3 March 2006 – Iran Plays with Fire

Iran has a deep-rooted tradition of statehood. Late Shah Pahlawi had organized in 1960s a pompous ceremony to celebrate the 2 500th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Iran by King Darios at the sixth century B.C. Iran was able to perpetuate for centuries the supremacy of its culture in the entire Middle East and Central Asia. Persian language became the language of culture for countries in the geographical proximity of Iran. Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat was translated into several languages since the 12th century. Turkish poet Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi wrote Mesnewi in Persian. However, the Khomeini revolution and Iran’s insistence to export it to other countries played a tarnishing effect on the image that Iran had created throughout centuries.

Furthermore Iran is a country rich in well-educated and trained human resources. It is also rich in natural resources. It supplies a sizeable portion of the world oil market. A country of this size could play a very positive stabilizing role both in its region and in the wider Middle East. But does it?

It is hard to say that Iran contributes at present to the stability of the region. Its aspiration to acquire nuclear technology for peaceful and scientific purposes is legitimate. No country could claim that nuclear technology should remain a monopoly of a few countries. However, when a country has a record of having made efforts in the past to export the revolution and to extend subversive activities to other countries, this legitimate aspiration will naturally cause anxiety in the countries of the region and in distant countries as well.

Iran could conduct its nuclear program in a transparent manner and in full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Such cooperation will inspire confidence to the international community. Threatening other countries with populist calls to the domestic public opinion may give the impression that the political leaders in Iran are strengthening their power basis. It is not very difficult to move masses with nationalistic emotions. However it is safer to lend a careful ear to the silent majority. Ordinary Iranian is reasonable enough to prefer to see his country prosper and inspire confidence to the countries of the region at the same time.

Having said this, let us turn to countries that threaten Iran. I don’t think that it is appropriate to try to “tame” a country with threats. France went as far as threatening Iran with a nuclear bomb. It is not realistic to expect that any civilized country could use nuclear power nowadays as long as its own survival is not at stake. Therefore, France’s statement should rather be regarded as a strong message that expresses its dissatisfaction with the recent developments in Iran.

A sovereign country of the size of Iran could be gained to the international community not by alienating it but by trying to embrace it. Many western countries have huge economic stake in Iran. They would not like to see their economic interest jeopardized.

American threats directed to Iran cannot of course be disregarded, but if the wisdom prevails in the US foreign policy, the US is not expected to carry out a military action in Iran. This will widen the battlefront while the light is not yet at sight at the end of the tunnel in Iraq.

Whether the wisdom prevails in the US or not, Iranian leaders are clever enough to know that they are playing with fire.

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