Sunday, December 28, 2008

2009's Most Pressing International Issue: Iran by Olivier Guitta

While the recent focus of the world's media has been on the global economic crisis, another issue of major concern is looming: Iran and its nuclear program. The incoming U.S. administration of Barack Obama is going to have to tackle this issue in the first days of office. Indeed, even though it did not get much coverage, the French National Assembly issued an alarming report which assessed that Iran could get its first nuclear bomb between 2009 and 2010.

This assessment is the result of a one-year research where numerous experts were interviewed both in Iran and outside of Islamic Republic.

The president of the commission, Socialist MP Jean-Louis Bianco is certain that the Iranian nuclear program is military.

Said Bianco: "The Iranians have enriched 1,600 kilos of uranium but are unable to give an answer, to show a concrete project when one asks them about the advances of their civilian program. Why?"

The report also points out that Tehran got the plans of a nuclear bomb most likely through the Pakistani connection. Iranians have also developed a miniaturization program of the bomb. Bianco believes that the situation is "very worrisome" and that only negotiations without preconditions can solve this thorny matter.

One would love to believe this, but unfortunately it has been now almost seven years that the international community has been negotiating with Iran to no avail.

Not a single concrete result has come out of these endless talks and Iran's strategy to gain time has been quite successful.

Furthermore for diplomacy or sanctions to be effective, a united front is a must. And unfortunately so far the front has been quite fractured, to say the least. Two members of the U.N. Security Council, Russia and China, have been reluctant to impose tough sanctions on Tehran.

But they are not the only ones to blame for the weak pressure on Iran; some nations within the European Union have been also more than lenient with Tehran.

France has taken the lead in the EU on the Iranian issue. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner have been pretty blunt with Tehran.

Just a week ago, Sarkozy said regarding Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "It is impossible for me to shake hands with someone who dared to say that Israel should be wiped off the map."

This is just an example of how terrible the relations between Paris and Tehran have become. Also each time Ahmadinejad goes on one of his anti-Israeli rants, France summons the Iranian ambassador in Paris to express its indignation.

But other European nations do not do so and France seems isolated in the EU. Another example of this isolation came when the Italian and German defense attaches attended a military fair in Iran while France had called for the EU to boycott it.

On the sanctions front, France has also been at the forefront of zealousness in forbidding French companies to pursue business opportunities in Iran. That cannot be said of other EU countries.

The situation is quite worrying, because one of Sarkozy's goals during the French presidency of the European Union - from Jul. 1 to Dec. 31, 2008 - was to work with his European colleagues to make Tehran feel the heat. But the final result has been a total failure.

This does not bode well for the European Union to adopt a tougher stance on Iran anytime soon; it looks that once again financial and commercial interests speak louder than doing the right thing.

In light of this, how can diplomacy or sanctions work?

The conclusion seems that except for very few countries, Iran's obtaining the nuclear weapon is a given and that the world is going to have to live with it.

But for Israel and many countries in the Gulf, this is not an option. Time is running out and options are too. The news that Russia has begun delivering S-300 air defense systems to Iran seems to indicate that everyone in the region is getting ready for war.

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