The Iran nuclear issue | By Khalid Saleem


The Iran nuclear issue

THE welcome news is that negotiators for Iran and six world powers adjourned talks on reviving their 2015 nuclear deal in an atmosphere that exuded at least a modicum of optimism.

Iran’s top negotiator, while acknowledging that serious differences remained, added positively, “we are now closer than ever to an agreement”.

The European Union political director agreed that they had made progress in the sixth round but were ‘still not there’.

This all points to a feeling that all is not lost yet and that hope for a settlement was still in the air.

Here it may not be out of place to cast a look over the shoulder to understand things in the proper perspective.

Ever since Putin’s visit to Iran, coupled with the message conveyed by the participants of the summit of the five riparian Caspian Sea countries, there appears to have been a profound impact on the complexion of the ground realities of the region.

Putin was extremely sensitive to any attempt to belittle the role of the Russian Federation in the affairs of the region that was once the hinterland of the erstwhile Soviet Union.

Putin, consequently during his stint, tried his utmost to raise the profile of the Russian Federation and to reassert its great-power independence.

It may be recalled that during his visit to Tehran, president Putin had made it amply clear Russia would be dead against a replay of the (Iraq) bloodbath in the Middle East.

He put it across plainly and unambiguously that, more than any other world power, Russia had an abiding interest in keeping stability on its southern border.

He made it clear to Washington that Russia would not look kindly at any military adventure against Iran. He had also warned any regional state against offering facilities to the United States.

Putin’s message was clear as he added, “We should not even think of making use of force in the region.

Not only should we reject the use of force but also the mention of (the use of) force as a possibility.” The Russian Federation under Putin appeared to be flexing its muscles once again.

We in the Land of the Pure would do well to take notice of the turn of events. It goes without saying that, as a neighbour and long-standing friend of Iran, Pakistan has been genuinely concerned about the deteriorating situation due to the nuclear stand off between Iran and the Western world.

It is in our interest that reasonableness should prevail all around; that the cynics who have been spreading rumors of an imminent attack on Iran would be proved wrong and the matter resolved peacefully through negotiations.

The turn of events should give Pakistan breathing space to fine-tune its policy vis-à-vis the nuclear stand off between the United States and Iran.

It would also, hopefully, oblige Israel to have second thoughts about any out of the box ideas it may have had regarding the ‘containment’ of the Iranian nuclear program. It goes without saying that Iran has the right to the peaceful use of nuclear power.

Any confrontation with Iran, as advocated by several hawks, would have serious ramifications far beyond the borders of Iran.

On its part, Pakistan would do well to realize that it has an obligation towards the maintenance of peace in this region.

Already embroiled in America’s open-ended ‘war on terror’, Pakistan can ill-afford another conflagration near to its borders.

By the by, as the largest single contributor to United Nations peacekeeping operations around the world, Pakistan is also an active member of the United Nations Peace Building Commission that is charged with proposing integrated strategies for post conflict peace building and recovery.

This policy is – or at least should be – a testimony to Pakistan’s commitment to work for peace and harmony and not only in our immediate neighbourhood. Whether our diplomats can turn this into an advantage remains to be seen.

This said, it needs no reminding that the situation in the Middle East is fast deteriorating. Every passing day brings with it forebodings of even more dangerous developments.

The situation is like tinder and the least provocation could set it ablaze. There is already the extreme danger posed by the widespread terrorism and extremism. To these dangers has been added the threat of such desperate acts as suicide bombings.

The urgent need for settling the festering conflicts within the region can hardly be over-emphasized.

Recent developments in neighbouring Afghanistan and the need to prop up the Northern Alliance prior to partial withdrawal is another reason for the United States to mend its ‘fences’ with Iran.

Despite the serious reservations expressed by Israel, the United States can be expected to put its weight behind a settlement on the Iran nuclear issue. This will have its impact on the matter of lifting (easing?) of sanctions.

The turn of events may well lead to the re-emergence of Russia as a leading player on the chessboard of the political arena in this part of the world.

Given the somewhat lackadaisical – and self-defeating – record of the sole superpower and its cohorts so far, the emergence of the Russian Federation as a leading player may not be such a bad portent after all.

Our mandarins may need to have a second look at all the paradigms about the power politics in this region. For all we know, there may be imperative need to discard the existing ones and draw them up anew.

It is a matter of regret that most commentaries in our media over the past years have been based on the assumption that a US attack on Iran may be imminent.

This assessment was in many ways unwarranted. There should be no reason at all to assume the worst.

— The writer is a former Ambassador and former Assistant Secretary General of OIC.

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