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Interview: How The Security Council Might Deal With Iran

Mark Fitzpatrick, senior fellow International Institute of Strategic Studies, London (file photo) (Courtesy Photo) On March 15, Radio Farda correspondent Sharan Tabari spoke with Mark Fitzpatrick, senior fellow for nonproliferation at the International Center for Strategic Studies in London, about U.K. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's March 13 speech, in which he laid out the West's strategy for dealing with Iran's nuclear program.

Radio Farda: The foreign secretary in his speech yesterday at the ISS counted four objectives for discussions with the permanent and nonpermanent members of the Security Council. One of these objectives was to have a step-by-step approach to Iran and a reversible decision. Why do you think he has decided in this way?

Mark Fitzpatrick: I think he posited these principles of incremental action by the Security Council in order to keep Russia and China in consensus with the other permanent members. I know that there had been some discussion about going for a firmer step at the beginning, but Russia and China are not ready yet to do that. So, starting with a presidential statement and only slowly ratcheting up pressure will keep together the unity, which is one of the other principles that he stressed.

Radio Farda: What is the firmer step that Russia and China do not agree with?

Fitzpatrick: They don't agree, for example, for requiring Iran to suspend enrichment activity under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, making it mandatory. Russia and China are concerned that immediately making such a requirement mandatory has echoes of the process regarding Iraq three years ago, when there was a mandatory requirement to comply with inspections and so forth and that was one of the rationales for the military action in Iraq.

Radio Farda: Another objective the foreign secretary has pointed out is that Iran completely stop enrichment. Do you think that objective is achievable?

Fitzpatrick: I'm not sure that can be achievable, but actually he said in the question-and-answer period of his speech yesterday that Iran, if it wanted to have the enrichment capability in the future, he wouldn't rule that out if Iran has restored the confidence of the international community. He made it clear...two things... one, the world is not calling on Iran to give up nuclear energy. Nor is it demanding that Iran give up the right to enrichment forever. They are just asking Iran to forego it for a period of time and that seems to be a reasonable objective.

Radio Farda: Another underlying tone of the foreign secretary's speech was that it was mainly directed at the Iranian people. It seemed that he was blaming the government and then addressing the people, telling them "you're wonderful, you're educated, you're young...." What do you think? Is that a shift of policy?

Fitzpatrick: I don't know that it is a shift of policy, but I think it is an essential part of a hoped-for successful strategy. In applying pressure on Iran, the U.K. and other governments have to be careful not to just consolidate support for Ahmadinejad by making Iran think that it's an "us vs. them" kind of situation. So, by appealing directly to the people, he's trying to forestall them coming behind Ahmadinejad and trying to help to widen the division that already exists between a lot of the people of Iran and their current leadership.

Radio Farda: Another point that he made was that Iran made a miscalculation in thinking that it could divide Europe and the United States. He emphasized that Europe is standing beside the United States and that they have one single voice. Does that mean that all of Europe -- including Germany and France, who were not agreeable with the United States government over Iraq -- are they standing in one position at the moment?

Fitzpatrick: Yes, I think there is a very strong trans-Atlantic consensus. I wouldn't put it in terms of Europeans standing by the United States, but the Europeans and the North Americans standing together. And this is a consensus that has held for the past year, particularly strengthened when the United States a year ago started actively supporting the European policy of engagement with Iran, a policy that Iran has rejected. This U.S. support for the European strategy has made it more possible for the Europeans to stand very strongly with the United States in demanding that Iran forego the enrichment capability.

What Would Sanctions Mean?

What Would Sanctions Mean?

Economic sanctions could further undermine Iran's already shaky economy (Fars)

MOVING TOWARD SANCTIONS: If the United Nations Security Council imposes sanctions on Iran, domestic support for Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad will wane, according to ALEX VATANKA, Eurasia editor for Jane's Information Group.
Vatanka told a February 24 RFE/RL briefing that "economic sanctions will hurt the average Iranian" and, consequently, many "will blame the ruling clerics" for making life difficult and "impairing the country's long term development."
Vatanka said sanctions would be a serious challenge to the Iranian government. If harsh economic sanctions were imposed, Iran's poorest population will be hurt the hardest -- and might react "as they did in the 1970s and protest in the streets." Sanctions on travel, Vatanka said, would hurt a many Iranians because "Iran is a nation of small traders" who depend on the ability to travel to earn an income. According to Vatanka, unemployment in Iran is estimated at 30 percent, "so small trading is essential to survival." Although current U.S. sanctions "haven't worked," he said, "Iranians fear an oil embargo." He stressed that "oil revenues are a major part of the economy, so it is critical to look at this sector."
Should negotiations with the European Union and the UN fail, Vatanka believes that Iran would follow a "North Korea model," since Ahmadinejad's base of support among the "Islamist militias" has been "urging withdrawal from the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty]." The Iranian government's "tactic" so far, Vatanka said, is governed by the belief that "by shouting the loudest, you'll get concessions [from the West]."


Listen to the complete panel discussion (about 60 minutes):
Real Audio Windows Media

THE COMPLETE STORY: RFE/RL's coverage of the controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program.


An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.