Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

25
Oct

IR-CitPax

The Iran Dialogues – 3

“Iran: Ideology & Nation-Building”

Madrid, Friday 25 October 2013

12:00-13:30 at IE, C/ Maria de Molina 4, Room E107

Professor Ali Ansari,

St. Andrews University

You are cordially invted to attend “Iran: Ideology & Nation-Building”, the third in a set of discussions being held in Spain as part of the Iran Dialogues Series. This session will be co-hosted by the IE School of International Relations and the Toledo International Center for Peace (CITpax).

The Islamic Republic of Iran is frequently perceived externally as being a purely ideological state.  However, concepts of nationhood, regional aspirations, and competing internal spheres of influence also affect the way in which ideology is used to shape Iran’s domestic as well as foreign policy.  Iran’s main objectives are not to be found solely in some ideological universe detached from reality, but instead are situated, and should also be understood, in terms of real politik and various sets of interests.  While the religious-ideological element is highly relevant, it is not necessarily always determining, and is not sufficient alone to explain all of Tehran’s actions.

Understanding the complex interplay of ideology, nation-building and nationalism in relation to regional and global aspirations, is particularly important in a context in which Iran is implicated in the prevailing balance of power in the Levant; has clear aims – and rivalries – in the Persian Gulf; and competes for influence in the broader region.

“Iran: Ideology & Nation-Building” is the third in a set of discussions being held in Spain as part of the Iran Dialogues Series co-organized by IE School of International Relations and CITpax.

Dr Ali Ansari is Professor of Modern History with reference to the Middle East, at St. Andrews University in Scotland. He is the founding Director of the Institute for Iranian Studies, and an Associate Fellow of Chatham House. One of his areas of specialisation is Islam and the West. He is the author of a number of books including The Politics of Nationalism in Modern Iran; Iran Under Ahmadinejad; and Confronting Iran: The Failure of American Foreign Policy and the Roots of Mistrust.

Please kindly confirm attendance at International.Relations@ie.edu

15
Oct

Six reasons why the United States can’t force Iran’s nuclear hand.

By Colin H. Kahl, Alireza Nader

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Iranian president Hasan Rouhani’s recent charm offensive has raised expectations for a diplomatic breakthrough heading into this week’s nuclear negotiations between Iran and the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia (the so-called P5+1) in Geneva. Sanctions have taken a heavy toll on the Iranian economy, and the Islamic Republic may finally be motivated to take steps to rein in its nuclear program, including accepting limits on uranium enrichment, in exchange for lessening the pressure.

Hawks in Israel and Washington, however, have been quick to describe Rouhani as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” warning that the Iranian regime may agree to “cosmetic changes” to its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, but ultimately will do little to constrain its quest for the bomb. In particular, they have cautioned the Obama administration against acquiescing to an agreement that allows Iran to continue any domestic uranium enrichment, even at low levels suitable only for civilian nuclear power and under stringent international supervision. In his Oct. 1 speech to the U.N. General Assembly, for example, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that only a complete dismantling of Iran’s enrichment program could prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. This position has been echoed by conservative think tanks in Washington and by numerous voices on Capitol Hill. Their collective mantra: “a bad deal is worse than no deal.”

Attempting to keep Iran as far away from nuclear weapons as possible by insisting on “zero enrichment” seems sensible. But in reality, the quest for the optimal deal would doom diplomacy with Iran, making the far worse outcomes of unconstrained Iranian nuclearization or a military showdown over Tehran’s nuclear program much more likely.

Uranium enrichment is one pathway to producing bomb-grade explosive material for nuclear weapons, and all else being equal, it is easier to verify the total absence of such activities than different gradations of them. Of course, it would clearly be preferable if Iran ended its uranium enrichment activities altogether. Moreover, most countries with civilian nuclear power plants forgo domestic enrichment, so it seems reasonable to demand the same of Tehran. (Although it is also the case that Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands have domestic enrichment capabilities while remaining compliant with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.)

But while a permanent end to Iranian enrichment would be ideal, it is also highly unrealistic. The Iranian regime has invested enormous amounts of political capital and billions of dollars over decades to master the knowledge and centrifuge technology associated with uranium enrichment — and nothing will put that genie back in the bottle. Indeed, one is hard pressed to find a single bona fide Iran expert on the planet that believes Tehran would accept a diplomatic deal with the P5+1 that zeroed out enrichment for all time. Read more…

Colin H. Kahl is an associate professor in Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and a senior fellow and director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. Alireza Nader is a senior international policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on October 14, 2013.

7
Oct

By Ana Palacio

US Iran

At first glance, the entire greater Middle East appears to be sliding into chaos. Civil war continues to rage in Syria, while its neighbors – particularly Jordan and ever-fragile Lebanon – strain under the weight of more than two million refugees. Libya has largely descended into tribal anarchy, and a weak Afghan regime is bracing itself for NATO’s withdrawal in 2014. Egypt’s military-backed government has extended the state of emergency, and Iraq is witnessing a surge in sectarian violence, with more than 5,000 civilians killed and almost 14,000 wounded so far this year.

And yet there is an exception to this pattern where one would perhaps least expect it. For decades, Iran has cast a menacing shadow of confrontation over the Middle East; now the Islamic Republic appears eager to end the showdown with the West over its nuclear program.

This shift – and Iran’s surprising role as an outlier of hope in a region of disorder – invites reflection on America’s global leadership and what the United States can achieve when it uses multilateralism (and transatlanticism in particular) to its full potential. At a time when the US often projects an image of indecision and weakness – reflected in the unfortunate slogan “leading from behind” – Iran exemplifies the potential of an international response with the US leading from the front.

The US has maintained a broad sanctions regime against Iran since the mid-1990’s, and has enforced it vigorously – imposing $1.9 billion in penalties on the bank HSBC last year, for example, and blacklisting entities that help Iran evade financial restrictions. But it was only with growing participation by a wide range of countries that the sanctions really began to bite.

This was clearly reflected in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s overwhelming election victory in June. Rouhani campaigned on a pledge to pursue “constructive engagement” with the international community. His early momentum and the apparent support – or at least tolerance – of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reflect Iranians’ weariness with international isolation and their bitterness over the economic havoc that ever-tightening sanctions have wrought. Read more…

Ana Palacio, a former Spanish foreign minister and former Senior Vice President of the World Bank, is a member of the Spanish Council of State.

As published in www.project-syndicate.org on October 2, 2013.

3
Oct

By Vali Nasr

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The international agreement to destroy Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons has put diplomacy back at center stage of American foreign policy. But enforcing America’s “red line” in Syria is only a prelude to dealing with the thicker, redder line around Iran’s nuclear program. Last week’s charm offensive by Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, and his seeming show of flexibility augurs well for a diplomatic resolution.

But America would be naïve to assume that Iran is negotiating from a position of weakness. To the contrary, Iran has come out of the Arab Spring better positioned than any of its regional rivals, and the turmoil in Syria, its ally, has paradoxically strengthened it further. Witness Mr. Rouhani’s statements that distinguished Iran from its Arab neighbors and asserted that it was uniquely positioned to broker a resolution.

Over the past five years America has thought that only an Iran weakened by economic sanctions would agree to a nuclear deal. Iran’s economy is indeed in dire straits, which helps explain the decision by its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to put forward Mr. Rouhani, a former nuclear negotiator, as his interlocutor with the West.

It’s also true that Iran has been isolated as the sectarian tenor of the civil war in Syria incensed the country’s largely Sunni population against Shiite Iran and its clients: the governments in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

Iran’s diplomatic flexibility is serious, but should not be mistaken for willingness to surrender.

Iran does not see itself as vanquished. Its political system is still the most steadfast and resilient in the region. It is reveling in a newfound stability on the back of a surprisingly smooth presidential election. There were no street protests in Tehran this year, like those that paralyzed Tehran in 2009, Cairo in 2011 and Istanbul earlier this year. Indeed, Mr. Rouhani’s government, by freeing political prisoners and potentially relaxing controls on the press and social media, is showing its confidence. Read more….

Vali R. Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, is a contributing opinion writer.

As published in www.nytimes.com on October 2, 2013 (a version of this op-ed appears in print on October 3, 2013, on page A31 of the New York edition with the headline: America Mustn’t Be Naïve About Iran).

30
Sep

By Robin Wright

map

How 5 Countries Could Become 14

The map of the modern Middle East, a political and economic pivot in the international order, is in tatters. Syria’s ruinous war is the turning point. But the centrifugal forces of rival beliefs, tribes and ethnicities — empowered by unintended consequences of the Arab Spring — are also pulling apart a region defined by European colonial powers a century ago and defended by Arab autocrats ever since.

A different map would be a strategic game changer for just about everybody, potentially reconfiguring alliances, security challenges, trade and energy flows for much of the world, too.

Syria’s prime location and muscle make it the strategic center of the Middle East. But it is a complex country, rich in religious and ethnic variety, and therefore fragile. After independence, Syria reeled from more than a half-dozen coups between 1949 and 1970, when the Assad dynasty seized full control. Now, after 30 months of bloodletting, diversity has turned deadly, killing both people and country. Syria has crumbled into three identifiable regions, each with its own flag and security forces. A different future is taking shape: a narrow statelet along a corridor from the south through Damascus, Homs and Hama to the northern Mediterranean coast controlled by the Assads’ minority Alawite sect. In the north, a small Kurdistan, largely autonomous since mid-2012. The biggest chunk is the Sunni-dominated heartland.

Syria’s unraveling would set precedents for the region, beginning next door. Until now, Iraq resisted falling apart because of foreign pressure, regional fear of going it alone and oil wealth that bought loyalty, at least on paper. But Syria is now sucking Iraq into its maelstrom.

“The battlefields are merging,” the United Nations envoy Martin Kobler told the Security Council in July. “Iraq is the fault line between the Shia and the Sunni world and everything which happens in Syria, of course, has repercussions on the political landscape in Iraq.”

Over time, Iraq’s Sunni minority — notably in western Anbar Province, site of anti-government protests — may feel more commonality with eastern Syria’s Sunni majority. Tribal ties and smuggling span the border. Together, they could form a de facto or formal Sunnistan. Iraq’s south would effectively become Shiitestan, although separation is not likely to be that neat. Read more…

As published in www.nytimes.com on September 28, 2013 (a version of this op-ed appears in print on September 29, 2013, on page SR7 of the New York edition with the headline: Imagining a Remapped Middle East).

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