On My Mind: Iran won’t be ignored

Many nations are not paying full attention to the imminent dangers that Iran’s nuclear program entails.

Morsy and Ahmadinejad 370 (photo credit: reuters)
Morsy and Ahmadinejad 370
(photo credit: reuters)
‘I am not going to be ignored,” Glenn Close declares in one of the most riveting scenes of Fatal Attraction, the thriller that captivated movie audiences 25 years ago. That fundamental human desire to be loved, or at least be treated with kindness and respect, endures. And it applies as much to nations as to individuals.
Today’s Iranian leaders are not uttering those exact words, Fatal Attraction-style. But President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and other senior officials are quite clear that they will not be ignored.
Indeed, the United States, the European Union and other countries genuinely concerned about Iran’s nuclear program have not been ignoring Tehran at all. The cumulative, tightening sanctions, the verbal White House commitment that “all options are on the table” to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon, and widespread public speculation on possible Israeli or American military action show that Iran is a top concern.
But that’s not the kind of attention this regime craves. What Ahmadinejad and Khamenei most desire is respect, and they want it on their terms. Iran has a long, proud history. By dint of geography, population and oil resources Iran is naturally dominant in the region, and aspires to be a global player as well.
Hosting the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran was a sensational diplomatic achievement. Some observers discount the role and purpose of the NAM, founded in 1961 to give organizational space to those countries that aligned neither with the US nor the Soviet Union. This Cold War artifact, however, has greatly expanded as dozens more countries achieved independence and gravitated to what’s become the largest bloc in the UN General Assembly.
Iran had been waiting patiently to take over the NAM helm, having won election three years ago as chair without any objection from the other NAM members. The closing session of the summit in Tehran anointed Venezuela to assume the mantle of leadership in 2015.
Leaders of Arab countries that are reportedly very worried about Iran’s nuclear ambitions nevertheless came across the Gulf to attend the NAM summit, and by their presence bestowed respect on its host, Ahmadinejad. Indeed, only two weeks earlier, the Iranian president was welcomed in Riyadh by Saudi King Abdullah for the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) meeting.
The NAM summit attracted representatives of nearly all 120 members, including 29 heads of state. Even UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon did not stay away, despite Iran’s total disregard for two UN agencies, the Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Could not one NAM country have separated itself from Iran’s dangerous course? Or is the commitment to this bloc of nations so attractive that world leaders instinctively set aside any concerns they may have about the host nation? Even as the NAM bloc gathered in the conference hall, the IAEA issued a fresh report affirming that in the past three months alone Iran has accelerated its nuclear program, installing hundreds more enrichment centrifuges, while refusing to disclose details on current and planned activities at nuclear research and development sites across the country.
Iran’s leaders are undoubtedly pleased that NAM members, like lemmings, unanimously endorsed Iran’s right to a full nuclear fuel cycle to enrich uranium.
Iranian leaders also think that their vision of expanding their 1979 revolution is bearing fruit. Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi proclaimed, in a recent Washington Post oped, that what so many call the Arab Spring is actually the Islamic Awakening. They are encouraged by the ascendance of Islamic political parties in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.
There is but one exception to their praise for Arab uprisings – Syria. Iran fully supports Syrian President Bashar Assad and endorses his view that the regime’s opponents, young and old, are “terrorists” backed by foreigners.
Iran is even more explicit than Syria itself, fingering the US and Israel as the culprits.
But in regard to Syria, Iran stands alone in the Muslim world. Iran failed to stop the OIC from suspending Syria’s membership and could not get NAM agreement to back Assad in his battle for regime survival. With Iranian troops in Syria and an open spigot of arms and money, Iran will not relent.
Unfortunately for the Syrian people, their situation has not risen to the level of global concern that has been paid to Iran’s nuclear program. Innumerable efforts have been made by the UN and the IAEA to deal with Iran. The US, together with the other four permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, have several times given Tehran the respect it desires by sitting at the same table with Iran’s leaders.
Iran is not being ignored. But many nations are not paying full attention to the imminent dangers that Iran’s nuclear program entails.
The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.