Breaking The Seals

Leafing through the comments on Brussels Gonzo’s last post, I can’t help getting the feeling that this news about Iran’s decision to resume its nuclear programme may well serve to focus our energy debate a little.

Britain yesterday vowed to report Iran to the United Nations Security Council, intensifying diplomatic pressure over Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Responding to Iran’s decision to resume limited uranium enrichment research, Tony Blair, the UK prime minister, told parliament: “I think the first thing to do is to secure agreement for a reference to the Security Council, [if] that is indeed what the allies jointly decide, as I think seems likely.”

British, French and German foreign ministers meeting in Berlin on Thursday are expected to call for an emergency session this month of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’s nuclear watchdog, which would then discuss a referral of the dispute to the Security Council.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

27 thoughts on “Breaking The Seals

  1. Well, it certainly puts focus the failure of European diplomacy as an alternative to American force. Its amazing how much patience you Europeans have. It’s apparently endless. In the end, nothing is going to be done I predict. Too many economic interests at stake. I forsee terrible conflict.

    There is a fascinating discussion over at Chester’s blog on Iran. Highly recommended reading.

  2. “In the end, nothing is going to be done I predict.”

    I disagree Rupert, but not for the sake of it. I think the first step will be economic sanctions, but I have no idea what the last step will be. You are right that diplomacy hasn’t worked. Whether it would have worked had there been no military intervention in Iraq is another issue. These two situations are closely related.

    Iraq was a country where it seems there were no WMDs. Iran certainly seems to be now set on their development, and the main purpose in obtaining them might well be to act as a disuader for anyone who wants to question their right to threaten Saudi Arabia after they have gotten hold of Iraq (or at least the oil in the South of Iraq). One country controlling the world’s first, second and third largest oil supplies, now that is an energy issue.

    “Its amazing how much patience you Europeans have.”

    Well, I’m glad you agree we have at least one quality.

  3. So, Edward, where do you stand? I agree completely with your analysis of the real threat to Western national interests above… but is there a strategy to secure those interests?

    Sanctions will not work. Air-strikes will undermine everything the US and Britain have been trying to achieve in Iraq.

    There is nothing predetermined about the ‘clash of civilizations’ – but it can be achieved if both sides work sufficiently hard at it. If that’s what we’re choosing, we should be prepared for the consequences. Far as I can see, short of an alternative energy source, it would be irresponsible to pass on this particular confrontation. But just how catastrophic is the downside?

  4. “In the end, nothing is going to be done I predict.”

    Like Rupert I agree with this, but not, as he claims, “Too many economic interests at stake”, but because there is nothing realistic that can be done.

    Eisenhower in the 50s put forward a grand bargain for the world: The “Greater Powers” could have nukes, and no-one else could, BUT in return they would get the civilian benefits of nuclear power (and, by implication, general help in advancing their societies). The US has very clearly let down its side of that bargain. Most foreign aid from the US was very obviously designed to advance US causes and enrich US interests and, now that there is no Soviet Union, the US feels it can bypass not just the impliciit part of the bargain but the explicit part, that eveyone else gets nuclear power.
    I don’t see that they can get away with this for long. There is just too much of the rest of the world that is too resentful at the US, and pushing this too hard simply serves to remind them that the resentment isn’t just the product of 5 yrs of Bush, that it’s been US policy through good times and bad, dems and repubs, to screw them.

    The US will huff and puff, but in the end there is nothing they can do. The Europeans will resent the fact that the US has created this situation through 50 years of stupidity (though of course the Europeans esp the French and occasionally the British did their part) but once again there is little they can do.

    Sure, declare US and Euro economic sanctions, go ahead. The Chinese and Indians will happliy buy Iranian oil and sell them what they want. UN sanctions won’t get past China (and probably Russia.) The US/Israel alliance may try some bombing but its unclear that they have the info they need to make this work, and it’s not like that’s going to solve the problem. There is already a “Muslim” bomb, and all bombing Iran will do is strengthen the countries resolve to do what it can to change things, as necessary behind the scenes.
    Pakistan may not have an official policy of selling nukes or helping other countries, but such a bombing may well encourage individuals in high places to certain thoughts.
    And, of course, such a bombing creates an environment where the country is willing to pay that much more (to NK? to someone with access to Russian loose nukes). Obviously any country that’s going to spend a ton of money on nukes would rather spend that money on infrastructure than on buying them in some black market, but once the US has bombed you the calculation changes.

  5. Once you euroweenies finally decide to get tough and send the matter to the UN security council. You can then all agree on a really sternly worded letter. I’m sure the mad mullahs will be duly impressed. Hahahaha

  6. The US/Israel alliance may try some bombing but its unclear that they have the info they need to make this work

    It is within the US’ capability to bomb as much as they like. It may be impossible to strike only the nuclear installations. It is possible to destroy enough infrastructure to get them among a lot of other things.

    that’s going to solve the problem

    In the long run physics is neutral. But ten or twenty years are worth a lot.

  7. From todays WSJ:

    Help Us, America . . .
    By FAROUZ FARZAMI
    January 12, 2006; Page A12

    TEHRAN — On the surface, it would appear that pressure from the United Nations and the United States has little effect on the mullahs who rule Iran. The opposite is true.

    The best current example is the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. Fearing that the mullahs are secretly developing nuclear weapons, the U.N. wants strict limits on Iran’s nuclear program. The country’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, and Iran’s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have refused to consider any such limits, even after Russia offered a compromise that would permit Iran to enrich uranium on its soil. The president and the top negotiator have been defiant — on state-run TV recently, Mr. Larijani, thinking several steps ahead, pledged a “crushing response” to any military attack by the U.S. or Israel.

    But if you look past this headline-generating bluster, you see that Western pressure is having an effect. The hard-line position of the Iranian government has begun to splinter. There are now three minds about this issue in the Majlis, the Iranian parliament:
    • A categorical rejection of the Russian proposal to allow Iran to enrich uranium at its facilities, a compromise that would deny Iran the privilege of enriching uranium on its own soil.

    • Modifying the Russian proposal to allow for enrichment to occur in both Russia and Iran.

    • Suspending all enrichment until further notice or even to some agreed-upon future date, to defuse tension and rebuild confidence with the European Union.

    The existence of these more conciliatory positions in a Majlis completely composed of religious hard-liners is a surprise. (A fourth point of view unrepresented officially, since reformers have been thrown out of the government, calls for Iran to comply with the U.N.’s demands and give up on enrichment of nuclear fuel altogether.)

    There is only one reason why these divisions have appeared within the formerly monolithic Majlis: the tough stand by the international community backed by American and Israeli military might. I understand the opposition of liberals in America and Europe to America’s military moves in the Middle East, and they are right to be concerned about the continuing loss of life. But they should also appreciate the importance of American power in enforcing global standards. Without U.S. military, economic and diplomatic pressures, the leader-for-life of Libya, Col. Moammar Gadhafi would not be behaving himself today, and the people of Afghanistan would still be under the thumb of the Taliban.

    Iran is, of course, not comparable to Libya or Afghanistan, but everyone in Tehran’s bazaar knows that any flare-up of tension between Iran and the West has an immediate adverse impact on the Rial, the country’s currency, particularly against the U.S. dollar. The slightest Western pressure and Tehran’s stock market nose-dives.

    Why won’t the U.S. take advantage of this? Why not impose smart sanctions on Iran instead of smart bombs, and apply strong international pressure for the formation of independent and secular political parties? Currently, the only parties allowed are Islamic ones approved and subsidized by the authoritarian, theocratic regime. We desperately need a push from America and the West to separate church from state in Iran.

    If I were an American, I would probably be content with the well-being of myself and my own family, and would be inclined to oppose my country’s involvement in Middle East politics — but I am not an American. I am an Iranian. I am a subject, not a citizen, of a Middle Eastern country with a long history of despotism. My country will not change without help from the West. I wish the only superpower in the 21st century would realize its full potential in diplomacy, economic leverage and, as a last resort, military action — not just to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but to speed up democratization in the region.

    I am impatient for it. We have those like Shirin Ebadi, Iran’s Nobel Peace Prize winner and prominent reformer, who call for allowing democracy to evolve. But Ms. Ebadi is a rich woman, a member of the country’s small elite that has never had to struggle to make a living. Maybe she and those patient ones like her can afford to wait another century for democracy to materialize out of the blue.

    Not me. I need help. If America could accept its power and potential, it could begin forcing change right now.

    Ms. Farzami is an Iranian journalist who is forbidden to publish in her own country.

  8. “So, Edward, where do you stand?”

    I don’t, John, stand anywhere here. I think Iran has been thrown completely off balance by the military intervention in Iraq. This IMHO is the major cost of that intervention.

    But knowing that something is off-balance, and knowing what to do about it are two different things.

    You will have noted how I use basic demographic theory to explain how countries have a ‘window of opportunity’ in which to modernise economic, social and political institutions. There is nothing inevitable about this modernisation process and I give Russia, Cuba, South Korea etc as exemples of countries which have made the fertility transition without taking advantage of the window of opportunity to modernise. In some significant sense these countries now have their future behind them, and what actually awaits them is an open and preoccupying question.

    Iran is now in danger of joining this list. It has enetered the realm of below replacement fertility, but has not modernised. During the Khatami era there seemed to be a strong hope that something was moving. I am a great admirer of Iranian cinema, and you could see and feel this change and hope in the films. A bit like the Prague Spring really. Now this whole process has come to a grinding halt, and Iran has been dispatched to the nether region.

    Not only that, we have the distinct possibility of two wanna-be rogue states – Iran and Russia – playing energy-related games together (one of the important details about the gas story is that they are working on land-based movement of energy, the high-seas and navies don’t matter here, just a detail, but one day it might be an important one), and China – which is not a rougue state, but which has its own agenda, is also a wild card.

    “Air-strikes will undermine everything the US and Britain have been trying to achieve in Iraq.”

    John, I would forget this. This is gone, over. This is yessterday’s agenda. There is no way the Iraqi communities can reach agreement about any significant changes in the constitution. The rest is game-playing while people position themselves, and the big positioner here is Iraq.

    If you want a taste of the future try this for size:

    http://www.jamestown.org/edm/article.php?article_id=2370582

    “The Russian leadership appears to believe that the Iraq debacle marked the tuning point in the short-lived era of American global supremacy. The Iran arms deal suggests that the Kremlin will likely continue pursuing an assertive foreign policy in regions the U.S. deems vital for its national interests.

    This is just an opening gambit.

    So where do I stand? Good question. We go to the security council, and after that we see what happens next. But we should be aware that once you start something you don’t know at the end of the day where you will stop.

    As Brad Setser points out in another context in another thread “one of the insights of game theory is that just because it is in everyone’s interest to cooperate to avoid the worst outcome, that doesn’t mean it will happen”.

    “There is nothing predetermined about the ‘clash of civilizations’”

    I don’t think this issue has anything to do with an imagined “clash of civilisations”. This is about energy, and leveraging it as power.

    “Far as I can see, short of an alternative energy source, it would be irresponsible to pass on this particular confrontation.”

    Exactly

    “But just how catastrophic is the downside?”

    As I say, I don’t know. No-one does. It’s an in-principle un-knowability thing. I think we need to take this one step at a time. Fortunately as Rupert points out one thing we do have is patience, my guess is we will need it, and that it is an important asset. We have just seen where ‘undue haste’ leads. :).

  9. “I agree with this”

    Maynard, I think you have a reasonable and perfectly valid argument. Just a few points.

    “the US has created this situation through 50 years of stupidity”

    No. I think just the last three will do.

    “The US will huff and puff, but in the end there is nothing they can do.”

    This is what Russia, China and Iran are assuming, see my previous comment.

    “Sure, declare US and Euro economic sanctions, go ahead.”

    You are right in your sentiment in this paragraph. Sanctions may well prove highly ineffective, and they will lead on to something, the real debate will come when we have that ‘something’ on the table. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad isn’t just making obnoxious speeches about the holocaust, he is likely destroying all potential internal opposition and rivals. So we may be about to see political lock-in.

    “there is already a “Muslim” bomb, and all bombing Iran will do is strengthen the countries resolve to do what it can to change things, as necessary behind the scenes.”

    I think it is a huge mistake to talk in these terms. Iran is not simply a threat to western energy supplies, it is primarily a threat to the non-shia islamic world, and it is certainly not a natural ally of Pakistan. Indeed part of the Pakistani ISO operation in Afghanistan was to build a Taliban dominated-zone as a buffer with Iran in the lonegr term. Iranian moves – and especially their new-found friendship with Russia – can only help revive this alliance. Karzai has, if you notice, been offering to talk with Mohammed Omar. If you look at the negotiations with the Iraqi “terrorists” that the White House has been sponsoring in Syria and this move by Karzai, you can see a change in US foreign policy is in the offing.

    This situation is complex. I think we all need to bear that in mind.

  10. “Currently, the only parties allowed are Islamic ones approved and subsidized by the authoritarian, theocratic regime.”

    I think this is the point. And this situation is set to get worse not better. Unfortunately I think Farouz Farzami is far too optimistic. The situation she describes is the pre 2003 one, not where we are now.

  11. “So, Edward, where do you stand?”

    You raise here, of course John, an interesting question. I reluctantly accepted the military inteverntion in Iraq due to the WMD argument. Simply I felt that if a US city had been taken out with a biological weapon, or a ‘dirty bomb’ the planet would be well on course for ‘self-destruction’.

    But it turns out we were mislead (me personally by Mr Tony Blair). The people who made the WMD argument were either inventing proof or didn’t have sufficient justification for backing the urgency and the drastic nature of their proposal.

    I would never, never ever, have contemplated going into Iraq in order to introduce democracy. Just look at the fertility levels, and the ethnic and religious mix. Democracy as we know it just isn’t an immediate option for Iraq.

    Now Iran………

    All that might have been. And I suppose still could be. But how to get from here to there?

    On the other hand, all those who opposed the Iraq war on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence of WMDs were right. The thing is, this objection falls in the case of Iran.

    So, my guess is that the most important new fissure we are likely to see is between those who opposed the Iraq war for the above reason, and those who opposed it for other ones.

    Most specifically, this is going to present the most important first test for Zapatero here in Spain as France, Germany and the UK move the topic forward, and hopefully this time do so in unison.

  12. I’m with Edward on this one too: Eisenhower did what seemed like the best solution at the time. An Iranian willingness to do risk sanctions in order to acquire nuclear weapons is a rational response to a threat posed by a real enemy. As long as America was far away and seemed unlikely to threaten Iran, the cost-benefit balance favored a non-nuclear policy. As soon as it became plain that the US could and would fight any nation its president directed it to fight, having nukes became the cheapest defence. George W Bush is responsible for this mess. The US has never invaded a nuclear power, and quite probably never will.

    However, I’m cautiously optimistic that the people who really run Iran and have control over its nuclear weapons are far saner than its democratically elected president or the population that seems to genuinely support him. Remember, Ahmadinejad was not the candidate favored by the theocrats. He ran on the claim that he was harder on the US and Israel than the other candidates. That he was elected, over a far more moderate candidate with the support of the regime, suggests that he has at least as legitimate a claim to a democratic mandate as George W Bush does.

    Fortunately, Iran is not a democracy, and its president has very little power to do anything other than run off at the mouth. But remember: To the extent that a democratic will of the people can be discerned in Iranian politics, it is pro-nuclear and anti-Israel if not anti-semitic. Any solution that minimizes or mitigates Iranian nuclear ambitions is going to go against what little democracy Iran has and will push any domestic change further into the future.

  13. “Any solution that minimizes or mitigates Iranian nuclear ambitions is going to go against what little democracy Iran has”

    I would just qualify this a little Scott. I don’t suppose you were around too much at the time of the Malvinas war. Mrs Thatcher’s most decisive political victory came just after the British army had given a sound thrashing to the forces of the dictator Galtieri.

    The present political dynamic in Iran must be somewhat similar. Shiism is on the rise. A decisive victory has just been won against a historic enemy (the Sunni arabs: remember the Iran/Iraq war is a bit like WWI in Iranian terms), and the “US-Israeli doalition” (what they think, not what I do) is at the door, and beckoning. I don’t know what other outcome could have been anticipated in the recent Iranian elections.

    This can all calm down, if, and only if…..

    But I am not optimistic. The Ahmadinejad faction has its hands on the state apparatus, and I am sure it wants to make this situation permanent and not temporary. The first step in this direction will surely be to liquidate all significant opposition, both within and without the regime.

  14. An Iranian willingness to do risk sanctions in order to acquire nuclear weapons is a rational response to a threat posed by a real enemy. As long as America was far away and seemed unlikely to threaten Iran, the cost-benefit balance favored a non-nuclear policy. As soon as it became plain that the US could and would fight any nation its president directed it to fight, having nukes became the cheapest defence. George W Bush is responsible for this mess. The US has never invaded a nuclear power, and quite probably never will.

    Having nukes is an expensive option.
    If Iran rationally chooses nukes, the West needs to remove the factors that contribute to this decision.

    The problem is not that the US can go to war where it chooses. Such a situation is not new. The problem is why the US (or the West in some cases) is ready to go to war. In the last decade there have been several western wars not because some country made some external move that harmed western interests, but because these countries did something within their borders the West didn’t like. This peaked in the case of Iraq, where the US invaded in last consequence, because it didn’t like the way the government was organised. If that becomes a reason for war there’s no rational level of defense short of the ultimate option that can assure national sovereignty. As long as the West claims the right to define what is an acceptable form of government and what is not, we will not see an end to the tendency to acquire nuclear weapons.

    In case of Iran all this is too late, but I think we need to acknowledge that Somalia, Kosovo and Iraq were errors and denounce the principle of humanitarian intervention. In that regard the rise of China and the resurgence of Russia are good, because they force the West back to realpolitik.
    Even now we should consider that Iran dominating the Gulf is in no great power’s interest.

  15. Rupert, your Iranian mentions the bazaar, but Teheran’s bazaaris are not representative of the provincial majority who are still fervent supporters of the theocratic concept of rule by jurisconsult. It’s a question of identity rather than economic interest.

    Edward, you say this is just about oil. I beg to differ. The clash of civilizations is a construct, not the essence imagined by Huntingdon, but it is a construct increasingly embraced by both Western leaders and Islamic theocrats to suit their political ambitions. Such populist appeals have a dynamic of their own, as you point out concerning Ahmadinejad’s increasing grip on the state. Ahmadinejad has quite a lot of support in the Guardian Council as well. I wouldn’t want us to make the same mistake as Eden, equating Middle Eastern populism with fascism, but there are worrying parallels.

    Neither side in the international confrontation over Iranian nuclear fuel enrichment seems to have a good grasp of how little room for manoeuvre their opponent has. The Iraq fiasco raises the stakes even further, since, as you suggest, the Iraqi factions are wedded to incompatible agendas and Iran can only gain in influence.

    Patience? We don’t have much time to be patient in. I believe that by the end of March, this will come to a head. The Russians will foil any steps taken within the UN. Sanctions would be unenforceable. And if the Iranians start invoicing oil in Euros in the middle of the ensuing oil price surge, that alone could start a very unpredictable avalanche.

    The West is cruising for a bruising whatever it does. So how do we get history back on our side?

  16. “I wouldn’t want us to make the same mistake as Eden, equating Middle Eastern populism with fascism, but there are worrying parallels.”

    I thinking you stroking the right key here John. This isn’t populism. Chavez and Morales are populism. This is different. Ther isn’t anything to laugh at here, and I’m not laughing.

  17. Much the most convincing analysis I have seen of Iranian (and North Korean) true intentions with regard to their nuclear programme was this from George Friedman of Stratfor last September. He concludes that:

    The value of a nuclear program for a small country is not that it provides a military option. It does not. The value is not even in possessing nuclear weapons, which might actually turn out to be too dangerous. The value of a nuclear program is that it exists and is known to exist. That very fact redefines its possessor’s place in the international system and provides it with opportunities to extract concessions. So long as the country does not push its position in such a way that anyone is convinced of an imminent threat — or, to put it differently, so long as the line between potential threat and “ready to launch” is never crossed — great powers will sooner make concessions than take risks.

    For all the sabre-rattling here from our American friends, I don’t believe that even the Pentagon is ready to bomb Iran. This is largely bluff on both sides.

  18. At some point you have nukes. In Iran’s case going back is probably too unpopular to do so.
    In addition, what makes you think Iran is considering itself a small country? When will its population surpass Japan’s?

    Maybe we should also consider that the strait of Hormuz is the most important body of water on this planet. The comparison to North Korea is a bit flawed, because the US certainly can rather live without South Korea than without the oil passing through that strait.

  19. “I don’t believe that even the Pentagon is ready to bomb Iran. This is largely bluff on both sides.”

    You may well be right. The thing is when you have a stand-off your bluff may be called. I’m sure this is how most conflicts start. But this is still some way off, the question is if you start with economic sanctions and they don’t work because the other side is impervious to them, what happens next?

    I think you need to distinguish between normal and ‘non-normal’ authoritarian regimes. This one isn’t ‘normal’. North Korea is much more available to disuasion I think.

    John

    “you say this is just about oil.”

    I’m not really saying this. The oil is much more important to us, since the materialist element is much more important to us, this is one part of the hand they will try and play.

    Manipulation of the energy we need is a play for power and strategy. I have no idea what the actual objectives will be. This will only become clear later.

    I don’t think it’s about a clash of civilisations so much as about a warped modernisation programme gone wrong. When we had fascism in Europe in the 1930s what was the shock of civilisations there?

    I think we have never properly understood why Russia went the way it did, and why Germany and Italy went the way they did, and why France and the UK went a different way. Or why there was a civil war in Spain.

    Now all this is repeating itself in different ways in Latin America, in Africa, in Asia. The fact that in Iran it’s Shia Islam, and in Venezuela its Christian Fundamentalism is purely incidental IMHO.

    That being said, the regime in Teheran is much more sinister than the regime in Caracas.

  20. You may well be right. The thing is when you have a stand-off your bluff may be called. I’m sure this is how most conflicts start. But this is still some way off, the question is if you start with economic sanctions and they don’t work because the other side is impervious to them, what happens next?

    When a country like the US wants to make a credible military threat, there needs to be parliamentary support. Parliament will not find itself able to give that support without convincing the general public. Once having done that, the threat must be carried through.

  21. The problem is why the US (or the West in some cases) is ready to go to war. In the last decade there have been several western wars not because some country made some external move that harmed western interests, but because these countries did something within their borders the West didn’t like. This peaked in the case of Iraq, where the US invaded in last consequence, because it didn’t like the way the government was organised. If that becomes a reason for war there’s no rational level of defense short of the ultimate option that can assure national sovereignty. As long as the West claims the right to define what is an acceptable form of government and what is not, we will not see an end to the tendency to acquire nuclear weapons.

    I find this patently false. Nuclear weapons are the Hummer of the 3rd world. They’re BIG. They’re tough. They’re prestigious.

    The overwhelming consensus of Iranians, both liberal and conservative, is that Iran, ancient and prestigious Persia, has the right to nuclear weapons. There were street celebrations in Pakistan and India when they tit-for-tatted their nuclear tests, everyone bragging about their nations capabilities. I heard nothing about the ‘West’

    And clearly Iraq was at war with the US prior to 2003. The Iraq war was 12 years old in 2003. The invasion was merely closure, whatever the pretext.

  22. “And clearly Iraq was at war with the US prior to 2003.”

    And Iran was also at war with Iraq, please note. 2 million died. Again I think the analogy with European WWI is not so bad. Germany resented the armistice conditions, just as Iran did. And Germany didn’t rest till after there had been a back reaction, another war, and untold more dead.

    In some ways maybe we should stop talking about “Iraq” at all. Abdel Aziz al-Hakim has ruled out any changes to the constitution, the new Kurdish government (which has brought together the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) will have its own – PDK – minister of foreign affairs (and the now constitutional right to retain revenues from any new oilwell development), and with six seats still to be declared the Shia-Kurd parties seem to be only one seat short of the two thirds majority which would effectively allow them to block any serious attempts by the Sunnis to get back any meaningful element of power. This seems to be set in one direction, and one direction only.

    So we go back to the drawing board. In the Iran/Iraq war, the US was allied, as it had been traditionally, with the Sunni group who dominated the old ‘nation’. For whatever reason this particular ‘coalition of the willing’ fell apart, and as you say Rupert the US allowed itself to get drawn into a war with its old Sunni allies. This effectively has shifted the balance of power between the two groups to the Shia advantage, and it is only in this context that you can understand Iran’s brazen provocation about developing nuclear weapons.

    The US is, as I indicate, now hastily trying to re-do what it has undone, hence the negotiations with the Sunni terrrorists, resistance fighters, insurgents, or whatever you want to call them. But it is now too late for this. The military elite (remember the Republican Guard now do we?) on the basis of which that delicate balance was maintained has now been totally dismembered.

    “The overwhelming consensus of Iranians, both liberal and conservative,”

    Aren’t you being far too generous in describing the faction which now controls the Iranian state as ‘conservative’?

  23. I find this patently false. Nuclear weapons are the Hummer of the 3rd world. They’re BIG. They’re tough. They’re prestigious.

    Yes. Hummers, however, are expensive and have a fuel economy that makes normal people want to weep. Thus you find hummers or equivalents in the garages of the rich and of those who live in the remote countryside. You see a similar distribution in the nuclear powers. The rich (the five powers & India) and those who really need them (Israel & Pakistan).
    In contrast you find a lot of countries which have been unwilling to pay the price. South Africa even gave them up. Yet only after the change of the dominant race. Brazil canceled its programme. I see a pattern.

    The overwhelming consensus of Iranians, both liberal and conservative, is that Iran, ancient and prestigious Persia, has the right to nuclear weapons.

    Do you think that outside Europe & Japan (WW 1 & 2 / Hiroshima & Nagasaki) you’d find any country whose consensus is that their country doesn’t have the right? The question is not about the desire but who acts upon the desire.

  24. Bush urges peaceful Iran resolution.
    Those wimpish Americans, eh?

    Hardly. War is not cheap, in lives and money. It’s not a question of wanting or not wanting war. The price to pay to avoid it is the difference.

    Wheenishness is peace at outrageous or even any cost.

  25. “Those wimpish Americans, eh?”

    Whilst understanding completely your sentiments Gonzo, in the first place I think it is not time to mock, and in the second I think that for once we should take the advice of our “American Friends” and leave them to one side.

    The US has come unstuck in Iraq. It is also deeply divided internally, and has a looming identity crisis with the arrival of China and Indian into the big-time league.

    The US will be licking its wounds and healing itself for some time to come, and will be in no real position to adequately address the problems now posed by Iran and Russia.

    So we have to do this ousrelves.

    In neither Russia nor Iran is there any likelihood of sustained democratic development in the foreseeable future. With the arrival of Turkey inside the EU these two countries will form an important chunk of our eastern boundary. They also have strategic energy rources and strategic geographic locations for land communications.

    How to handle all of this is now, I would say, our number one foreign-policy issue.

  26. In neither Russia nor Iran is there any likelihood of sustained democratic development in the foreseeable future.

    This seems to be a form of forcing the world into the difference between forms of government. Which is wrong. A democratic Russia would be even more determined to reacquire Ukraine.
    “Exporting the revolution” is not the answer to every problem.

    How to handle all of this is now, I would say, our number one foreign-policy issue.

    The EU is too limited in its means of power projection to do so. The power of seduction of its economy is enourmous, but only in close areas.

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