions in Iran itself soars.

Iran’s much-trumpeted mass release of political prisoners, announced as new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani began his charm offensive this summer, never happened. Iran got the positive press it desired, and prisoners of conscience continued to rot in jail.

Payam Akhavan, an international law professor at McGill University, has long argued that the West’s almost exclusive focus on Iran’s nuclear program is myopic.

“Nuclear capability as such is not the issue. It’s the nature of the regime,” he said in an interview today.

“Security concerns in Iran and the wider region cannot be solved in any lasting way unless the nature of this and other regimes in the region are transformed in a non-violent way, with the understanding that it will take time, and that gradual reforms are better than abrupt and violent change.”

Nuclear technology is going to proliferate, Akhavan says. A country that wants to get it, will. Iran, he says, is engaged in a “strategic retreat” because of sanctions, but is not necessarily committed to forswearing nuclear weapons capability.

“If Iran does not democratize, you will have a militarized hard-line regime with a fanatical populist base, which will need that kind of military capability — not so much for the preservation of the national interest, but for the preservation of a very narrow power base within the nation.”

On the other hand, says Akhavan, a democratic Iran may well follow the examples of countries such as Argentina, Brazil, and South Africa, which gave up their nuclear weapons programs as they democratized.

I’ve floated this theory a number of times with Israeli officials. They are consistently unreceptive. Shortly before the deal was signed, I met with a senior Israeli official who lambasted what he described as Western “ignorance, naivety, and wishful thinking” about the Middle East. Israel, he said, conducts its affais in the region based on its interests, rather than fuzzy values such as a desire for democratization.

This so-called realist policy of international affairs is attractive, in a way, because it deflects charges of hypocrisy. America is caught trying to explain how it can simultaneously champion democracy and human rights, while backing the despotic monarchy that runs Saudi Arabia like it owns the place. Israel doesn’t need to pretend it cares whether women can drive in Saudi Arabia, or Islamists get a fair trial in Egypt, so long as both states share its opposition to Iran and don’t do anything to undermine its security.

But even if we’re willing to throw Iranian democrats under the bus, and leave Syrians to the mercies of Assad — and I’m not — I don’t think a deal that is limited to Iran’s nuclear program is wise. Iran is dangerous because of the kind of country it is. Our ability to change that is limited but not non-existent.

Akhavan notes that the 1975 Helsinki Accords with the Soviet Union contained human rights provisions. These didn’t have teeth. But because the Soviet Union had made a formal commitment to civil rights, Soviet dissidents were empowered to push harder for changes to the way they were governed.

Iran’s a far weaker adversary than the Soviet Union was. When we deal with its government, we can afford not to forget the people stuck living there.


When dealing with Iran, don’t abandon those stuck living there

  1. Another war averted. Sorry.

    • Perhaps.
      A conventional war…maybe, depending on the Israel response.
      the nuclear war however, has just picked up steam.
      I’m afraid it will take the first otpion, to prevent the second.

      • ‘War averted’ refers to all wars. Bibi has tried to start a war with Iran for years….the military has said not without US backing, and that they don’t have.

        • If “Bibi” wanted to start a war with IRAN, he won’t wait until America gives the go-ahead, or offers assistance. Israel could do just fine…..especially since (strangely enough) Saudi Arabia would approve of exactly that.
          The saudi’s and Iranians don’t exactly like each other.
          Israel has the strongest military in the region, as well as the only nukes. If it got hairy….Tehran would start to glow shortly thereafter.
          Suck it up, and go back to your “Israeli Apartheid” pamphlets Emily.

          • Bibi would have to….Israel can’t do it alone. Flight time from Israel to Iran is key.

            Should Tehran get nuked….Tel Aviv is history.

            The Saudi’s and the Iranians are two different religions….they’re like the Micks and the Protties from our past.

            No one knows if other countries there have nukes….but Israel would be breathing chewing if it nukes anyone.

            More than two-thirds of the population is under the age of 30, one quarter being 15 years of age or younger.

            Feel good now tough guy?

          • Israel could do it alone Emily. It may be painful, but they would certainly win in the end.
            Tehran will be safe…as long as Tel Aviv is safe. What you fail to realize is that Iran has been calling for the destruction of Israel for quite some time. Israel is smart enough to pay attention.
            Saudi’s are arab, Iranians are Persian…but they’re both infected with a poisonous version of Islam…which, sadly, may BE Islam.
            If Israel nukes anyone, you can be sure it would be retaliatory, or defensive. They are a civilized people, unlike all of their neighbours.
            As for the age of the population of Iran….who gives a shit. I’m sure there were a lot of very young Germans, Italians, and Japanese killed in the wars, but when confronted with fanatics, you have to do what needs to be done. Feel bad after you win.
            Feel good?
            Always do….thanks for asking.
            You should try it sometime, Emily. Your perpetual state of anger and spite must be taking its toll.

          • No James they could not….you simply don’t know much about the ME in general or Israel in particular.

            But I’m sure you call yourself a christian.

            Just not a very bright one.

          • Actually, Emily….I’m an athiest.
            I know a lot about the Middle east, and have worked there on many occassions.
            You on the other hand, seem like the typical, and predictable “expert” on all subjects you have no experience with.
            Go back and read your pamphlets. Leave the real world to people who actually know.

          • Ahhh the ‘I know everything’ speech. Sorry….bollocks.

            The ‘not very bright’ still applies.

          • I don’t claim to know everything, Emily. I just claim to know more about it than you.

          • ‘Claim’ is the correct word. Reality is not.

          • Emily, what would you know about reality?

            I know those little pills are supposed to help, but based on your input on these threads, perhaps it’s time to up the dosage.

          • I think you should get over your mansplanation tendencies James.

            Because I’m not interested in your fantasies.

          • Emily, I can assure you. If I have any fantasies…..you will not be in them.
            Now go take your pills.

          • Oh you are loaded with fantasies….and myths and fairy tales and invisible friends and drugs and ideologies and belief etc.

            It’s why I don’t talk to rightwing loons. Ciao.

          • Emily, I”d say your problem is not that you don’t talk to right-wing loons…..I’d say your problem is that outside of the commentary pages online…..you don’t really have anyone esle to talk to.

          • You say a lot of things, but it’s all rubbish

  2. The countries that agreed to this deal, are frankly, not very friendly to Israel in any event. One simply needs to look at the Jews fleeing france and other European countries. It’s clear, that many in the West have simply given up on trying to protect Israel under the mistaken belief that it is a lost cause…..and besides, who really likes Jews anyway?
    I think it’s fairly well known, – but not much reported on, that Obama and Israel don’t really mix…and Obama doesn’t really care if Iran gets nukes, but like everything else “Obama” it’s all about the speaking points, and facts don’t get in the way of a good speech.
    I’m afraid American “progressives” didn’t really vote for the most competent; simply the most politically correct. They thought they elected the first Black JFK, but in reality, they simply elected the first half-white Al Sharpton.
    America’s decline will continue as long as “progressives” are in charge.
    Fortunately, Israel doesn’t give two s Hits what Obama an others’ think…they will do what is necessary to prevent the Islamic fanatics from getting the nukes.

    • Well said James……