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February 14, 2012, Tuesday

Three different approaches towards Iran

While tensions are rising over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, different countries are approaching Iran in different ways. While Israel is seemingly itching to bomb Iran, the EU remains committed to its twin-track approach of sanctions and diplomacy. The Indians view the latest round of US-EU sanctions as an opportunity to increase their trade with Iran.

Last week there was an interesting article in Foreign Policy magazine titled “The Ticking Clock.” Penned by Robert Haddick, managing director of the Small Wars Journal, it gives a number of reasons why we should start to believe that Israel will soon attack Iran.

First, Israel does not believe in the sanctions. While international sanctions against Iran’s banking sector and oil industry are inflicting damage on the country’s economy, they have not slowed their nuclear program. Furthermore, with countries like China, India and Russia refusing to support the recent US-EU measures, the impact of the sanctions has been lessened. Citing a recent report from the Bipartisan Policy Center, Haddick states that Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts continue to advance. Iran seems to be installing advanced, high-efficiency uranium-enrichment centrifuges as well as centrifuge cascades in the Fordow mountain site near Qom -- a bunker that is too deep for Israeli bombs to penetrate. Israeli leaders seem to believe that Iran will throw the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors out of the country after the Fordow site is operational and the enrichment effort has produced enough low-enriched uranium feedstock for several bombs. Tensions increased further this week when Israel accused Iran of attacking its missions in New Delhi and Tbilisi, something Tehran outright rejected as “sheer lies.”

An Israeli military attack would be a reckless act with catastrophic consequences for the entire region and would probably not succeed in what it sets out to achieve. For starters, Iran has already said that it would attack any country in the region that aided Israel with an airstrike, oil prices would hit the roof and Hezbollah would likely strike back at the Israeli population. While the US is seemingly cautioning Israel against such actions, Israel does not seem to be listening. How would the US respond to such an attack?

Meanwhile, at a recent debate in the European Parliament, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton reiterated that Iran’s nuclear program remained a serious concern and the EU was committed to maintaining pressure on Iran to comply with their international obligations.

In this respect Ashton views Turkey as a crucial partner, admitting that Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was her “main conduit” for passing the message to Tehran that the door for negotiations remains open, through a confidence-building process, which can be launched once Iran demonstrates its readiness to do so. Ashton stated that she was awaiting a response to her last letter concerning new talks.

Some MEPs, such as Spanish Socialist María Muñiz De Urquiza, while supporting the EU’s approach -- including insisting on rigorous inspections from the IAEA and getting Iran to accept all the additional safeguards demanded by the IAEA -- believe that, in exchange, Tehran should be allowed to enrich uranium for civilian purposes, as is permitted by the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). She also declared that the EU should adopt a much broader and ambitious agenda in its relations with Iran.

The EU also continues to push other powers to join the oil embargo and encourage Tehran to resume talks. India, a significant buyer of Iranian oil, was recently visited by EU senior officials, including President Herman Van Rompuy. Far from supporting the EU’s suggestions, the Indians stated they were intending to buy more Iranian oil. India feels bound only by UN sanctions, not by embargoes imposed by other countries. A big delegation of Indian businessmen will travel to Tehran later this month to exploit trade opportunities created by the US and EU sanctions. Seemingly, Iran has agreed to accept Indian Rupees for up to 45 percent of its oil exports.

As for the Iranians, they remain as stubborn as ever and determined to continue with their nuclear program, something the populations also stands behind. Iran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which nearly all oil from the Middle East sails, and taken preventative measures to keep the US Navy (or others who have recently sailed there) from blocking the strait. But it is obvious that the US Navy’s fifth fleet (based in Bahrain) is far more powerful than Iran’s.

The Iranians seem to believe, perhaps naïvely, that Israel is all bark and no bite, something that was underscored by Iranian diplomats during conversations at their annual reception marking the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution last week. They repeatedly stated that the West was wrong. They were not interested in developing a nuclear weapon, as it goes against Islam and they were ready to resume talks. When asked about their response to Ashton’s letter, they said that it was in the post.

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