By Oliver Kamm, the author of Anti-Totalitarianism: the Left-Wing Case for a Neoconservative Foreign Policy (THE GUARDIAN, 04/12/07):
Last December the Iraq Study Group, led by James Baker, recommended direct talks with Iran and Syria. Tony Blair responded that there was little purpose unless those parties were "prepared to be constructive". He termed Iran "a major strategic threat to the cohesion of the entire region". The activities since then of Iran's proxies and its client state, Syria, amply confirm Blair's diagnosis.Hamas expresses outrage at Arab participation in the Annapolis peace summit and threatens more rocket attacks on Israel. Hizbullah continues to destabilise Lebanese democracy and defy UN security council demands to disarm. On its own admission, it has received large amounts of weaponry from Iran via Syria. The death-squad despotism of Bashar al-Assad - a statesman discernibly less intellectually able than George Bush - is engaged in a murder campaign against non-compliant politicians in Lebanon. Attacks by Shia militias against US troops in Iraq (who operate under a UN mandate) have slackened, but the evidence has grown stronger that those militias are equipped with Iranian improvised explosive devices.
If, against that background, Guardian readers choose to believe the Iranian regime's protestations that its nuclear programme is intended purely for generating electricity, then perhaps we might henceforth hear a bit less indignation in these quarters about Tony B.Liar and his dodgy dossier. Iran supports terrorism, and its insistence on access to the full fuel cycle is provocative.
Such a capability would be difficult to distinguish from one designed to produce nuclear weapons, and Iran has dissembled about its activities. We learned from an opposition group, not from the regime, of the construction of enrichment facilities at Natanz and a heavy-water plant at Arak. Iran's complaints of discriminatory treatment and a denial of its rights under the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) are only slightly less risible than President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's assertion that Iran has no homosexuals.
Nicolas Sarkozy has described the prospect of an Iranian bomb as "unacceptable". Given that the defeated Socialist candidate for the French presidency, Ségolène Royal, maintained that Iran had no right even to civil nuclear power, we may reasonably regard Sarkozy as the voice of moderation. Meanwhile, the US and the EU have been accommodating to the point of indulgence. Neither disputes Iran's right to nuclear energy. Even the Bush administration has been willing to accept a compromise that gives Iran access to the full fuel cycle, provided enrichment takes place outside the country. But it is clear from this month's report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran remains selective in its cooperation with UN requirements.
That must change - recall the UN's dealings with Iraq under Saddam Hussein. One authority on WMD, Professor Graham Pearson, wrote of that farce: "It is indeed a sorry state of affairs when the permanent members of the security council lose their resolve to address the dangers posed by a state which seeks to maintain a weapons of mass destruction capability, and the secretary general effectively puts the UN organisations Unscom and the IAEA in the dock rather than the uncooperative and non-compliant state in Iraq." Had there been firmer action, and sooner, the Iraq war might not have happened.
The likeliest way to increase tension and exacerbate Iran's obstructionism is to act as if the regime has done nothing wrong. Avoiding military action requires that the UN pressure Iran to abide by its international obligations as a signatory of the NPT. Civil society has an important role too. If you want peace, avoid anti-war campaigns that fantasise about US threats against Islam, and show some sympathy with Israel's security dilemmas. A nation born of the Holocaust is entitled to be wary of a state whose puppet president explains that catastrophe as a hoax perpetrated by international Jewry. (Do pipe down, by the way, with the protests that Ahmadinejad's anticipation of the extinction of the Jewish state is a fault in translation from the Farsi. It is unreasonable to expect Israelis to entrust their nation's existence to - in the phrase of a long-past prime minister, Lord Shelburne - "nothing more than a string of sophisms".)
With concerted diplomatic pressure, sanctions and luck, our message might yet be effective. Iran has an extremist regime but, unlike North Korea or Ba'athist Iraq, is not a totalitarian state. Its civil society, according to anecdotal evidence from journalists and academics, contains much sympathy for the US; it may prove a potent ally in turning Iran away from support for terrorism and studied nuclear ambiguities. But, as Blair rightly maintained, western diplomacy cannot afford any "grand bargain" while the message remains unheeded.