Saturday, December 26, 2009

Radicalism’s Rise in Iran Alters West’s Diplomatic Hopes

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The New York Times

Until Iran’s current political crisis, Iranian experts largely agreed that the Islamic republic wanted to develop the capacity to build nuclear weapons, without actually producing them. Now, not everyone is so sure. The main reason for the shift in thinking is the rise of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as the most powerful decision-making bloc in the country. But the change is also a result of the political struggle among the elite, which has upended previous assessments about Iran’s decision-making process, silenced more pragmatic voices and made it nearly impossible for anyone to support nuclear cooperation without being accused of capitulating to the West. This move toward a harder line has stymied President Obama’s attempts to open a new channel of communication with the Iranian leadership. And now, having set a year-end deadline for Iran to cooperate, the United States and its Western allies seem likely to seek to impose tougher sanctions on Iran, a step that some analysts fear could enable the more radical forces to monopolize power, at least in the short term. “A Revolutionary Guards-dominated state that we have witnessed since the presidential election has proven to be a lot less prudent, and a whole lot more violent, than what was the ordinary behavior of the Islamic Republic of Iran before,” said Rasool Nafisi, an Iran researcher in Virginia who co-wrote a report on the Revolutionary Guards for the RAND Corporation.

“One should calculate the impact of such a state on nuclear development with more caution.” That is not to say that Iran is necessarily preparing to drop out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or to make a bomb and declare itself a nuclear weapons state, the way North Korea did. But Iranians who support full-on confrontation with the West have the upper hand in the country’s public debate and decision making at the moment, Iran experts and European diplomats said. Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of Kayhan, the newspaper that serves as a bulletin board for Iran’s supreme leader and the most radical forces in the Revolutionary Guards, wrote last month that “under the circumstances, is it possible to still argue that Iran’s membership” in the treaty is prudent? “Isn’t it wise, honorable and expedient to withdraw from the treaty instead?” he continued. “Why not?!” It is not clear what the West can do about the problem. While the type of new sanctions under consideration and the willingness of China and Russia to impose them are still uncertain, some Iran experts and diplomats are skeptical that they can reverse the country’s evolution toward a more militarized and radical leadership. Some fear that a sharper confrontation with the West could even accelerate that process. “The idea, of course, is to see whether sanctions can contribute to setting in motion an internal political shift,” said a European diplomat with many years of service in Iran who insisted on anonymity in keeping with diplomatic protocol. “But that is doubtful.” The diplomat said the government had shifted from cynical authoritarianism to radical repression. (Read more...)