Iran Reaches Out to A ‘Credible Friend’

The significance of Iran’s top nuclear negotiator and the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Larijani’s September 4 visit to Pakistan extended beyond the bilateral realm. Iran’s visiting Secretary of Supreme National Council acknowledged Pakistan as an important country, which has “a true role in the security and development of the region.”
The visit also dispelled the impression that the delay in Larijani’s arrival was in fact deliberate posturing by Tehran to convey reservations on Pakistan’s engagement with Israel. In fact the delay was linked to the brewing crisis over Iran’s nuclear program. And Iran reportedly seeks a special engagement by Pakistan on an issue that has acquired centrality for Iran’s security and sovereignty and for its relations with the Europeans, the US and the IAEA over the nuclear question.

Larijani’s visit followed Tehran’s rejection of the European Union’s call that Iran suspend all activities at its Isphahan nuclear plant within two weeks or else be ready to deal with UNSC sanctions. Iran says it will not give in to “bullying” by the Europeans. However if the IAEA’s Board of Governors decides at its September 19 meeting to refer the Iranian issue to the Security Council, the possibility of the US using the opportunity to have sanctions slapped on Iran cannot be ruled out.

Before his Pakistan trip Iran’s top nuclear negotiator and the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Larijani has also opposed taking the matter to the UNSC. Tehran has attempted to balance assertion of its sovereignty with the offer to dialogue. For example on the August 16 Iran’s chief negotiator Ali Larijani has categorically said to the daily Sharq that the Iran "deems it a principle to continue talks and it accepts negotiation as the right manner… We should try to solve the problem in a friendly way and our objective is still preserving the fuel cycle." Iran’s simultaneous thrust for dialogue is significant. Larijani was categorical about working out an arrangement whereby the concerns of IAEA can be addressed. Also Iran’s new president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent statement that in his UN in New York he would announce his plan then to end the deadlock over Iran’s nuclear program, indicates Tehran’s keenness to resolve the matter amicably.

Tehran’s position and the IAEA demands have increasingly generated a tension that could snow ball into a crisis. And to stop that crisis good advise to all sides is in order. Tehran views Pakistan as a country that can play such a role. Also reports like the one on Iran nuclear program released by the prestigious London based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) can help to somewhat calm frayed nerves. The report claimed Iran could take up to 15 years to develop their nuclear capability. But it also states that it was unlikely Tehran had significant stocks of undeclared nuclear weapons-usable materials, essential for acquiring nuclear arms.

Meanwhile it was significant that after Larijani’s meetings in Islamabad Pakistan’s troika, the President , Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister all opposed the use of force as a tool for dispute settlement. Foreign Minister Kasuri said "Pakistan is ready to facilitate both Iran and the international community in finding a peaceful resolution of the issue and ready to mediate between them, if asked." He expressly said "We are against the use of force and the matter should be resolved peacefully." After meeting Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, Larijani told reporters Iran would continue its peaceful nuclear program and added that Tehran was fully prepared to cooperate about removal of any apprehensions regarding its nuclear program. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister official also said Pakistan opposes sending Iran’s nuclear issue to the United Nations Security Council.

Pakistan’s position on the Iran’s nuclear program has always been straightforward. Islamabad has categorically advocated a dialogue-based process to settle the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. Equally it has opposed force as a dispute settler and has argued for a political settlement of the issue.

But Pakistan has also simultaneously advocated and in fact adopted the ‘candid above-board’ approach to resolve questions of nuclear proliferation. Pakistan practically adopted this approach In dealing with the Dr A.Q.Khan case which included the supply of centrifuges to Iran, Pakistan has had to take specific steps to clarify its position on the broader question of proliferation and subsequently on Iran’s nuclear program.

Specifically Pakistan advocates four parameters within which the Iran’s nuclear issue must be resolved. One that Iran is within its rights to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes provided it agrees to UN inspections that completely satisfy the IAEA. Two to address the concerns regarding Iran taking the nuclear weapons route, the only option available to the international community, more specifically the IAEA and the E-3 is to continue engagement with Iran. Three, that Iran must move forward on the nuclear question strictly within the parameters of international law and above-board. Tehran must be ‘above-board’ with all the information about its nuclear program. Four the gains made by the IAEA and the E-3 must be further consolidated through a sincere dialogue. IAEA must require Iran to fulfill its commitment of cooperating with IAEA by allowing it to strengthen its monitoring controls.

Pakistan also believes that taking the UNSC route without exhausting other routes will prove counter-productive. It will get Tehran off the dialogue track and the US onto a combative track. Significantly despite major ups and downs in the post-1979 Pakistan-Iran relations, post-Revolutionary Iran has continued to bank on Pakistan’s diplomatic goodwill to ease it out of difficult situations. For example in the Iran -Iraq war, in taking care of Iran’s interests in the US and in Britain until recently and now on the nuclear issue. There is astute Pakistani diplomacy that Tehran believes it could benefit from as Pakistan advocates playing by the rules by all parties involved in the Iranian nuclear affair.