Isolating Iran

Over the past few weeks, the Bush administration has worked tirelessly to garner international support in its efforts to isolate Iran. A chief pillar of this strategy is to assemble a coalition of countries sympathetic towards Iran with a huge difference–”they must support America’s view on Iran’s nuclear program and Tehran’s support of terror networks.

This, the Bush administration believes will increase the pressure on Iran to rescind its nuclear program. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns first spoke of this strategy at the IAEA’s vote to report Iran to the UN Security Council in September. He said,” We have a patient long-term strategy. It’s to isolate Iran on this question; it’s to ratchet up the international pressure on Iran,’ and assemble the kind of global coalition against Iran.”

For quite sometime now, America has endeavored to get the EU-3, India and countries like Saudi Arabia onboard to support its case against Iran.

America succeeded in gaining the support of the EU-3 by covertly undermining Europe’s Paris Agreement with Iran. This paved the way for America to report Iran before the UN Security Council. However, before America could proceed ahead, she first had to win over the doubters at the IAEA–” particularly the third world countries that had adopted a favorable position towards Iran’s nuclear program.

To break the back of this support, America sought to pressurize India into taking up a tough line against Iran. Days before the IAEA vote, California’s Democratic Representative Tom Lantos a prominent member of the India lobby on Capitol Hill said, “New Delhi must understand how important their cooperation is and support is for US initiatives to counter the nuclear threat from Iran. India must decide where it will stand: with the ayatollahs of terror in Tehran or with the United States.” Lantos was insinuating that US lawmakers were prepared to use the July 18 agreement, signed by Bush to provide India with civilian nuclear reactors and some hi-tech equipment, as leverage to muster India’s support for the US against Iran.

It appears that Manmohan Singh exploited the pressure generated by American lawmakers and the US media to realign India with the American position over Iran’s nuclear program as well as safeguarding India’s nuclear cooperation with America. Singh went out of his way to put to bed Foreign Minister Natwar Singh’s controversial remarks that India in no way supported bringing Iran’s case to the Security Council

Manmohan Singh’s move against Iran was also a blow to Russia and China. Earlier the Foreign Ministers of India, China and Russia, met in New York, and said that they favored a “consensus approach” to the issue of Iran’s nuclear program.

However, the vote against Iran was not entirely surprising. After all, Manmohan Singh previously undermined his Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar when he suggested during his visit to Washington that the LNG pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan was fraught with risks.

At present there appears to be a split with the Indian cabinet with Singh seeking closer co-operation with the US as opposed to some of his colleagues who favor India’s traditional (English) stance on foreign policy matters. Yechury a member of the left of Singh’s coalition criticized India’s stand at the IAEA, calling it ‘pro-American’. “We have taken a pro-American stand by favoring the resolution while countries like Russian, China and Pakistan remained neutral,” he said. The Communist Party India (M) also said the stand had caused “immense damage” to India’s non-aligned stand.

Predictably, the Bush administration appreciated New Delhi’s support. Nicholas Burns said that the Indian vote had foiled Iran’s attempt to pose it as an issue between the developed countries and developing countries.

Nevertheless differences over a myriad of foreign policy issues within the Indian cabinet may precipitate into row that could undermine Manmohan Singh’s pro-US overtures. How well he handles foreign policy issues will determine the course of America’s relationship with India.

Another aspect of the plan is to use Saudi Arabia’s presence in the region to mount pressure on Iran. The Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal had expressed concern last month that Iran had too much control over the Iraqi government. He referred to alleged interference, which included “the entry of people, money and weapons as well as meddling in political life.” Tehran dismissed the Saudi allegations with the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi, saying “the Islamic Republic of Iran does not expect such remarks from its friends at such a sensitive time in the region and considers them surprising and irrational.” And foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki has put off his planned visit to Saudi Arabia.

Coinciding with the Saudi accusation against Iran are Anglo-American assertions that Iran is arming the resistance in Iraq. Prime Minister Tony Blair said that British officials were investigating evidence that Iran may have supplied sophisticated bombs to insurgents in Iraq. At a joint news conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talibani, Blair stressed that “we cannot be sure" Iran provided the devices, but that the British government had “certain pieces of information that lead us back to Iran” or to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militia in Lebanon. This is the first time that Britain has publicly accused Iran over meddling in Iraq. Blair’s criticism of Iran with Talabani standing besides him was designed to up the ante on Iran ahead of IAEA meeting in November to discuss Iran’s referral to the UN Security Council. Blair said, “If it is also the case that they [the Iranians] are trying to make some point about the negotiations over the nuclear weapons issue in respect of Iran … we are not going to be intimidated on that.”

Bush also waded into the public chastisement of Tehran and warned Iran about interference in Iraq through movements opposed to American interests. He said, “State sponsors like Syria and Iran have a long history of collaboration with terrorists and they deserve no patience from the victims of terror. The United States makes no distinction between those who commit acts of terror and those who support and harbor them because they’re equally as guilty of murder.”

But perhaps the biggest shock to the Iranians was the accolade of the Noble Peace Prize given to El-Baradei. While most commentators maintained the award was a victory for multilateralism, the Iranian perspective on the IAEA was very different–” the IAEA had lost its impartiality and was officially a tool of western imperialism.

In conclusion, America intends to isolate Iran and force it into a corner where Tehran will find no friends or political options to come to its aid. Furthermore, the Bush administration wants to paint a picture of nuclear-armed Iran meddling in other countries through terrorist networks. On the back of this, Bush wants to assemble a global coalition of countries to offset any resistance offered by Russia and China at the IAEA meeting next month. Although the US may succeed in getting Iran referred to the UN Security Council, once there, America will find little succor amongst the Europeans, Chinese and the Russians–”be it robust sanctions or military action against Iran. A patient long-term strategy advocated by the realists to deal with Iran might not be enough for the hawks in the Bush administration–” time will tell.