Middle East Policy Council

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Iran's Busy Week in International News

Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus

Last Saturday, Turkey hosted talks between members of the UN Security Council and Iran aimed at addressing ongoing concerns about Tehran’s nuclear programme.  Despite the interest that the topic naturally elicits, few, including those participating, really expected the talks to produce any positive outcome.

Perhaps this sentiment was best expressed by the Gulf News editorial, which noted: “Saturday's formal talks between Iran and the international community went surprisingly well, if only in the sense that they did not end in a walkout and mutual recrimination....While Iran's critics accuse it of developing a nuclear weapons programme, Iran insists that its programme is peaceful. To convince the international community that it is telling the truth, Iran will have to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors into all its facilities, visiting any site they want, without prior notice.”

The Iranians for their part felt that “For the 5+1 talks to work, the U.S. must learn from old mistakes.” As Tehran Times’ Reza Merat puts it, “[T]he stage has been set and there is a good deal of harmony between what Iran is prepared to give and what the U.S. wants. But it is vital that U.S. officials do not make the same mistakes they did last time they met with Iranian diplomats: pushing hard and expecting a quick result....Those who shout that time is running out or talk of ‘windows of opportunity’ to strike Iran before it ‘develops a bomb’ grossly misread the situation. It is abundantly clear that Iran does not have a weapons program to strike against....Both sides could have a lot to gain from the talks, but they must be given the time to be done right. Otherwise, the next time Iran and the U.S. or the 5+1 group come to the table, it will be all the harder to find a middle ground.”

According to at least one observer from the region, the U.S. attitude on the talks was “skeptical,” whereas the host — Turkey — appeared more hopeful about the possibility of progress.  In an op-ed for Hurriyet Daily News, Sevil Küçükkosum reported: “Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who hosted Saturday’s talks, had several bilateral meetings with Ashton and Jalili over the weekend as part of efforts to reconcile relationships between western powers and Iran for the sake of progress. Turkey has contributed to the process as ‘different modalities of communication,’ the U.S. official said. ‘We believe that this meeting has provided a contribution to international peace and security. We want these negotiations, which began in Istanbul, to finish successfully. Looking forward, we are prepared to offer every contribution to the process,’ Davutoglu said.”

In the aftermath of the talks, the reaction from the Israeli governmed was best summed up by a report from Haaretz’s Barak Ravid, citing “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [who] harshly criticized the nuclear talks that took place between Iran and six world powers in Istanbul on Saturday, saying that further talks scheduled for May are like a gift for Iran, which give the country more time to continue enriching uranium....The prime minister repeated his position that ‘Iran needs to stop all uranium enrichment immediately, to take all the enriched material out of the country, and to dismantle its nuclear facility at Qom.... We cannot allow the greatest terror practitioner in the world to develop nuclear weapons.’”

Asharq Alawsats’ Tariq Alhomayed reacts to a recent fatwa issued by Iran’s supreme leader denouncing nuclear weapons and cautions against taking Iran’s word at face value: “The problem with the Obama administration is that it wants to pursue policies that may be acceptable to the day-dreaming cultural elite, but not to regimes that are full of cunning and deceit, like the Iranian regime, whose primary objectives do not include development, openness, humanitarian values, the well-being of its citizens, or even religious tolerance....Since the Khomeinist revolution, Iran has been prepared to utilize religion, sectarianism and even the Palestinian Cause, as playing cards in order to infiltrate our region, as well as to divide Arab states from within;...in reality,..if this fatwa is one of the merits of dialogue with Iran, then by God we are truly facing a disaster in the region!”

It is this deep distrust of Iran’s true intentions that also motivates Jerusalem Post’s Chuck Freilich to write: “No one disputes that an attack should be considered only as a last resort and would be deeply problematic even then....We can hope that the punishing oil and financial sanctions now in place will finally change the Iranian calculus....For an attack on Iran to make sense, anyone willing to act once would have to be willing to do so again, should the program be reconstituted....Ultimately, however, the choice will come down to one of two danger-fraught alternatives: living with a nuclear Iran through containment and deterrence, or military action. Whichever approach one favors, we owe it to ourselves to face up to this painful choice honestly.”

But the nuclear issue is not the only reason why Iran has been in the news recently. A few days ago, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a provocative trip to the fiercely contested Abu Musa island, raising the ire of the United Arab Emirates who also claim ownership of the island: “Unfortunately, [Iranian President Ahmadinejad] seems to think that any addition to the number of Tehran’s enemies, real or potential, would only make his country stronger. This can be the only explanation for his trip to the disputed Abu Musa island, a trip which was as ill-timed as it was provocative....Either the leaders of Iran want to divert the attention of their people from more pressing problems at home or think they can  survive only in an atmosphere of continuing tension and instability. Either way this is reckless adventurism.  Ahmadinejad is playing with fire and gambling with the future of his country.”

This action led The National to note in one of its editorials that “Iran's belligerent diplomacy is self-defeating.... It could not have been anything but a deliberate provocation....Iran has always pursued a belligerent policy in regards to the three occupied UAE islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunbs and Lesser Tunbs, rebuffing every overture of a negotiated, mutually beneficial resolution. However, this latest piece of political theatre by Mr Ahmadinejad comes at a particularly bad time....what Tehran's leaders have failed to understand is that they must live in this region and with the relationships that they forge with their neighbours. With 78 million people, great natural wealth, and a diverse society and culture, Iran should be an important, respected and constructive partner in the region. Instead, it pursues a policy of provocation that only breeds mistrust.”


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