Playing diplomatic hardball

By Se Young Lee

The crisis over Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions appears to be nearing a climax. The Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered the construction of tunnels and air defense systems in response to Israel’s threat of pre-emptive air strikes against the Persian state’s nuclear facilities. The international community’s resolve in suppressing further proliferation will be put to the test, as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice huddles with the foreign ministers of Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia this week in London to devise a united policy in a race against time. It’s time for the leaders to back up their talk and end Iran’s devious designs – diplomatically.

In order to develop an effective plan, it’s imperative to understand Iran’s motives. Unlike North Korea, which allegedly has developed several nuclear warheads, Iran does not appear to be trying to use the threat of using the abominable device as a bargaining chip to extort more concessions. But, Iran has no need to; the government is reaping the windfalls of the surge in oil prices. Furthermore, its leaders have gone out of their way to violate accords made in good faith by France, Britain and Germany and has rejected other offerings from states like Russia that would have sweetened the pot further.

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Upon closer inspection, it seems more likely that Iran’s grandstanding about the supposed “rights” to develop fuel-enriching technologies is more about making a stand against the (largely) Western establishment and fill the power vacuum that exists in the Arab world in the Middle East.

It is no secret that Iraq, under Saddam Hussein’s reign, sought to emerge as the regional superpower – much like the way Nigeria has emerged in Africa. The dissolution of that regime has given Iran, which had not been in the best of terms with the Baathist government, a clear path to the top.

Iran does not have much in the way of competition for the position as the leader of the Middle East, in terms of its relative strength as well as religious credibility and circumstances. Syria is too secular, at least on the surface, and generally considered a pariah, while Saudi Arabia relies on “The Great Satan” for its defense. Jordan is too moderate in regards to Israel, and Egypt is a bit too distant from the rest of the Middle East.

By taking a stand against the former imperialists, and the U.S. government that – albeit not with much conviction until recently – supports the colonialist’s meddling efforts, Iran gains credibility in the eyes of other Muslim nations. Publicly stating that Israel should be wiped off the map seems to always win support in the Middle East, as well.

Despite Iran’s seemingly high rhetoric about its rights, consistent with the ever-so-popular rhetoric of national sovereignty, the fact that it hid a nuclear fuel enrichment facility underground for 22 years alone is reason enough to dismiss its rhetoric as outrageous. There’s no reason, in the foreseeable future, for Iran to build such a facility when Russia has guaranteed at least 10 years’ worth of fuels for one of its reactors. No rights come without obligations in exercising that right properly.

But it must also be recognized that there is no adequate alternative to a diplomatic solution, as hard as it might be to reach. The nuclear facilities in Iran are hidden, scattered and unlikely to be destroyed the same way Iraq’s Osiraq reactor was by Israeli air strike in 1981. An invasion is not only out of the question, with the instability that persists in Afghanistan and Iraq, but is also impractical considering the animosity it will engender and the lack of a friendlier regime that is ready to emerge in Iran.

Threats of sanctions would establish a sticking point, but is unlikely to be the solution; the world economy’s oil addiction cannot be quenched anytime soon. Only with the haunting possibility of isolation similar to the plight of North Korea – something that Iran does not want – will be enough to crush the wanton ambitions.

Se Young Lee is a junior in communications and the director of communications for the Illinois Student Senate. His column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at [email protected]