Tag Archives: US

As Erdogan prepares to meet Trump, can US keep allies from bloodshed?

The timing of the Turkish airstrikes on Syrian Kurdish forces, weeks before Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due to visit the US President Donald Trump, is not a coincidence.

The attacks serve as a warning for the US, but it also aims to ensure Turkey retains an influence over proceedings in Syria, while simultaneously appeasing hawkish circles in Turkey crucial to Erdogan’s recent referendum win.

The attacks on the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) bases near the Syrian town of Derik, which also included Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) positions in the Shingal area in Iraq, led to diplomatic protests from the US.

The US is in a difficult conundrum. It relies heavily on Syrian Kurdish forces, whom they have stated many times as one of the most effective troops battling the Islamic State (IS).

However, keeping their once dependable allies in Ankara onside at the same time is proving an impossible balance.

Underlining this difficult predicament, Turkish airstrikes came as YPG led forces were in the middle of an intense battle to capture Tabqa from IS that would pave the way for the final assault on Raqqa.

The strong Turkish opposition to the growing ties between the Kurdish forces, whom they accuse of being an extension of the PKK, and the US is not new.

Turkey has attempted to pressure Washington on multiple occasions to sideline the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which the YPG forms as its largest and strongest contingent, and to propel Turkey, and its Syrian opposition allies, to lead the fight to drive IS from their stronghold of Raqqa.

This week, Erdogan stated the US-led coalition, working hand in hand with Turkish forces, “can turn Raqqa into a graveyard for IS.”

This suggestion of anti-IS alliance has been proposed countless times and has been evidently rejected by the US, which has increased their support of SDF forces in recent months.

Erdogan warned continued US support needs to stop “right now,” or risk bringing persistent strife in the region and Turkey while urging that without cooperation on the global fight against terrorism, “then tomorrow it will strike at another ally.”

The US has rejected the notion that the YPG and the PKK are one and the same. This places the US in an increasingly difficult standoff with Turkey.

According to Mark Toner, the former US State Department spokesperson, Washington had already communicated that “Turkey must stop attacking the YPG.”

Toner added the US supports “Turkey’s efforts to protect its borders from PKK terrorism,” but this stance fuels ambiguity in an already tense regional landscape.

The US policy towards the YPG forces, both now and in the future, remains incoherent and unclear.

Erdogan warned that “we may suddenly come at any night,” referring to further attacks on YPG positions. This would certainly undermine Kurdish support in the battle against IS.

For Erdogan to back down on his unwavering stance on the YPG now would risk a nationalist backlash.

It remains to be seen how far the US is willing to go to defend their Kurdish allies, who had even requested a no-fly zone.

The US had already expressed their disappointment over a lack of notice and coordination before Turkish strikes. Col. John Dorrian, the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), described the time provided by Turkey as “inadequate.”

According to Dorrian, the US “had forces within six miles of the strikes,” while the operations box given by Turkey was too big to ensure the safety of US troops.

As a deterrence to further Turkish attacks, US armored convoys were seen patrolling some areas alongside Kurdish forces.

This came as US officers visited the site of the airstrikes, with reports of US forces attending funerals of YPG members killed by the air raid.

Deployments of US troops along the border areas was confirmed by Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis, who urged focus from all parties in the fight against IS as the common enemy.

An angry Erdogan remarked that “we are seriously concerned to see US flags in a convoy that has YPG rags on it.”

Erdogan is likely to protest strongly with Trump when they meet.

Ankara hoped Trump would abandon former US President Barack Obama’s policy in allying with the Kurds.

But, with the Kurds driving deeper in their assault on Raqqa, Trump has seemingly taken advice from his military leaders and stuck with the Kurds.

Any change now would spell bloodshed either way. Turkish forces would have to wedge through Kurdish territory, leading to certain conflict.

Conversely, Turkey’s resistance against the YPG would only embolden, especially as Kurds solidify their autonomous rule.

This regional powder-keg goes well beyond the question of who will take Raqqa. IS will be defeated, but the complex Syrian web from years of bloodshed will be much more difficult to untangle.

After IS, is the US willing to protect YPG forces at the continued expense of Turkey, or will it leave both allies to open a new chapter of bloodshed?

First Published: Kurdistan 24

US sidelined in Syria, as Turkey and Russia set stall for Trump

The notable absence of the United States (US) in the latest Syrian ceasefire coordinated by Turkey and Russia coincided with escalating rhetoric and growing animosity from Turkey, blaming Washington for the failed military coup, recent security attacks, and the growing Syrian Kurdish power.

The intensification of criticism from Turkey is designed as parting shots at the outgoing US President and as pressure on the incoming US President-elect Donald Trump.

With the thawing of ties with Russia, Turkey is increasingly looking to build bridges away from the West; this is evident not only with general animosity towards Washington but also the European Union in recent months.

The shift in Ankara can be seen with the armed intervention in northern Syria to drive out the Syrian Kurdish forces and the Islamic State (IS) and by accepting that Russia and Iran would not allow the demise of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Michael A. Reynolds, a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Kurdistan 24, “Under Obama’s leadership the US either by intention or default put itself on the sidelines. This, I think, exasperated Ankara and led it to reach out to Moscow, repair relations, and to accept Assad’s continued tenure as president of Syria.” 

Now, in playing a prominent role in the latest ceasefire and the prospective talks in Kazakhstan, Turkey is seemingly open to striking a deal, without the US to act as a roadblock, to preserve its interests in Syria while Russia and Iran would also maintain strategic interests.

Ankara’s key goal, however, is to curtail the growing Syrian Kurdish autonomy, in contrast to the continued US support for the People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces.

As for Russia, it will continue to enjoy unhindered access to the Mediterranean via its naval bases, a pro-Russian regime in the Middle East and growing influence in the region last seen in the Soviet era.

Meanwhile, Iran’s influence is also growing through a pro-Iranian access zone along the Shiite axis between Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut.

By pressing ahead with a ceasefire, peace talks and a possible grand bargain over Assad, Turkey, Russia, and Iran are setting the stall for the future Trump administration.

While Trump will exert some influence, the expectation is that a more Russia-friendly Washington will provide little resistance to any initiative. Trump has already highlighted that his focus is on working with Russia to defeat IS and is unlikely to continue support for Syrian rebels.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signaled his hope that Trump “will also join the efforts in order to channel this work into one direction basing on friendly and collective cooperation.” One of Trump’s dilemmas will be how to handle the existing military alliance with the Syrian Kurds that has been vital to pushing back IS.

Turkey has a strong expectation that Trump will change course over support of the Kurds, but a complete u-turn by Washington is risky and not inevitable.

Overlooking the Kurds and allowing Turkey to take center stage in battling IS on the ground, as it has long insisted, may weaken IS but will risk inevitable conflict with the Kurds that Obama has tried to avoid.

Trump has previously stated “I’m a big fan of the Kurdish forces. At the same time, I think we could have a potentially very successful relations with Turkey. And it would be really wonderful if we could put them somehow both together”. However, balancing between the Kurds and an increasingly hawkish Turkey is difficult.

Ultimately, the indecisive approach of the Obama administration towards Syria lead to its waning influence and credibility in the region.

Various red lines such as the use of chemical weapons by Assad were crossed without action and Obama hesitated to empower Syrian rebels, especially as the distinction between moderates and Islamists amongst fragmented rebels became murky.

According to Reynolds, “Trump was quite critical of Obama’s half-hearted attempt to intervene in Syria, and particularly of Obama’s muddled and incompetent efforts to aid the armed opposition in Syria.

Whereas Clinton wished to double-down on intervention, Trump did not see how such recklessness would serve American interests.”

While the US dithered, Russia took center stage diplomatically and shaped the military picture on the ground. After all, it was both a combatant and an arbiter and had to be taken seriously.

As for Trump–Turkey and Russia expect him to come on board with their plans, but Trump has already proved unpredictable, and Syria remains too complex for straight forward relations between sides with their differing agendas.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

As the United States turns its back on Iraq and ‘Bush’s legacy’, Kurds and democracy left to suffer

The United States and their allies took a bold step in 2003 amidst strong international opposition to free a country from decades of tyranny and a dictator that was the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, to build the foundations of a new Iraq that most Iraqis never thought they would see.

The legacy of former US President George W. Bush on Iraq is in stark contrast to that of Barrack Obama. For all his critics, Bush was highly determined to “last the course” in Iraq and oversaw an Iraq that had a series of historic elections, a new constitution and a new dawn of liberation that could not have been better symbolised than in veteran Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani’s appointment as Saddam Hussein’s successor.

Talabani’s instalment as president was poetic justice as it represented the ironic twist of the oppressed replacing the oppressor, Kurds who were long denied equal rights were now at the forefront of the new Iraq. The US adventure in Iraq was often plagued for everything it didn’t fulfil, not for all the historic opportunities that it unravelled.

The US invasion of Iraq had many success stories for Washington, non-more illustrious than the Kurdistan Region. From impoverishment, oppression and suffering, the Kurds have built a secular democracy with increasing economic and strategic clout in Iraq that most US politicians in 2003 dreamed about.

When Iraq’s was descending into all out civil war, Bush took the bold move to call upon thousands more troops, when the budget was blown billions more dollars were approved and when Iraq was falling apart, the determination of the US only grew further. Iraq was simply at the centre of US foreign policy and a project that it could ill-afford to abandon. US intervention on many occasions allowed Iraqi politicians to reach compromise and democratic progress to continue, whenever the Kurds, Sunnis or Shiites were on the negotiating table, the fourth would be a keen and willing US.

The Iraqi baton was passed to Barrack Obama in 2009, and the contrast in approach could not be greater. Iraq is hardly in the media, in the US public eye or a priority of Obama as Washington has distanced itself from the role of the foster parents of the new Iraq.

Of course, it was somewhat inevitable as Obama’s election campaign was always centred on Iraqi withdrawal and anti-meddling in Iraqi affairs and due to changes in the global political climate. It has tried to play a supportive and neutral role in Iraq, whilst stating its support for a plural and democratic Iraqi that adheres to its constitution.

It is no coincidence that shortly after US withdrawal in Iraq, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s stance toughened with a consolidation of power, the fallout over Sunni Vice President  Tariq al-Hashemi began, already fragile political agreements weakened and relations between the Kurdistan Region and Baghdad plummeted.

A little over a year after US forces departed, the immense sacrifices and efforts of the US are in great danger of been wasted. The delicate and often tenuous balance that the US managed to achieve over the years is fast evaporating. Bush warned in one of his last speeches that the Iraq “war was not over”.

In a recent interview with Time magazine, Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, emphasising the moral responsibility of the US, underlined Kurdish disappointment on the current US position “…America came to this country, spent huge amounts of money and have sacrificed lives. But they handed over the keys to others…”

Whether the current administration likes it or not, they have a level of responsibility to the Kurds and the new Iraq they helped to create.

Washington cannot simply send thousands of troops like before or throw billions more dollars that it doesn’t have, but it cannot be a bystander in Iraq either. A Baghdad that is increasingly distancing itself from US influence has a man at the helm that holds the position of acting interior minister, acting defense minister and acting national security minister as well as the role of Prime Minister.

The US always referred to potential conflict between the Kurds and Arabs as the greatest danger in Iraq. The very reason that tense stand-offs were averted in the past was due to US intervention and the advent of join patrols in disputed territories.

Now that very danger is perilously close to reality, with both Kurdish and Iraqi troops amassed in a stiff showdown that not only threatens to put Iraq back to square, but whose ramifications will serve to shake an already edgy Middle East.

The Obama administration has repeated its support for an Iraq that abides by the Iraqi constitution many times. However, what happens when the same constitution is violated or constitutional principles such as article 140, hydrocarbon law or power sharing are neglected?

It is not to say that the US has a magic wand, but its influence could and should still go a long way in Iraq. The US cannot wash a hand that was deeply tainted in the Iraqi struggle for so long.

The oil dispute typifies the new US stance of sitting on the wall. While the rest of Iraq has lingered behind, Kurdistan is developing and raring to go. Yet the US has repeatedly warned Turkish companies against direct deals with the Kurds claiming it threatens the “integrity of Iraq”. It is Baghdad’s lack of commitment to the constitution and not the Kurds who threaten the integrity of Iraq.

Ironically, the biggest coup for Kurds was to get US oil giant Exxon-Mobil onboard and who are ready to drill in highly-contested areas in 2013, amidst a backdrop of familiar warning by Baghdad.

The Kurds remain reliant on Baghdad for exportation of oil and oil revenues and this has been somewhat of a stop-start tap in recent years and has become the source of Iraq’s carrot and stick approach against the Kurds.

The Kurds are by far the biggest pro-American group in Iraq and their flourishing economy, secularist nature and pro-western ideals is exactly what the US should have embraced. Yet Kurds feel let down, dejected and to a large extent weary of what the US will do if Iraqi forces turn their guns and arsenal on the Kurds once more.

Not only has the US supplied Baghdad with F16’s, modern tanks and weaponry, the Kurds fear a passive US stance should Kurdistan come under attack once more.

The increasing self-sufficiency drive of the Kurds, with an independent oil infrastructure at its heart, is the key to its long-term survival and prosperity. It is no wonder that surrounded by hostile forces and with a distant Washington administration in the background that they have increasingly needed to rely and capitalise on growing ties with Turkey. As Kurdistan Prime Minister emphasised in the same interview “we have a door of hope, which is Turkey. And if that door, that hope is closed, it will be impossible for us to surrender to Baghdad. We will do something that will put in danger the interests of all those concerned.”

The US needs no reminding that the Kurds helped keep Iraq together at key times when security situation descended into chaos. The Kurds were often the factor for compromise on the negotiating table, supplied thousands of troops to protect southern areas and adopted a patient game while Iraq stabilised.

The Kurds cannot simply wait for Iraq to determine when it will implement a democratic constitution, oil laws and power sharing agreements.

The US is against Kurdish independence yet it also acknowledges the importance of a plural Iraq that abides by its constitution. Kurds cannot remain stuck in this paradox indefinitely. Either it is independence or full implementation of the constitution. Barzani reiterated this position in recent warnings, “…there is no doubt if and when we lose hope that the constitution is not adhered to, certainly there are other options.”

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources:  Various Misc.

Iranian nuclear capability, the practice of a natural right or an evident danger to world peace?

Iranian nuclear programme firmly under the international spotlight as voices of discontent grow in Israel

The US is keen to revitalize foreign relation ties in the Middle East. One of the historical key to achieving this is finding an elusive long-term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However a growingly influential Iran, who the US have insisted that they face “no greater challenge” than its emerging nuclear capabilities, has only served to complicate the interconnected web that is the Middle East. How the US deals with a defiant hard-line regime, who has stated they are only enjoying their natural rights to nuclear development, may go a long way to determining resolutions elsewhere in the Middle East.

Throughout history, the Middle East has proved a highly contentious stage for global instability and a crucial placard of colonial powers. However, although the initiatives of Western powers in recent years in addressing some of the shortfalls and historical trouble spots in the region have been bold, the Middle East continues to be platform for anxiety and future wars.

A vital icon of the modern Middle Eastern landscape is Israel, whose controversial creation in 1948 added more to fuel to the regional fire. In recent years, a growingly prominent and confident Iranian regime with its own fair share of infamy has come to the fore as a key regional power and as a threat to the delicate balance.

Iran has been pretty much in diplomatic isolation since the Islamist revolution of 1979 dramatically propelled Ayatollah Khomeini to power. The perception of Iran as a threat is nothing new, however the original threat of Shiite Islamist revolutionaries threatening the whole framework of the predominantly Sunni Arab region, took on significant meaning in recent years, with its much debated nuclear program coming to the international fore.

The current nuclear crisis dates back to 2003, when the IAEA reported that Iran had hidden a uranium enrichment programme for 18 years. Opposition to such an ideal grew fiercer with inception of a new hard-line regime in Tehran from 2005.

Nuclear technology is hardly a new concept, and many regimes posses such a capability, none more so than Israel itself, who remains the sole possessor of nukes in the Middle East. However, the danger in the case of Iran is clear, a nuclear Islamist regime that is alleged to support a number of radical groups in the region and accused of been a “supporter of terrorism” rings obvious sirens.

Stand-off with Israel

Iranian antagonism towards the Jewish state is not new, however with accession of ultra conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power in 2005, his brazen remarks towards the very existence of Israel as a country has ruffled many a feather in the international arena.

At a recent U.N conference on racism in Geneva, Ahmadinejad’s denunciation of the “totally racist government” of Israel founded on the “pretext of Jewish suffering” drew further condemnation and protests.

The Iranian nuclear programme has attracted growing attention in the international sphere. At the forefront of those opposed to any notion of a nuclear Iran is Israel. Whilst the Iranians have continuously insisted that their programme is strictly for peaceful purposes and based on their rightful civilian energy needs only, the mere idea that the same uranium enrichment process used for nuclear fuel can also be potentially utilized as a nuclear warhead, has sent the shivers down the region, particularly Israel.

For Israelis, nuclear technology for a country that has already pledged to “wipe them off the map” is a chilling notion, however theoretical such rhetoric in essence may be. Furthermore, a growingly influential Iran, in spite of the relative isolation that they still face, has a hand in many a Middle Eastern pie, especially the pies of most concern to Israel.

Iran has long been accused as major sponsors to Shiite Islamist Hezbollah stationed in South Lebanon, to Israel’s north. Hezbollah itself has become increasingly bold and determined in recent years, with increasingly capable technological arsenal said to be supplied by Iran, culminating in the deadly conflict with Israeli forces in 2006.

To the West of Israel in the Gaza Strip, Iran is also been accused of been major backers to Hamas, who only a few months ago were engaged in their own bloody confrontations with Israeli forces in the Gaza strip.

In 1981, a growingly powerful Baathist nationalist regime in Iraq with developing nuclear capabilities prompted Israel to undertake preemptive air strikes on its nuclear facilities. Now the growing question is whether an ever-weary Israeli government, could or for that matter should, deliver another preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities and “neutralize” the source, as the new Israeli governments seems to have openly hinted.

With the accession of US president Barack Obama to power, it was hoped that the frequently stalled peace process between Israel and the Palestinians could receive a much-needed jumpstart.

However, growing mutterings from the new Israeli government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has insisted that the Iranian nuclear issue must be dealt in tandem as an interconnected issue, has threatened the peace process. The general consensus in Israel is that it would be impossible to resolve any problem in the region, without finding a resolution to the Iranian nuclear headache in parallel.

However, for Iran where defiance in spite of broad international objections, a number of UN sanctions and growing threats against the regime, has become a symbol of nationalism, giving up its nuclear programme which it sees as a natural right in the face of pressure from their adversaries is most unlikely.

It remains to be seen where this leaves the standoff, especially with many Western powers keen on a “grand bargain” with Iran over it nuclear programme.

Has diplomacy reached an end?

While the former US administration under George W. Bush continuously emphasized that “all options were on the table” regarding Iran, at least for now, military strikes appear a less viable solution that could conversely further stoke Iranian sentiments and also undermine regional support.

The new Obama administration emphasized that diplomacy was possible with Iran if it could “unclench its fist”. However, such unclenching of the fist would almost certainly involve concessions that are unlikely to be stomached by Iran, such as the suspension of their much heralded uranium enrichment programme which would hurt national pride.

While Israel has played down talks of imminent strikes, rumors of grand military drills and alleged Israeli capability to undertake multiple strikes within days of been given the go ahead, clearly signals that all options remain on the table regarding dealing with Iran.

While the diplomatic channels may not have been exhausted, with Iran signaling its openness to negotiate with the US on its nuclear programme, something will clearly have to give sooner rather than later. Though the Obama administration have sounded many positive overtures in luring the Iranian regime, it has been equally keen to note that it is also ready to respond to the issue harshly by acting as a catalyst for major economic sanctions, or possibly worse, military strikes.

A persistent thorn in the US side

Nuclear issues aside, the real problem is the Islamist regime in Iran where US-Iranian ties have never recovered since the US embassy hostage crisis which propelled relations to the current lows and led to the severance of diplomatic ties.

After much sacrifice in Iraq, the US slowly and painfully realized that the intertwined web that is the Middle East needed to be approached in a much more holistic manner.

The last several years in the Middle East, particularly the case of Iraq has highlighted that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts in resolving issues. As such, the US acknowledges that however controversial the Tehran regime may be deemed, they clearly need Iranian support if they are to achieve those goals.

As part of Obama’s strategy of reinvigorating tarnished US foreign policy in the region and in its reach out to the greater Muslim world, it has deployed a more cautious card in dealing with Iran. Whilst Israelis have linked the peace process with the Palestinians to resolving the Iranian nuclear standoff, the US have emphasized that to generate the needed political support, both issues must go hand-in-hand.

Issues such as the Israel-Palestinian peace process and Iraq can not be resolved without resolving associated interdependent components. Since Bush announced Iran as part of the “axis of evil” in 2002, it was clear that outright regime change in Iran remained the ultimate goal of Washington. Nuclear conspiracies that surfaced in 2003 only increased such desire.

Iranian have long held a historic belief that they have a rightful place as a key power in the region. Their distinct non-Arab identity is only compounded with the fact that they are Shiite Islamists, much to the contrast of the Arab Sunni dominated, and largely more pro-Western countries in the region.

Iran has remained regionally isolated since 1979 and many neighboring Muslim countries and not just Israel remain highly suspicious and anxious towards their eastern neighbors.

Ironically, Iran has at times reveled in its isolationism which has served well to stoke national sentiments and also increase the foothold of Islamist theocracy. While the clerics may halt their programme, it’s very unlikely that the US would halt its programme for regime change.

Iran en-route as a nuclear superpower?

While much of the Iranian threat lingers on would be nuclear scenarios in the future, Iran has clearly made huge strides towards its goal of becoming a nuclear superpower.

While for a time Iran briefly stopped its uranium enrichment programme in 2006, the mere capability of enriching uranium was greatly superseded with claims in 2007 that they had successfully enriched uranium to an industrial level.

Throughout the current standoff over it nuclear ambitions, Iran has continuously emphasized that its enrichment programs is only based on the “peaceful application of nuclear technology”.

Iranian persistence in following its nuclear goals has been met with frequent condemnation and intermittent economic sanctions. In July 31st 2006, resolution 1696 was passed by the United Nations Security Council, demanding that Iran stops its enrichment programme. Upon non compliance of this resolution, resolution 1737 was issued in December 26th 2006, which imposed a series of sanctions designed to prevent the transfer of nuclear and ballistic missile technologies. Sanctions were widened further in March 2007, when a growingly determined Iran continued to press ahead with its plans. Resolution 1803, a further UN Security Council Resolution in March 2008, was designed to extend sanctions to cover a number of additional areas do deter and punish Iranian non-compliance.

Iranian resistance

Iranian persistence not to succumb to what it sees as “bullying” tactics to end its nuclear programme is driven by international protocols that act as a guideline to nuclear development by any prospective government who are signatories to such pacts.

Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treat (NPT), which Iran is a party to, a country has the right to enrich uranium to fuel civilian power stations. The process to enrich uranium for civilian purposes is similar to that needed to arm nuclear warheads. However, the concentration required for a conventional weapon is much higher. Therefore NPT is designed to safeguard countries from producing more uranium than their civil needs dictate.

As an assurance to preserve the principles of the protocol, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) carries out inspections, where Iran is party to such inspections.

Put simply, Iran does have the right in principle to pursue uranium enrichment, which has only raised tensions in Iran that the series of UN sanctions and the mass objections against its programme are simply driven by political agendas.

As the nuclear battle has become a key cornerstone of the political landscape in the region and beyond, the idea of the Iranian regime succumbing to international pressure, and breaking its hard fought strides towards its current status is unlikely. Moreover, Israel, guarded by successive US administrations is controversially not a signatory to the NPT and thus is immune from scrutiny.

Orders from the UN council, however, supersede other rights and are fueled somewhat by the fact that Iran hid an enrichment programme for 18 years. The plea to stop uranium enrichment is based on the lack of international confidence on Iran’s intentions. Iran is unlikely to be allowed to diplomatically pursue its nuclear programme until the West is confident in the motives and shape of such a programme. Ironically, such confidence will not be reached until Iranian regime change is achieved.

The vicious stand-off in the nuclear affair is obvious. Europeans in particular have called for a “grand bargain” with Iran. However, Iran has been cool toward any notion that firstly takes away its inalienable rights.

Though the IAEA has highlighted Iranian non-compliances and has stated that Iran has accumulated more low-enriched uranium than first thought, this is not “enriched” to the levels needed to make a nuclear device and has also indicated that it has found no evidence that it has diverted such materials for the pursuance of a nuclear weapon.

Can Iran be appeased?

Recent European incentives have been based on the premise of a suspension to uranium enrichment. Strictly speaking, Iran can build civilian nuclear energy without enriching its own uranium and could import the civilian levels needed under inspection. Under the plan, Iranian right to peaceful enrichment of uranium would be recognized and Iran would receive help with the building of nuclear power stations, as well as receiving trade concessions.

Iran’s response has been simple, it would contest any offer other than any that firstly demanded the suspension of its enrichment programme.

As IAEA inspections and recently National Intelligence Estimate have played down the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons capability in the short-term, the current nuclear stand-off for the time been is purely political with both sides of the debate unlikely to back down.

Although Israel is not part of the NPT and thus is not subject to inspection or has to make official declarations on its nuclear capability, it is widely acknowledged to have a large stockpile of nuclear weapons. Close scrutiny of Israeli nuclear programmes have been closely guarded by successive US administration, thus affording a level of immunity that has obviously stirred sentiments in Tehran.

As far as Iran is concerned and has proudly proclaimed in public, it has already joined the nuclear elite. Perhaps it is not quite there in terms of possessing nuclear weapons, but it has undoubtedly broken the greatest challenges associated with the process to do so. Nuclear technology is a political message and a symbol of dominance and power, Iranians need nuclear capability to be recognized and respected as a regional super power.

Critics of the NPT have pointed to breaks in parts of the treaty by nuclear powers and that they have not truly moved towards nuclear disarmament that the treaty intends.

The practice of double standards?

Somewhat ironically, the idea of expansion of nuclear capability in the Middle East is not new. Egypt has announced plans to build a number of nuclear power stations to generate electricity. Egyptian plans have received backing from the US, who has stated that there is no comparison to the controversial nuclear projects of Tehran.

Saudi Arabia, even with the largest oil reserves in the world, is developing a civilian nuclear power supply, seemingly in response to its Iranian neighbors. States part of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) have also signaled their desire to develop joint nuclear technology. Jordan has also signaled its desire to build its first nuclear power plant.

Clearly, with the nuclear capability of Israel and Western-allies been allowed to develop nuclear technology, Iranian gripe is easy to see.

Even more ironic perhaps is the frequent notion that Iranian nuclear ambition is a new phenomenon. In fact, the birth of its nuclear programme can be traced back to the onset of the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi after 1953. A predominantly pro-Western state before 1979, much of the West scrambled to do business with Iran in that time including in the sphere of nuclear technology.

The Bushehr power plant, although never complete after 1979, was built under European stewardship. The Bushehr reactor was only largely destroyed between 1984 and 1987 by a number of Iraqi air strikes.

This shows that the nuclear crisis is evidently linked to politics or more specifically the regime in question, thus the argument of double standards is obvious. However, for the US which has already suffered a great Iraqi nightmare no thanks to the help of the Iranian government, the idea of a controversial power who makes frequent brazen remarks on the international stage, and supports the likes of radicals such as Hamas and Hezbollah with such technology, the warnings bells can be heard from many a mile away.

By the end of 2009, Iranians hope to have the Bushehr nuclear power plant, built with the help of the Russian in spite of strong US objections, in full swing. This is in addition to two nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak

Iranian military arsenal

Iran clearly has a thirst for power and will continue to pursue advances to its military and technological arsenal. While Iranians in theory may be appeased to stop nuclear ambitions, the threat of Iran as a military force will continue.

Iran ballistic technology is increasingly reaching greater distances to the worry of Israel, while earlier this year to coincide with the symbolic importance of the 30th anniversary of the Islamist revolution, it stroke another public victory with the successful launch of an Iranian satellite by its own rocket. This only increased Western apprehension that the ground-breaking missile technology could be used in tandem with the delivery of nuclear warheads.

If the US and its allies are intent on resolving the most pertinent Middle Eastern issues, then they must show that they are ready to deploy a level of dialogue and diplomacy to find a long-term solution to such issues.

Such long-term solutions will not be easy when the interconnected components are so delicately placed. Peace between the Palestinians and Israel has been talked about for so long, yet has frequently stalled for decades. Inflicting greater changes in the Middle East and imposing your values and ideals will not be easy without one side getting hurt.

If nuclear proliferation is currently determined on the pro-Western views of a country, what happens when that same country is taken over by extremists? Or conversely, will Iran be allowed to develop nuclear capabilities if the upcoming presidential elections result in a new reformist and moderate government?

Furthermore, if US is serious about dealing minimizing nuclear weapons in general, then they must ensure every country regardless of political status is signatory to the NPT, including Israel.

Either way, one sided resolutions will simply no longer work in the Middle East.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.