By Jonathan Power*
Amnesty International reported on March 11 that an Iranian lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, has been sentenced to 38 years in jail and 148 lashes. She has dedicated her life to defending women accused of removing their hijabs in public. The persecution of human rights dissidents in Iran appears to be getting worse.
It makes it harder to feel sorry for Iran, even if President Donald Trump is wielding the heavy stick against it, and even though Trump has sabotaged the Agreement to freeze Iran’s nuclear research and uranium enrichment carefully negotiated by President Barack Obama’s team, the EU, Russia and China.
However, Realpolitik demands us to stand up for this Agreement but who can be happy stepping into the ring to defend the honour of such a regime? Iran executes more people each year than any other country bar China. If Iran wants more enthusiastic outside help it must put its own house in order.
Is the U.S. moving towards war since Iran, pushing back against American sanctions which were supposed to have been removed in return for Iran’s agreement on nuclear research restraint, has now suggested in might start this work again?
This seems to have maddened Trump. The White House keeps reiterating that Iran is secretly set on making a nuclear bomb which will then be mounted on rockets that can threaten NATO and U.S. troops in Europe.
There are only a few in Europe who have ever believed this was the Iranian intention before the Agreement and it certainly isn’t now. Apart from anything else, the Iranians only have short-range rockets and the Iranians have no knowledge of how to miniaturize a bomb (which they don’t have to practice with) to fit on the head of a small rocket.
Trump’s militancy on the issue seems to contradict his campaign promise not to involve America in any more Asian wars, all of which have ended disastrously and counterproductively – Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. In all of them he’s pushed for reducing American troops. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for hard lobbying by the Pentagon there would zero troops deployed.
But Iran in his mind seems to be a different case. The deployment of an aircraft carrier in the Straits of Hormuz near to Iranian waters is a war threat. This is much more serious than the sanctions. There’s no point in having it there unless he is prepared to use its firepower.
Of course, the U.S. would need far more than one aircraft carrier to overcome Iran’s defence forces. It would mean using long-range bombers. Many of them are based in British-controlled territory. But in 2012 on the last occasion the U.S. thought about a war with Iran, at the time of President George W. Bush, the UK government’s attorney general advised Prime Minister Tony Blair that a preemptive military strike on Iran could violate international law. The existence of this secret document suggests that the government believed then that Iran didn’t meet the legal threshold for a “clear and present danger” that would merit such an attack- and that was before the big power Agreement with Iran.
The Guardian newspaper’s investigation which was reported on prominently in the Washington Post concluded that the U.S. was asking for access to British airbases that are strategically located on remote islands, but that the UK refused to cooperate. London is unlikely to be helpful today when, like its European partners, it seriously objects to Trump’s decision to abrogate the Agreement with Iran.
One of the strange footnotes in the run up to the Agreement was that for years the CIA in its annual reviews said it found no proof that Iran was developing a bomb.
Iran’s powerful religious leaders have all said loudly that to have a nuclear weapons would go against the teaching of Mohammed. The Iranian public has heard this message time and time again so they are unlikely to give their support to a bomb-making effort now, but they will support the right to develop an independent nuclear program to enable it to build civilian power stations. They will support the right for Iran to be self-sufficient in energy in a world that is hostile to it.
Iran has made enemies, especially Israel, whose hard line leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, eggs Trump on. It’s true that Iran supports anti-Israeli militias and meddles in other Middle Eastern countries, in particular Syria and Iraq. But Obama’s plan was always to build on the Agreement and then, using the trust that that would create, to go on and negotiate with Iran to be more responsible in its foreign policy.
Trump has got it all back to front.
Before the situation escalates to the real danger zone the matter must be put before the Security Council and with a unanimous vote the U.S. be told to stop its confrontation and honour the Agreement.
*Jonathan Power was for 17 years a foreign affairs columnist and commentator for the International Herald Tribune. Copyright: Jonathan Power. Website www.jonathanpowerjournalist.com.