Sunday, November 01, 2009

What Does Iran Want?

Iran (and the media) are providing us some time to think about what’s going on. So let’s do that.

Something that continues to bother me is that we don’t know what Iran is trying to do. Worse, we don’t know who in Iran wants to do what. In any large group of people, opinions differ. This seems to be the case in Iran, as attested by the events surrounding the recent election there.

Iran has been less than forthcoming about several aspects of its nuclear program. The elements of the nuclear program that are being built up seem to be more suitable for a weapons program than for civilian nuclear power. Those are facts, with a bit of analysis/opinion thrown in.

There has been a certain amount of hoopla in Iran celebrating the successes of its nuclear program. There has also been a certain amount of rhetoric against Israel, but the two have, to my knowledge, not been explicitly linked. On the contrary, there have been statements that the nuclear program is strictly peaceful and that nuclear weapons are against the principles of Islam. It is a fact that such things have been said, but what is said may be subject to misdirection or misinterpretation.

It is also a fact that the United States and Israel have made threatening statements against Iran, probably more in total than Iran has made against Israel. Various “red lines” have been drawn without the military action that is threatened. Iran was put in a category with North Korea and Iraq, and we know what happened to Iraq. So it would make sense if Iran were developing a nuclear weapons capability. About the first three sentences in this paragraph, we may repeat that what is said is subject to misdirection. The fourth sentence is an inference from the first three.

The events surrounding the Iranian elections in June gave us some more information, but not much. We have known all along that the Iranian government has an extremely complex decision-making structure, not at all transparent to the outside world. The demonstrations and the response to them, along with a rather limited selection of charges and countercharges among those in government, gave us a glimpse into that government.

I thought I detected a power struggle to assume the mantle of the revolution in some of the news out of Iran in June; I tried that idea on someone who knows much more about it than I do, and he agreed. That’s an important thing to know about a government that you’re trying to negotiate with, but until you know what each side believes or wants, it’s not entirely helpful.

The faction in power did ugly things to the people who disagreed with them; but that, along with the willingness of those who disagreed to risk injury and death, do not entirely define “good guys” and “bad guys.” Those in power want to remain in power. We now know that they will do some rather desperate things in the service of that goal. But what do the demonstrators want?

It’s easy to identify with them as having the same goals as us freedom-loving westerners, but what do they want that freedom for? A greater role for Iran in the Middle East? Would nuclear weapons be acceptable to them as a way to achieve that? The nuclear program has been very popular in Iran, but it’s not clear whether that means that the population wants nuclear weapons or whether they are pleased at the exhibition of Iran’s scientific and technical capability.

In fact, why don’t we just try to do without thinking of anyone in Iran as “good guys” and “bad guys.” The better question is what they perceive their interests to be.

In fact (facts again), it is President Ahmadinejad who negotiated the proposal to send most of Iran’s low-enriched uranium out of the country, while it is his opponent, Mir Hossain Moussavi, opposes the proposal.
If the promises given [to the West] are realized, then the hard work of thousands of scientists would be ruined.
So is he saying this because he believes it or because he doesn’t want to see Ahmadinejad get the credit, or because he opposes this government? Or is the point to play for time for more enrichment? We simply don’t know. Ahmadinejad may be responding to him and playing to domestic opinion by saying that Israel doesn’t like the deal. OTOH, that last is in Ha'aretz, so it may be something Israel is trying to spin.

It looks to me like Iran’s response to the nuclear proposal is at least as much driven by internal politics as anything else. But I still don’t feel I’ve got a lot of information to base this on.

More about the proposal and what the “western” powers may want out of it later.


Andy said...

Great post. Too often in our pundit-driven society, the importance of what we don't know is overlooked.

The take-a-way seems to be that we don't really know what Iran wants and maybe even Iran doesn't know what Iran wants.

Cheryl Rofer said...

Thanks, Andy.

One caution on the use of words. I'm using "what X wants" as shorthand to signify X's objectives in the current negotiations.

There are many groups within Iran that have different objectives. But there is no entity called "Iran" that can "know what Iran wants." I recognize you're using shorthand, too, but I'm trying to be extra careful with words.

Saint Michael Traveler said...

What do we want? We are a diverse society of nearly 300 million people with wide spectrum of opinions on any subject. Even a simple issue as healthcare has created difficulty for our nation.

But when we play the hideous came of hypocrisy, it makes me stop and think about our motivations. With respect to Iran, any prospect for a non-belligerent foreign policy by US congress toward Iran is not expected. The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday passed the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, a bill targeting Tehran and the firms conducting energy business with Iran. The recent bill, part of a larger effort to hurt Iranian people, was instigated to force Iran to abandon her nuclear enrichment program. Those who voted for the bill assumed that they were giving the Obama administration stronger powers to sanction companies that provide Iranian people gasoline, diesel and other refined petroleum fuels.

The bill would give a legitimate reason to Iran to fear US government sincerity for fair play. This action is a hideous expression of hypocrisy. I suggest the following three steps to correct our failed foreign policy with respect to the Middle East:

1. Nuclear Fuel Cycle Iranian Consortium:
USA should join the consortium among others Japan, Germany, France and England to actively monitor the Iranian fuel cycle activity too. IAEA has consistently asserted that the agency could not find any indications that Iran is diverting the fuel cycle for nuclear bomb development. Iran has asserted that their activities are limited to development of fuel for nuclear reactor.

2. Nuclear Shield
An international nuclear shield for all nations in the Middle East, including Iran, from nuclear bomb states;

3. A nuclear- bomb-free Middle East
This action will remove any pressure from Iran to develop nuclear bomb in the future for deterrence against nuclear bomb Israeli state.

President Harry Truman in 1946 gave this statement about nuclear bomb:

"It is a terrible weapon, and it should not be used on innocent men, women and children who have nothing whatever to do with this military aggression. That happens when it is used." He was referring to using the bomb on Japan.

Our representative in the Congress must stop the hideous play of hypocrisy and face the facts in the Middle East. Israel has nuclear bombs, Iran does not! Should we not start with Israel? How hurting Iranian people would help us with our longterm national interests?