How to target the Islamic Republic diplomatically

Opinions differ on whether anything short of a military strike will stop Tehran’s nuclear march.

By JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
November 13, 2011 03:46
Iranian Supreme Leader Kamenei

Iranian Supreme Leader Kamenei 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Handout)

 
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BERLIN – The International Atomic Energy Agency report released on Tuesday confirmed the West’s suspicions that the Islamic Republic is working on a nuclear weapons system. According to the the Vienna-based UN agency, “Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”

While post-report statements from Western diplomats have focused on a push to ramp up economic sanctions on Iran’s financial and energy sectors, there has been scarce attention paid to diplomatic pressure.

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In sharp contrast to US policy, EU-Iranian relations see a steady stream of bilateral political and non-government visits. Nasrin Amirsedghi, a leading Iranian dissident and intellectual in Germany, delivered a speech on Tuesday at a protest in Berlin against an Iranian- German business forum – “Iranian Businesswomen Power.” She called for a “diplomatic boycott of Iran.”

Tehran’s ambassador to Germany, Ali Reza Sheikh Attar, reportedly attended the economic forum. Iranian Kurds and human rights groups charge Attar with green-lighting a massacre of Kurds during his tenure as governor of the Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan provinces between 1980 and 1985. Attar regularly speaks to high-school student and attends cultural forums in the Federal Republic.

Asked how she sees the application of diplomatic pressure, Amirsedghi told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that “Germany should recall its ambassador from Iran and expel Iran’s ambassador to Germany.”

It would be most “effective when all the EU countries” engaged in a diplomatic boycott, she said. A six-month timeline should be set with a concrete list of conditions to bring about regime change in the Iran, Amirsedghi said.

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Iran’s leaders “must apologize to Israel” for their statements about seeking to wipe it off the map, she said. Tehran’s leaders must end the country’s nuclear program and stop their crackdown on human rights, Amirsedghi added.

Europe has promoted an intense diplomatic engagement process with Iran’s mullahs since long before US President Obama in 2009 extended an open hand to Tehran. While the US cut diplomatic relations with Iran following the seizure of its embassy during the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Switzerland’s embassy in Tehran has represented American diplomatic interests in Iran.

Iran’s drive to go nuclear and its terror activities have prompted a new congressional bill to further isolate Iran diplomatically. Early this month, the House Foreign Relations Committee green-lighted “The Iran Threat Reduction Act” (HR1905), which seeks to clamp down on contact between American diplomats and Iranian government representatives.

The bill would outlaw US-Iranian diplomatic relations on all levels unless the president established “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the vital national security interests of the United States” to warrant contact.

Iran is terribly concerned about its status as a pariah state. That helps to explain why Western leaders have a nonviolent lever of influence at hand. Iranian leaders loathe public embarrassment and humiliation on the diplomatic stage.

The anti-Iranian regime legislation has bipartisan support in the House and Senate.

While the US seeks to turn the diplomatic screws on Iran, EU countries such as Germany continue to stick with cordial diplomatic relations with Israel’s most dangerous enemy, the Islamic Republic. In an email to the Post on Thursday, the Hamburg-based political scientist Dr. Matthias Küntzel wrote, “Now that there is no longer any doubt about Iran’s nuclear bomb, the federal government [in Berlin] should advocate the end of the dual strategy of negotiations plus sanctions. The regime lied almost 10 years to the world and for this reason the negotiating option as a foundation should be withdrawn.”

In short, Küntzel, a leading expert on German-Iranian economic and political relations, urges an aggressive and painful round of economic sanctions. He added that Germany’s government should “immediately end its financial support for the German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce.” He cited the chamber’s website advertising for an expansion of trade relations between Germany and Iran.

“After the publication of the IAEA report this activity [the chamber’s] equals a continuation of the sabotage of Western efforts to sanction” Iran’s regime, said Küntzel.

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Germany and Austria in 1984 were the first European countries to establish diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic. Then-German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher commenced the “critical dialogue policy” with Iran’s clerical leaders. His pro- Iran policies triggered a running joke: The real purpose of German-Iranian cooperation was to engage in “critical dialogue” about US foreign policy.

Genscher is from the pro-business FDP party, and his fellow party member current Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, with a fixation on dialogue and diplomacy with Iran, has not deviated from the FDP tradition.

The Munich-born Israeli Melody Sucharewicz, a specialist on relations between the Jewish state and Germany, told the Post by e-mail, “For somewhat understandable historical reasons, the D for Deutschland turned into a D for Dialogue, the universal solution for all conflicts in the world. At times, however, it seems the D becomes an end in itself, even if it harms the very values it stands for.” “It is time for Germany’s political leadership to stop this trend now,” she said.

Saba Farzan, a German-Iranian journalist and expert on EU-Iranian relations, told the Post on Thursday, “On the diplomatic front there’s so much that Europe in particular can do. First and foremost all diplomatic ties should be cut with the Iranian regime – literally every Iranian diplomat should be kicked out of the European continent.

“Second, diplomats and politicians should adopt political prisoners held in Iran’s dark prison cells – that kind of sponsorship is a very effective tool to highlight the regime’s extraordinary brutal human rights violations.”

She continued: “The time to talk to this regime is over – in fact it never really existed in the first place, but certainly since the European Union has passed sanctions because of severe human rights abuses, even Europe has lost its patience with the Islamic Republic. On the European level the growing consensus is: This regime is standing in the way of solving the nuclear conflict and integrating Iran into the world of civilization. Helping the Iranian people to achieve liberty, and with that ultimately making the world safer and more peaceful, runs through Iran’s diplomatic ties with Europe. Cutting these diplomatic relations shouldn’t have the objective to change the behavior of this regime, it means supporting Iran’s civil society to get rid of it.”

While there is increased talks about enhanced diplomatic penalties entering the sanctions discourse, experts in Israel remain skeptical about the efficacy of such measures.

In an e-mail to the Post on Thursday, Dr. Jonathan Spyer, a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center, IDC, Herzliya, wrote, “Effective sanctions should not be used to mean ‘sanctions that can hurt Iran.’ Rather, it should mean ’sanctions that can hurt Iran sufficiently to make it abandon its drive for nuclear weapons.’ If the latter meaning is adopted, then my estimation is that there is no such thing as effective sanctions, because no seriously conceivable economic measures are going to make this regime abandon its nuclear ambition.”

Spyer, a prominent Israeli expert on the Middle East, added, “But even if the former meaning is used, given China and Russia’s opposition to further sanctions, and the EU’s reluctance to target the Iranian energy sector, it is clear that the current round of hand-wringing regarding the Iranian nuclear program is likely to lead to very little. The stark fact, it seems to me, is that we either start preparing to live with and try to contain a nuclear Iran, or we begin to consider military options. These are the two alternatives which reality offers us. All else is denial of that reality.”

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