Leaks test Tehran's nuclear nerve
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
"WikiLeaks proves the world shares concerns over a nuclear Iran."
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants to have it both ways;
lament the unauthorized release of thousands of US government documents and
promise to do whatever is necessary to stop it, and, simultaneously, to harvest
the Iran-bashing windfall those leaks provide.
The 219 diplomatic cables sent by US officials publicly released to date - of a
reported 251,000 obtained by WikiLeaks - have been adopted at face value by
much of the Western media, although one cannot rule out misinformation and
fabricated cables to further
the US and Israeli war preparations against Iran over its purported nuclear
Some of the revelations represent manna from heaven for hawkish voices in the
US, Europe and Israel pushing for military aggression against Iran. These
include cables saying that Saudi King Abdullah has been pressing Washington for
a military attack on Iran, a sentiment shared by other leaders of the Gulf
Cooperation Council; Moscow betraying its contractual obligations with Iran
over the delivery of the S-300 air defense system to further its interests with
the US; news that Iran's ally in the nuclear talks, Turkey, has been aiding
al-Qaeda terrorists fighting the pro-Iran Shi'ite government in Iraq; news that
Iran may have received some 19 intermediate range missiles from North Korea.
This coincides with the ominous news from Tehran that a nuclear physicist,
Majid Shahriari, has been assassinated in the streets of Tehran as he was on
his way to work, with another, Fereydoon Abasi, wounded by a similar bomb,
attached to his vehicle by assassins on motorbikes. This reflects poorly on
Iranian security since after an attack on another scientist, Masoud Ali
Mohammadi, in January, Iran had vowed to protect the lives of its nuclear
Together with Tehran's admission that its uranium-enrichment program has been
harmed by a cyber-attack, the leaks surely undermine Iran's confidence as it is
about to embark on a new round of nuclear talks with the "Iran Six" nations
(the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany) in early
December in Geneva.
Through a combination of cyber-terrorism, attacks against Iranian scientists,
WikiLeaks-based psychological warfare that denotes a united regional diplomatic
front against Iran by its Arab neighbors, not to mention biting sanctions that
have affected foreign investment in Iran including in its energy sector, Iran's
opponents have seized an opportunity to corner the country in an attempt to
bring it to its knees.
The chances are that these efforts will backfire and have the opposite effect
of forcing Iran to follow the model of North Korea - that is, build a nuclear
bomb, something Tehran has denied doing. That would mean less instead of more
cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), even
entertaining the idea of exiting the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, ending
IAEA inspections, and adopting a more bellicose military posture, instead of a
purely defensive one, in the Persian Gulf and beyond.
A number of Tehran analysts have communicated to this author that there are
important lessons for Iran to draw from North Korea, which like Iran is under
the gun of international sanctions. One lesson is that hard power has a utility
in extracting leverage and another is that it may be necessary at times to play
brinksmanship and avoid giving the other side the comfort of a perpetually
defensive (ie benign) posture.
According to a Tehran University political science professor who spoke with the
author on the condition of anonymity, Iran should not be "a passive recipient
of the blows of economic warfare that is the sanctions imposed unjustly on
Iran, otherwise we may become another Iraq", referring to the pre-war sanctions
on Iraq that weakened and "ripened for invasion" the Ba'athist regime in 2003.
The trouble with a more belligerent Iranian posture is that it may sound the
death-knell for the nuclear fuel swap for a Tehran reactor that provides
radioisotopes for tens of thousands of cancer patients. This issue will be
discussed in Geneva and the chances are that a mini-breakthrough will be
achieved, whereby Iran agrees to certain demands on nuclear transparency and
nuclear confidence-building steps in exchange for the fuel swap.
However, should the talks fail to result in tangible gains for Iran, then the
nuclear standoff will likely worsen as both sides revert to more
confrontational approaches, imperiling regional peace and the health of global
economy, in light of various projections of skyrocketing oil prices in the
event of a war on Iran. Even short of a full-scale attack on Iran, military
skirmishes and flare-ups in the Persian Gulf would prove deadly for oil prices
and the world's economic recovery.
Nevertheless, not everyone in Tehran is convinced that playing a "North Korea
card" with the US, presently overstretched in two wars and a brand new crisis
in the Korean Peninsula, should be automatically ruled out. This in light of
the incessant attacks on Iran, irrespective of the fact that unlike Pyongyang's
ability to count on Beijing's protection, Iran has no such special relationship
with any major power.
In turn, this has led some Tehran analysts to ponder the merits of forging
closer ties with China, a major trading partner that receives some 13% of its
oil imports from Iran and has serious "energy insecurity" worries - we may
witness closer bilateral relations between Iran and China in the near future.
This is given China's serious misgivings about the US's strategic intentions
toward it, reflected in the US-India strategic cozying, and closer North
Atlantic Treaty Organization-Russia cooperation to the detriment of the ties of
solidarity within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
Arguably, Beijing is now primed for a new round of serious geostrategic talks
with Tehran that must eschew some of its antiquated antipathy toward strategic
cooperation with outside powers (See
A China base in Iran? Asia Times Online, January 29, 2008).
Indeed, in light of China's anger at the US for its provocative war games with
South Korea so close to its exclusive economic zone, Iran's cautious optimism
that China - one of the participants at the forthcoming nuclear talks - will
balk at agreeing to pressure Iran may be well-founded.
The WikiLeaks-based psychological warfare revealed no taints on China's
behavior. Russian leaders, on the other hand, have traded long-term interests
with a reliable neighbor for the sake of their Western interests.