After her controversial April 18 meetings in Iran, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop revealed that the two sides discussed future co-operation, including intelligence sharing, in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and on asylum seekers, as well as human rights issues.
Yet the day before Ms. Bishop’s meetings, Iranian Ground Force Commander Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan said in a speech that ISIS, Boko Haram and al-Nusra had been “created in line with the US strategy of religion against religion.” Similarly, a few days earlier, Ali Akbar Velayati, international adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and someone Bishop met in Teheran, also called ISIS “American protégés”.
All exchanges with Iran need to take into account the regime’s nature, record, goals, and conspiratorial worldview.
Iran may be keen to battle ISIS, but it remains the leading state sponsor of terrorism itself, intent on utilising its own terror networks, including Hezbollah and Hamas, as a means of extending its regional hegemony and fundamentalist Islamist ideology throughout the Middle East. In Iraq, it seeks not stable pluralistic government but a Shi’ite-dominated satellite.
Unfortunately, visits by high-ranking foreign officials can, if inadvertently, confer unwarranted, premature acceptance and undeserved legitimacy on an unreformed, repressive and still very extreme Iranian regime fully engaged in rogue activities.
One hopes that Australia’s Foreign Minister took the opportunity while in Teheran to reiterate Australia’s repeated disapproval of the Iranian leadership’s continued promotion of terrorism, its anti-US rhetoric, repeated genocidal calls for Israel’s destruction and its fanatical propagation of the most virulent antisemitism.
Indeed, the antisemitic blood libel – the claims that Jews kill non-Jews to use their blood in unleavened bread for Passover – was ironically widely disseminated in Iran’s media on the very day Ms. Bishop was there. Meanwhile, another anti-Jewish competition for the best Holocaust-denigrating cartoon is also currently underway.
Foreign Minister Bishop’s visit only proceeded once the Iranians had acquiesced in the by now much disputed initial “framework” nuclear agreement with the P5+1 on April 2. Yet there is little evidence that provides any confidence in what the Iranians told her – that they are only seeking peaceful nuclear power and are allowing adequate inspection arrangements that “should satisfy all nations who have concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.”
As former US Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz have pointed out, negotiations designed to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons capability in fact appear to be eventually paving the way to that very outcome. Iran is not required to dismantle any of its existing industrial-sized nuclear enrichment infrastructure – it gets to keep all its current centrifuges, nuclear installations and other infrastructure and is apparently allowed to continue researching advanced centrifuges that will drastically cut its “breakout” time to a bomb – as US President Obama recently conceded.
Moreover, it will essentially have a free hand after 10 to 15 years.
This non-binding, unsigned “understanding” has already triggered contradictory interpretations by the US and Iran on core issues including the disposition of Iran’s existing enriched uranium stockpiles, the timing of sanctions relief, the nature of inspections, ongoing research and development, and the use of advanced centrifuges.
Claims the deal will keep Iran 12 months from a nuclear “breakout” in the interim are far from clear-cut. Iran has a history of concealing nuclear facilities and not cooperating with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. All its key nuclear facilities – at Natanz, Fordow and Arak – were built in secret and only admitted to after exposure by outside intelligence. Moreover, the IAEA has been unable to complete its investigations into the military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program because it has been denied access to key suspicious sites.
Therefore, very vigorous “anywhere, anytime” inspections must be mandatory in any final deal – but the US fact sheet speaks only of “periodic” inspections. Moreover, Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei has already announced that inspectors will never be given access to military sites. Obama also recently conceded that Iran has the right to block inspectors from military sites, with an international arbitration-style process to assess Iran’s objections. This would, at best, create long delays, allowing the moving or cleaning up of evidence of cheating in the meantime.
The US position is that sanctions relief will be staggered, depending on proven compliance, and would “snap back” if Iranian violations occur. However, Khamenei insists all of the sanctions must be immediately removed on signing. Yet even if sanctions are removed gradually, rapid snap back in response to cheating is unrealistic – it would require major international diplomatic and political efforts to achieve agreement on renewed sanctions.
Disturbingly, the apparent prospect of an imminent deal has already led to Russia agreeing to sell Iran the advanced S-300 surface to air missile system this year, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying a ban on these weapons, which would help Iran protect any nuclear weapons program, is no longer necessary.
In the volatile Middle East, states that perceive Iran may acquire nuclear weapons capability will commence their own programs. Some have reportedly already started. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates fear Iranian Shi’ite expansionism. Iran and its terrorist proxies already dominate Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza and, through its Houthi allies, much of Yemen. A chaotic Middle East, already imploding, would dramatically worsen with the inevitable nuclear proliferation that would eventuate.
Australia should use our international contacts and upgraded dialogue with Iran to try to ensure that any deal, due by June 30, includes a truly comprehensive inspection regime, clear consequences for Iranian cheating, and the maintenance of sanctions until genuine Iranian compliance is assured.
A flawed deal, that does not prevent a nuclear-capable or armed Iran, will only embolden an unreformed, expansionist regime bent on sponsoring terrorism and spreading its brand of Islamist extremism, and would be a disaster for both Middle East stability and global nuclear non-proliferation efforts.