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Iran: British Analyst Discusses Contingency Planning

Foreign Policy Center Iran program director Hugh Barnes (Courtesy Photo) On April 3, Radio Farda correspondent Sharan Tabari spoke with Hugh Barnes, director of the Iran program of the Foreign Policy Center, a think tank in London. Barnes commented on British contingency planning for any possible military action against Iran while emphasizing that the British government's position remains that such an action is "inconceivable."

Radio Farda: It is said that a high-level meeting is taking place today [April 3] in the Ministry of Defense in which senior defense chiefs and government officials from the Foreign Office and Downing Street are considering the consequences of an attack on Iran. Is this correct?

Hugh Barnes: It is certainly the case that the meeting is taking place. We don't know the agenda of the meeting, but there's definitely some contingency planning by military chiefs in this country to see what the consequences of an attack on Iran might be for Britain, yes.

Radio Farda: I'm told by informed sources that this is a monthly meeting, the first Monday of every month, and that media reports [that this is unusual] are completely baseless.

Barnes: That's the point that I was making: the meeting is taking place but we don't know the agenda. I think that possibly some of the views that have been expressed in the media are exaggerating the importance of this. At the moment, the position of the British government is that the diplomatic route is the only one that is being considered. As you know, the foreign secretary has referred to a military attack on Iran as being inconceivable at the moment. But, if necessary, part of the professional way that the military have to approach their job is that they have to have all these different contingencies on the radar, so to speak.

Radio Farda: Do you know what are the components of this contingency plan?

Barnes: I think there are many areas to it. Clearly at some level, the British don't feel that the military option will come into play until, at the very earliest, the late summer. At the moment, as far as I understand it, the British are seeking to bring the Russians and the Chinese on board to go down the UN route with a view, perhaps, to coming up with a unified resolution perhaps just in advance of the G-8 summit in July. That's the timeline as far as that is concerned. But necessarily, I mean, in addition to the effect in terms of British military capability of any U.S. plan to go forward with a military option, the Britons have to look very closely at what that might mean -- an attack on Iran -- for their own forces that are currently stationed in Iraq. Because, as you know, the Iranians have great influence and hold some sway over the movements of the Shi'ite Muslims, particularly in southern Iraq, where the British forces are deployed. So, it is a kind of dual policy that the military will be looking at. Not just the context strategically for what an attack on Iran would involve, but also the likely fallout from such an attack if -- as is not yet conceivable -- it was to take place.

Radio Farda: If there is a U.S. attack on Iran, what would the British position be? Would they support the United States as they did in Iraq or give it a miss this time?

Barnes: That's a big if. A U.S. attack is inevitable if the Iranians fail ultimately to come on board with the UN position. I think that's a big if; I don't think we're at that position at the moment. I think that if prematurely the U.S. were to lose patience and to lose faith in the diplomatic route, then I think that -- unlike in Iraq -- the Britons would not give their unequivocal support for U.S. military action.

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


An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.