The AfPak Reader

October 3, 2009

Oped on Iran – Regime change is off the table

Regime change is off the table

by: Gary H. Johnson, Jr. | 10/2/09 (9:00pmEST)


With the recent “constructive” dialogue between the United States and Iran, a new era was born in America’s Foreign Policy.  In a blink, America has accepted the Superpower status of Iran in the Middle East.  The Iranian regime is now prepared to accept its responsibility as the predominant superpower in the Middle East.  What is now clear, with the passing of the presidential baton from George W. Bush to Barack Hussein Obama, is that the posture of the United States toward Iran has radically shifted in relatively short order from a geopolitical outlook which harbors a desire for regime change to one which admires Iran’s capacity to act rationally. 

At the opening of the UN General Assembly on September 21, President Obama focused his efforts on putting forward the successes of his engagement platform alongside his international nuclear disarmament agenda, paying special attention to advancing the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

During his address to the UNGA, Obama did not mention that a covert Iranian Nuclear facility had been discovered by Western intelligence agencies in Qom.  Instead, President Obama chose to caution both Iran and North Korea on their aims, stating that if the nations “put the pursuit of nuclear weapons ahead of regional stability and the security and opportunity of their own people; if they are oblivious to the dangers of escalating nuclear arms races in both East Asia and the Middle East — then they must be held accountable.”

At the Pittsburgh G-20 summit, following the close of the UNGA, Obama, Sarkozy and Brown mounted a stage in somber relief, together, and revealed their sobering knowledge of a clandestine, covert Iranian nuclear site at Qom.   Obama pegged Iran’s decision to build yet another nuclear facility without notifying the IAEA as “a direct challenge to the basic compact at the center of the non-proliferation regime” and called on Iran to “act immediately to restore the confidence of the international community by fulfilling its international obligations.”
England’s PM Gordon Brown called the Qom facility a clear evidence of Iran’s “serial deception”, alluding to the probable military dimension of the facility.  Sarkozy claimed that “Everything must be put on the table now” stating that sanctions would be in the offing if serious cooperation between Iran and the IAEA monitors was not evident by December.  German Chancellor Merkel made a video appearance in support of the disclosure.  The revelation appears to have even triggered President Medvedev of Russia to remark that “sometimes sanctions are inevitable”.
Iran, for its part, had given only the briefest of details in a cryptic note to the IAEA, saying that it now had a “pilot plant” under construction.  And when confronted about the issue, Ahmadinejad declared Iran within its legal rights, since the NPT laws state that a plant must only be revealed within six months of its opening, a mark still 12 months away for the Qom facility according to Iranian documentation.

Questions abound about when the United States, France and Britain knew about the Qom facility and when the IAEA was informed by Iran of its existence.   And while answers were few, the news of a new Iranian nuclear facility set the internet and media on fire with speculation and freeform punditry. 

Discussing the September 25th Pittsburgh bombshell development at the G-20, George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told Politico that the Obama administration has “known about it, but went public because Iran found out they knew about it and was trying to cover its tracks by notifying the IAEA of the site, as if they were complying and being transparent.  So when the other countries realized Iran was going to notify the IAEA, they announced what they had known.”

The revelation of the Qom Nuclear facility embedded into an Iranian desert mountainside seemed to bode ill for the October 1 Geneva talks between the P5+1 and Iran; however, the diplomatic talks at a Geneva villa utilized the disclosure of the new Nuclear facility as a high profile media focal point for furthering confidence building negotiations – the first formal talks between the United States and Iran in 30 years. 

Touted as a “mini-breakthrough”, the Geneva meeting on Thursday of Iran and the “Iran Six” nations pushed forward a cooperative agenda.  Following the meeting, while declaring that IAEA inspectors must have “unfettered access” to the Qom nuclear facility inside of two weeks, President Obama noted America’s support of Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy.  Obama also found the Iranian “concession” to ship enriched uranium to Russia in support of the IAEA “atoms for peace” medical program as a responsible step forward in the engagement process.  

Monty Python could not have scripted a more farcical episode.  He who approaches the bridge of death must answer me these questions please…  The Holy Grail of engagement knows no reasonable bounds.

To the contrary of the supposed purposes of the leaders of the Western world, the G-20 disclosure of the covert Qom facility actually placed Iran into the solid position of a “rational” player, that was abiding by the law and (going even further) was releasing information a year earlier than it was required to as a confidence building measure. 

In an instant, the momentum for increasing sanctions on Iran was killed…and the road towards an internationally accepted Iranian superpower was paved.  Moreover, all diplomatic and political calls for regime change in Iran were effectively silenced in the West and painted with an alarmist brush.  Too, by default, the Israeli call for an end to the Iranian nuclear enrichment activity was crushed on the international stage.

At the same time, to cap the diplomatic victory of Iran on the nuclear issue, the chief nuclear negotiator for Iran, Jalili, told a press conference in Geneva that Iran will not abandon its nuclear right, urging world powers to respect each country’s right to peaceful nuclear energy. Stating that Iran was committed to the framework of the NPT, Jalili backed Obama’s UN idealism, emphasizing that the world needed to get rid of nuclear warheads, adding that the Islamic Republic believes no country should have such armaments.
At the close of the diplomatic talks, the representatives from Iran and P5+1 powers agreed to meet again before the end of October.  

According to an October 1st Press TV report from Iran, after a sideline discussion with US envoy William Burns, Jalili stated “We believe that today the capacity and power of the Islamic Republic of Iran especially in the region and in the international arena is an opportunity for those countries that want to work with us.” Jalili continued, “We voice our readiness to cooperate with all parties” to resolve problems facing the world.  

In other words, Iran is ready to assume its rightful role as the superpower of the region.  This newfound hegemonic status presupposes a natural security interest on multiple regional situations including Iraq, Afghanistan, the Palestinian question, and the security of the Strait of Hormuz – as an equal partner to the P5+1. 

The stage was already set for the pantomimed spectacle. 

What virtually no one in America realized before the UN General Assembly meeting was that the Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki had already pushed forward a “package of proposals” to the White House on September 9, 2009 – available at the Council on Foreign Relations – in which “The Islamic Republic of Iran voices its readiness to embark on comprehensive, all-encompassing and constructive negotiations.”  With a paramount focus on regional threats to security, common international threats to law and order, and a respect for national sovereignty, the package broke down a proposed agenda for talks based on (1) political-security issues, (2) international issues, and (3) economic issues.

Almost a year after his October 2, 2008 interview with the foreign minister of Iran, Greg Bruno of the Council on Foreign Relations again had a chance to interview Manouchehr Mottaki on the eve of the Geneva P5+1 meeting.  When Bruno asked if Iran was ready to discuss the nuclear issue, Mottaki responded “We have given three topics in the proposed package and that makes it possible for all parties to enter into discussions even about the nuclear program. That also includes political and security issues, economic matters, and international cooperation. And in the international part, some matters can be dedicated to the nuclear programs and nuclear issues.” 

On the breaking news on the Qom facility, Greg Bruno asked when Tehran would allow international access to the site, and Mottaki was straight forward, “The date will be discussed and coordinated within the Atomic Energy Agency of Iran and the IAEA later on. They would exchange letters. So from our side, there is no problem. Any date that is agreed between the two sides would be respected and the visit or access will be exercised.”

Following the Geneva sit down, Obama and others noted that the head of the IAEA, Mohammed el Baradei, was bound for Iran.

Tough sounding rhetoric about the Iranian Nuclear issue is still capturing the attention of the media.  Recent polls suggest that nearly 70% of Americans believe force is the answer against the rise of a Nuclear Iran. 

New information has surfaced about the possibility that Iran has not yet agreed to an IAEA inspection of the Qom facility, demonstrating that the main stream media does not yet understand that all el Baradei will receive in Iran is a letter, to which he will then respond.

In full, it has not yet dawned on the American public that the possibility of a forcible regime change of Ahmadinejad and the Islamic Establishment is no longer on the table as an option for the Obama Administration.   Sanctions, too, are off the table.  

By coming to the negotiating table, via the academic CFR highway, Iran has proven itself a responsible, rational actor on the international stage and a willing partner in the eradication of common threats. 

America has now accepted, fully, that Iran is the primary superpower of the Middle East.  What is not yet clear to the American public is what an Iran as the prime hegemon in the region will mean in the coming years of the Obama presidency.  

The question is no longer when America will utilize force against the Iranian regime.  The question now is: when will America re-open the US Embassy in Tehran?


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