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RAM JETHMALANI
ETHICS & POWER

Ram Jethmalani is a senior politician and eminent lawyer.

US-Iran playing Great Game of Fire

Sanctions against Iran should not be lifted by P5+1 powers unless Tehran accepts Israel as a legitimate state.

he Great Game in international geopolitics currently being played is between Iran on one side, and the P5+1 — United States, Russia, China, France, United Kingdom and Germany — and the EU on the other side.

Henry Kissinger, with his characteristic acerbity has described it best. "For 20 years, three Presidents of both major parties proclaimed that an Iranian nuclear weapon was contrary to American and global interests—and that they were prepared to use force to prevent it. Yet negotiations that began 12 years ago as an international effort to prevent an Iranian capability to develop a nuclear arsenal are ending with an agreement that concedes this very capability, albeit short of its full capacity in the first 10 years. Mixing shrewd diplomacy with defiance of UN resolutions, Iran has turned the negotiation on its head."

It was indeed convoluted rounds of negotiations circling back and forth, bargains between sanctions and nuclear rollbacks, toughness that has now changed to almost an appeasement, as deadlines for the settlement kept getting extended repeatedly, the latest being 1 July 2015. Several streams of information are pouring in, that appear quite contrary in content. First, that the comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme is at the final stages of negotiation; that Iran has agreed tentatively to accept significant restrictions on its nuclear programme for at least a decade or longer; that it would submit to an increased intensity of international inspections under a framework deal, in return for decreased economic sanctions. Second, that the script has turned horribly wrong. What would one make of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei warning Iranian diplomats not to trust the United States, and that after "every round of talks they make public comments that they then tell us in private was meant to save face in their own country and to counter their opponents..."? Or Foreign Minister Javad Zarif accusing the Obama administration just hours after the US announcement of "a historic agreement with Iran over its nuclear programme", of misleading and lying to the American people and Congress on the fact sheet and details of a tentative framework? And lastly, we hear some odd ultimatums emerging from Tehran that Iran will sign a final nuclear agreement only if economic sanctions against the nation are removed on the first day of the deal's implementation. Sadly, and I hope wrongly, the deal is already being compared to Munich and not Reykjavik.

Reykjavik takes me back to the Reagan-Gorbachev years of the 1980s, when the words "glasnost" and "perestroika" were first introduced into the world's political lexicon, as the USSR collapsed and the Cold War ended. Regardless of various theories, including conspiracy theories, about these momentous events, or whether it was Reagan's diplomatic charm or a common realisation that the absurd nuclear race must end, the world owes an enormous debt to both leaders for their historic contribution towards world peace by agreeing to cut nuclear arsenals and end the Cold War in 1986.

Today's Great Game certainly provokes a question whether the Reagan-Gorbachev rapport can be likened to whatever Obama and Khamenei are trying to construct. Let me remind my readers of the turbulent history of Iran during the last three decades. Even as the Cold War was ending and the Berlin Wall was falling, many regimes were collapsing or changing towards the end of the last century, the most significant being the Iranian revolution of 1979, which deposed the Shah of Iran. Several factors were responsible for this, modernisation and fast industrialisation, the flipside of which is neglect of agriculture. By the 1970s, Iran was importing most of its food, and the oil boom produced only steep inflation and misery for the poor, a widening gap between rich and poor, between urban and rural areas, with flight of capital touching $30- $40 billion. The spark of the revolution was ignited by the organised and politically active Islamic clergy led by Ayatollah Khomeini. The army failed or refused to suppress the uprising, and on 16 January 1979, the Shah went into exile. The Islamic revolution had defeated the secular absolute monarchy. Iran was declared an Islamic Republic in December 1979, with the populist theocracy expressing its dedication to returning to the 7th century AD or the post Hijra era when the Holy Quran was being written. Democracy was dead, and for the next eight years, 1980-1988, Iran was involved in a bloody war with neighbouring Iraq, ruled by a Sunni minority over a Shia majority and a large Kurdish population.

The US has been involved in a cold war with Iran for more than 36 years. Religious rallies in streets regularly burn American and Israeli flags, a modern day manifestation of Iran's hostility to democracies, particularly Jewish and Christian, both of which have evolved from the gory past of their respective faiths into the predominance of secularism over religion and of reason over blind, archaic belief.

The world knows that Iran, with its own brand of terrorists, the Hezbollah, has been engaged in trying to make the nuclear bomb, which the western nations have for decades tried to prevent. Despite sanctions, which have caused great hardship to the common Iranian people, Iran has not abandoned its secret ambitions to succeed, and has shown resistance to any foolproof inspection by international observers. We learn that like North Korea, Iran has mastered the art of lying to international inspectors, because it clearly has something to hide about its nuclear programme, and that it is a proactive participant of terrorism to destabilise the region.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, predecessor of the present incumbent, on his election had pronounced that Israel should be wiped off the map of the world, but after a while, in a saner mood he said it must be shifted to portions of Europe. So far as the existence of Israel is concerned, Shia Iran is as hostile as the worst of Sunni Muslim states. I am firmly of the opinion that sanctions should not be withdrawn without a solemn and credible international undertaking by Iran that it fully recognises the de facto and de jure existence of the state of Israel and that there shall be no aggression or any hostile steps to exterminate or harm it in any way whatsoever. This is in accordance with the UN Resolution 181 of 1947, which I am sure even Barack Obama is aware of. It is as much his responsibility to guarantee this, in his freak negotiations with the Iranians, which are raising several questions about his raison d'être, with some commentators wondering that though it was Iran that had the most to lose from a failure of talks, the US seems to have become the greater supplicant.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has pressing reasons for seeing the nuclear process through. He is ageing and probably sick, as rumours have it, with prostate cancer. He may want to be remembered at home for more than the brutal crackdown, in 2009, on massive street protests in response to a presidential election widely considered to have been rigged. Though reports of his imminent demise are not new — he was said to be at death's door as long ago as 2006 — there is growing acceptance that a successor must be found. "The leader is not dying but he is old," says one regime insider. "He does not want to leave the next guide with problems and so he wants to close the nuclear file." It is said that he is a master at hedging his bets, whose every speech can be read in at least two ways.

I have visited Iran many times in my life, but never after 1980. I love the people, their hospitality, their good nature and the artist in many of them, particularly in music and painting. I have visited its holy places and museums and most certainly I have enjoyed its liberal atmosphere and entertainment. I earnestly wish them well and want their prosperity and contribution to world peace to grow. But let me ask, is honesty in international relations too much of a sacrifice for the Iranian government? Iran should set an example for all by allowing complete inspection to allay the fears of some that acquisition of nuclear equipment is either for war or terrorism. This is not what the ancient and glorious Iranian civilisation would approve of.

I can only hope that the P5 +1 will realise that the Reagan-Gorbachev method of trust and dependability is the only one to follow in advancing world peace and security; that Iran is a signatory to the Non Proliferation Treaty and should not be allowed to breach its obligations as it has done in the past; that Iran's promises and assurances cannot be trusted so long as it does not convince Israel and the Western powers that it does not contemplate the destruction of Israel and making the Jews stateless; that in the detailed provisions of the treaty to be worked out by 1 July, the terms must be foolproof in ensuring complete transparency and no clandestine preparation for use of nuclear arms either by Iran or its terrorist wing Hezbollah.

I am not being unduly cynical, but I cannot fail to ask: are we witnessing some dangerous strokes of the Great Game, with Obama and his supporters only anxious to increase US' leverage over the Saudis to ensure the supply of oil and the latter's need for US military protection? And how right are Henry Kissinger's ominous concerns, that this nuclear deal can start nuclear proliferation and a nuclear arms race among other highly volatile nations of West Asia?

 
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