We are deeply concerned about all the loose talk regarding a possible military attack on Iran because of the growing uncertainty over parts of its nuclear program.
Not only would such an attack be a clear violation of the charter of the United Nations. It could have severely negative repercussions across the region and be counterproductive to the very objectives it would seek to achieve.
It is difficult to see a single action more likely to drive Iran into taking the final decision to acquire nuclear weapons than an attack on the country. And once such a decision was made, it would only be a matter of time before a nuclear-armed Iran became a reality.
Serious analytical reports say that Iran had a nuclear weapons program until the end of 2003. We should not forget that these were years when it was widely assumed that Saddam Hussein, who had launched a devastating war against Iran, also had such a program. The years since then have been a period of hardened positions and strengthened sanctions, but also of missed diplomatic opportunities.
There is little doubt that there was an open Iranian attitude in 2003 and in the immediate period thereafter, but U.S. policy at the time barred exploration of the possibilities. There is little doubt that infighting in Iran after the 2009 election blocked its acceptance of a generous and constructive offer related to its research reactor. And there is, in our opinion, little doubt that we would be in a better position now had we further explored the diplomatic opening made by Turkey and Brazil in the spring of 2010.
But now diplomacy is to be given a new chance after nearly two years of inaction. This time, we should aim for a sustained diplomatic engagement that seeks to build trust through a series of steps, as bridging the immense gulf of mistrust will not be done in a day.
Iran has its rights under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but it also has its obligations. And it must understand that its behavior has created misgivings about its intentions. In its own interest, Iran should consider steps that could start to remedy that situation.
From 2003 to the beginning of 2006 Iran voluntarily applied the Additional Protocol, with its more comprehensive and intrusive inspection arrangement, and few steps would be more important in building confidence than Iran going back to abiding by this protocol. Indeed, this inspection regime, as well as full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, is key to any agreement between Iran and the international community on the nuclear issue.
Moreover, it now seems that Iran will have soon completed enriching uranium to 20 percent, which it says it needs for its research reactor. It would make sense to then suspend these activities. New research reactors will take a long time to build, so international safeguards for them could be put in place.
We remain deeply critical of the human rights situation in Iran, and will continue to bring this to the attention of the world. Nevertheless, the countries that will soon restart talks with Iran should state that their goal is not to change the regime in Tehran but rather to engage with Iran in a comprehensive fashion on a broad range of issues.
We have, for example, a deep interest in the modernization of Iran, and we should declare our readiness to help with this as well. The modernization of its energy sector is urgent. Given Iran’s diversified economy, the future potential of the country is substantial.
A military attack against Iran risks igniting a period of confrontation across the region with consequences that no one can fully predict. The turmoil could end up producing several nuclear-armed states in what is probably the most volatile area of the world. And there could be war both with and within the Muslim world.
The argument is not only about giving diplomacy a chance. It is about recognizing that diplomacy is the only alternative for those seeking a lasting and sustainable solution to the Iran nuclear issue and peace in the region. The other options are recipes for war and in all probability a nuclear-armed Iran.
The recent report by the International Crisis Group has described the options on the table. Diplomacy requires determination and patience. But most important of all, it requires the recognition that it is the only option we have.
By Carl Bildt and Erkki Tuomioja, foreign ministers of Sweden and Finland.