Even with Iran, Dialogue is more effective than Sanctions (Le Monde, November, 2011)

The Council of Governors of the International Agency for Atomic Energy, which meets on November 17 and 18, should congratulate its Director General for its last report on Iran. This detailed analysis of information collected over the years by the inspectors of the Agency and various Intelligence Services, without forgetting the information provided by Iran itself, carries us from low to high definition in the understanding of the Iranian efforts towards a nuclear weapon.

A crucial point comes out of this report : the clandestine nuclear military program of Iran came to a halt by the end of 2003, upon an order from the top of the State. This has already been said for several years, against all odds, by successive directors of the American Intelligence Community. But the Agency lets also know that some activities may still be ongoing. It reveals that the main figure behind this clandestine program reappeared in 2006 at the head of a new research department attached to the Ministry of Defense as well as at the head of a technological university. And several pieces of information point to the fact that research may have resumed on the engineering of an explosive nuclear device.

The history of the endeavors of the Islamic Republic to acquire a nuclear weapon thus emerges more and more clearly. The original drive, after the interruption of the Shah's programs, came of course from the fear of seeing Saddam Hussein, then at war with Iran and supported by the whole world, get hold of the Bomb. An arbitration probably took place a little later within the State apparatus, by which the civilians would take responsibility of the nuclear fuel cycle, of the production of electricity, of nuclear research, and the military – more precisely the Pasdaran or Guardians of the Revolution – would take in hand the engineering of a nuclear warhead and the development of a related missile program. It is this engineering process which came to a halt, or at least strongly slowed down, at the end of 2003.

From the picture presented by the IAEA, we are entitled to assume that the Iranian bomb will not be assembled by tomorrow. And we know that after the testing of a first device, several years would still be necessary to transform it into a deliverable ballistic warhead. Another remarkable fact is the driving role of the Pasdaran in the military dimension of the program. But their position at the heart of the State, their grip on many levers of power and their practice of concealment make it indeed very difficult for the civilians to bring them to confess their reprehensible activities, as so strongly requested by the international community. This is a very regrettable fact, but that cannot be ignored if one wants to go forward.

Another point : I can personally testify that the break of 2003 was the direct result of the negotiation led at the time by France, Germany and Great Britain in order to find a solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis. And the resuming in 2006 of a research of military dimension coincides with the decision of the West to drag Iran to the Security Council. That was also the time when the Iranians resumed their uranium enrichment activities, which had been interrupted for more than two years. During those same two years, Iran had also opened its whole territory to the inspections of the IAEA. Thus, dialogue produced results. By all means, more results that the policy of pressure and sanctions which came afterwards. Indeed, since 2006, and in spite of six Security Council resolutions, the Iranian program of enrichment and the construction of a research reactor of strong proliferating features have progressed unimpaired, though under tight watch from the IAEA.

It comes therefore as a surprise that most Western reactions on the IAEA report point toward a new wave of sanctions. And even "unprecedented sanctions ", as announced by the French minister of Foreign Affairs. Again, I can testify about the recurring illusion which has followed each new wave of sanctions : this time, they would work, the Iranian regime would comply or even break down. But this regime leans on the hostility of the outside word to repair a legitimacy seriously shaken internally. And those who make a living on this regime have learned to extract immense benefits from the system of sanctions. All of this on the back of a population twice oppressed, politically and economically.

Economic and financial sanctions, far from being an alternative to military strikes, lead us step by step in this very direction. Embargoes, as they are extended and hardened, tend more and more to resemble a blockade. And blockades, by international law, are already acts of war. All of this without speaking the ongoing undercover war, which is already producing its victims. The stubbornness of Western diplomacy in pursuing on such a perilous way brings to mind Mark Twain's formula «To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail".

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