TOPICS: Iran’s nuclear row is about US dominance

As the US pushes for a showdown over Iran’s nuclear programme in the UN Security Council, it has presented the issue as a matter of global security — an Iranian nuclear threat in defiance of the international community. But the history of the conflict and strategic thinking of both sides reveal that the dispute is really about the administration’s drive for greater dominance in the Middle East and Iran’s demand for recognition as a regional power.

It is now known that the Iranian leadership, which was convinced that Bush was planning to move against Iran after toppling Saddam Hussein in Iraq, proposed in April 2003 to negotiate with the US on the very issues which the administration had claimed were the basis for its hostile posture toward Tehran: its nuclear programme, its support for Hizbollah and other anti-Israeli armed groups and its hostility to Israel’s existence.

Tehran offered concrete, substantive concessions on those issues. But on the advice of US Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, Bush refused to respond to the negotiating proposal. Nuclear weapons were not the primary US concern about Iran. The denial of legitimacy to the Islamic Republic trumped a deal that could provide assurances against an Iranian nuclear weapon.

For insight into the real aims of the administration in pushing the issue of Iranian access to nuclear technology to a crisis point, one can turn to Tom Donnelly of the neoconservative think-tank of the American Enterprise Institute. Donnelly’s analysis of the issue of Iran and nuclear weapons, published last October in the book “Getting Ready for a Nuclear-Ready Iran”, makes it clear that the real objection to Iran becoming a nuclear power is that it would impede the larger US ambitions in the Middle East — what Donnelly calls the administration’s “project of transforming the Middle East”.

Contrary to the official US line depicting Iran as a radical state threatening to plunge the region into war, Donnelly refers to Iran as “more the status quo power” in the region in relation to the US. Up to now, he observes, the Iranian regime has been “incapable of stemming the seeping US presence in the Persian Gulf and in the broader region”. The “greatest danger”, according to Donnelly, is that the “realists” would “pursue a ‘balance of power’ approach with a nuclear Iran, undercutting the Bush ‘liberation strategy’”. Although Donnelly doesn’t say so explicitly, it would undercut that strategy primarily by ruling out a US attack on Iran as part of a strategy of “regime change”. Instead, in Donnelly scenario, a nuclear capability would incline those outside the neoconservative priesthood to negotiate a “détente” with Iran, which would bring the plan for the extension of US political-military dominance in the Middle East to a halt. Meanwhile, senior Iranian national security officials have long been saying that Iran should try to reach an agreement with the US that would normalise relations and acknowledge officially Iran’s legitimate role in the security of the Persian Gulf. — IPS