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Eine britische Studie plädiert für diplomatische Lösungen im Atomstreit mit dem Iran

Eine am 5. Februar 2007 in Großbritannien veröffentlichte Studie warnt vor katastrophalen Folgen eines Krieges gegen Iran. Er könnte den benachbarten Irak weiter destabilisieren und alle Nahost- Friedenshoffnungen untergraben. Zugleich würde man Irans nukleare Bestrebungen stärken und eine Aufkündigung der Mitgliedschaft im Atomwaffensperrvertrag provozieren. Es besteht Furcht, das globale Wirtschaftsgefüge durch höhere Ölpreise zu schocken.

Der Bericht ist von britischen Menschenrechtsgruppen, den drei großen Gewerkschaften, sogenannten Think-Tanks wie dem Foreign Policy Centre sowie von Nichtregierungsorganisationen wie Oxfam und Pax Christi veröffentlicht worden. Der frühere Botschafter Londons in Iran, Richard Dalton, meint, die westlichen Regierungen seien verpflichtet, im Atomkonflikt mit dem Iran alle diplomatischen Optionen auszuschöpfen. "Die Konsequenzen einer Militäraktion gegen den Iran wären nicht nur widerwärtig, sie sind undenkbar", sagte der Chef des Foreign Policy Centre, Stephen Twigg. Insbesondere London wird aufgefordert, Druck auf die USA auszuüben, um diplomatisch zu Lösungen zu kommen.

Im Folgenden dokumentieren wir die Zusammenfassung der Studie sowie deren dritten Teil, der die Empfehlungen (Recommendations) der Autoren an die Politik enthält. Der Bericht ist in Englisch verfasst.


(p. 2-4)

The prospect of a nuclear Iran causes acute concern not only in the United States and Israel, but also in Europe, the Middle East and most of the rest of the world. This report does not seek to quantify the likelihood of military action against Iran. It argues that the consequences of any possible future military action could be wh o l ly counterproductive as well as highly dangerous. Diplomatic solutions to the Iranian nuclear issue must be pursued resolutely.

Iran’s nuclear programme – a cause for international concern?

The Iranian administration insists that its nuclear activities are directed solely towards a civil nuclear power programme. However, many states share the conviction that Iran is dedicated to becoming a nuclear weapons power and that it must not be allowed to develop the capability of producing nuclear weapon materials. The problem is that a fully indigenous civil nuclear power programme involves all the dual-use technology necessary to produce military fissile material. Iran has enjoyed considerable domestic and some international support for its refusal to relinquish its legal entitlements, including from the Arab League and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), but its record of misleading International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors has eroded international confidence in Iran’s intentions and its willingness to agree to watertight controls on its nuclear programme.

Since the international community was alerted to Iran’s secret nuclear activities in 2002, various diplomatic strategies have been pursued. Despite many setbacks some important progress has been achieved, such as the involvement of the major players (China, France, Russia, the US, the UK and Germany), albeit indirectly in the case of the US, and the formulation of serious incentives to induce Iranian cooperation. Still, many within the US and Israeli administrations remain sceptical that diplomacy can deliver. Accordingly, the military option not only remains on the table but is also a real possibility in 2007.

Though debate has largely centred on Iran’s uranium enrichment activities, Iran could also build a nuclear weapon by reprocessing plutonium. To ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon capability, both of these routes would have to be blocked. The civil nuclear power reactor in Bushehr is due to be started in September 2007 (nuclear fuel supplied by Russia will be on site from March 2007).1 Beyond this date, military strikes on Bushehr could unleash nuclear contamination so severe that it is unlikely that such strikes would be undertaken from that point forth. If Bushehr is on the list of targets, these considerations could hasten any plans for military action.

Consequences of possible military action A US or Israeli led attack on Iran would likely unleash a series of negative consequences. These might include:
  • Strengthened Iranian nuclear ambitions;
  • Even greater instability in the Middle East and broader region, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan;
  • Inflammation of the ‘war on terror’;
  • Exacerbated energy insecurity and global economic hardship;
  • Damage to developed and developing economies;
  • Environmental degradation; and
  • Civilian casualties.
IRAN’S NUCLEAR AMBITIONS STRENGTHENED: It is expected that if military action were undertaken it could deepen the resolve of the Iranian regime to become a nuclear weapons power and would likely lead to Iran’s withdrawal from the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The threat of Iran building a nuclear weapon could intensify, possibly prompting further proliferation in the region.

GREATER INSTABILITY: Iran’s links with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza as well as Shia constituencies in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Gulf States make regional retaliation against any military attack on Iran likely. UK forces in Iraq and Afghanistan could be particularly vulnerable, with significant losses possible. The notion of a limited engagement in Iran is likely to prove as illusory there as it has in Afghanistan and Iraq.

WAR ON TERROR INFLAMED: An attack on Iran would be perceived by some as an aggression towards the Muslim world, fuelling anti-Western sentiment and giving renewed impetus to extremists at home and abroad. ENERGY CHAOS: Iran has the world’s second largest hydrocarbon reserves and is currently the fourth largest oil producer. A disruption to the Iranian oil supply could cause havoc in the global oil market. Iranian attempts, or even threats, to attack oil transit through the Straits of Hormuz could send oil prices over $100 per barrel.

ECONOMIC DAMAGE: The EU, which is partially dependent on Iranian oil supplies, could feel the squeeze and possibly even experience recession. Inflationary pressure would damage consumer confidence in the EU and the US. In developing countries, a rise in oil prices could cause GDPs to fall, exacerbating poverty and effectively undermining debt relief.

ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION: Military action against nuclear establishments could unleash severe radioactive contamination. Aerial bombardments or sabotage could lead to contamination through oil slicks and oil well fires.

IMPACT ON IRANIAN CIVILIANS: In Iran, the impact of any military action on the civilian population could be acute. The notion that military strikes would be targeted and surgical is ill founded. Iran’s nuclear facilities are located near densely populated towns, and those living or working nearby would be at serious risk. It is likely that US war planners would also target military assets beyond the nuclear facilities in anticipation of counterattacks, increasing the risk to civilians. Military action is not likely to be a short, sharp engagement but could have a profound effect on the region, with shock waves felt far beyond.

Diplomacy is the only viable option

Iran has proved to be a difficult negotiating partner. But it cannot be said that the potential for diplomacy has been explored fully when direct talks between Iran and the US have not taken place. The major obstacle to full negotiations - namely, the requirement that Iran stop enriching uranium before direct talks with the US can begin - remains in place. If concessions are to be won, not only on the nuclear file but also on broader regional issues, there is more work to be done on elaborating the June 2006 package of incentives to address some of Iran's fundamental concerns, particularly in relation to security guarantees. The idea of a 'Grand Bargain' should not be dismissed outright. Real diplomatic options still exist, if a face-saving solution can be found to convince the protagonists to approach the table. The possible consequences of military action could be so serious that governments have a responsibility to ensure that all diplomatic options have been exhausted. At present, this is not the case.

The UK government is well positioned to articulate objections to military action. Military action against Iran would work against the interests of the UK. The UK should not lose this opportunity to advocate for direct US engagement; strengthening the hand of reformists inside Iran by being seen to treat it fairly and thereby laying foundations for a more functional relationship with Iran in the future.


(p. 19-21; without endnotes) 3.1 Development of negotiations

Following the Paris Agreement of November 2004, proposals and counterproposals have travelled back and forth between European and Iranian negotiators. Washington has avoided becoming directly involved in negotiations but did agree to endorse the most recent P5+1 proposals, which centre on the cessation of uranium enrichment as a precondition for negotiations.

For their part, it is clear that Iranian proposals made in 2005 emphasized a broad regional security approach, including action against terrorism (indicated by a stated willingness to rein in the violent actions of Hamas and Hezbollah and to see to their disarmament and integration into the political structures of Palestine and Lebanon), further agreement to reinforce respect for sovereignty and national security, and technical and economic cooperation. Throughout, Iranian negotiators have claimed the right to develop nuclear fuelcycle technologies and have made clear their intention to resist demands that they abandon ambitions in this area.

3.2 The June 2006 proposal

The key elements of the P5+1 proposal include:
  • The willingness of the United States to sit down directly with Iran;
  • Recognition of the Isfahan uranium conversion plant;
  • An international fuel-cycle centre in Russia involving the Iranians;
  • Establishment of a five-year fuel-bank/buffer stock exclusively for use by Iran;
  • Affirmation of Iran’s inalienable right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes;
  • An energy partnership between Iran, the EU and other willing partners;
  • A new political forum to discuss security issues, involving Iran and other regional states, the US, Russia and China; and
  • Trade and investment incentives.
The June package represented a genuine attempt to address some of Iran’s interests, though it only hinted at some of Iran’s more fundamental concerns. For example, regarding security guarantees, the package talks only of ‘dialogue and cooperation on regional security issues.’

As expected, Iran's counterproposal of 22 August rejected preconditional suspension of enrichment activities. The IAEA's deadline for Iran to suspend enrichment by 31 August 2006 passed, and Iran remained defiant. Fo l l owing the ex p i ry of this deadline two tra cks emerged, with the US sustaining pre s s u re at the UN for sanctions whilst key EU member states pursued continued negotiations. In early October, a standstill in talks led to an increase in pressure to ap p ly sanctions under A rt i cle 41 of the UN Chart e r. On 23 December 2006, fo l l owing painful negotiations, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to impose sanctions on Iran.

3.3 National perspectives

The outcome of policy choices in Washington will be a key determinant of the future of this dispute. Polls indicate that only 14% of Americans believe diplomatic measures can now stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons but that 59% of Americans support negotiations even if Iran refuses to suspend enrichment.

How long the Bush administration will pursue the path of diplomacy remains unclear. The Democrats' victory in the mid-term elections of December 2006, coupled with the immediate replacement of Donald Rumsfeld with Bob Gates as Secretary of Defense, has reduced the likelihood of USled military action in the short-term. However, with increasing Israeli pressure and mounting speculation that an Israeli-led strike is viable, those within the US administration who are petitioning for continued diplomacy may find themselves on increasingly weaker footing.

If no additional efforts are made to engage, there is a danger that uncompromising demands for the unilateral suspension of uranium enrichment will back the US and the EU into a corner. Diplomacy will fail because it has not been given a real chance to succeed. If public opinion crystallises around the belief that Iran has rejected a generous and acceptable proposal, commitment to further diplomacy will be even less likely. But any genuine attempt to find non-military solutions to this conflict must include an assessment of the situation from the Iranian perspective. A suspension of enrichment without concrete and well-defined incentives leaves the Iranians with nothing.

Several high-profile figures within the US political establishment have called for direct US-Iranian unconditional negotiations. These include former national Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, former US Defense Secretary William Perry, and former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Madeline Albright.

Iran set out its objectives in opening negotiations with the United States clearly in its Spring 2003 proposal, made soon after President Bush declared victory against Iraq.
It requested:
  • An end to the US’s hostile rhetoric towards and interference within Iran;
  • An end to all US sanctions against Iran;
  • The ach i evement of a fully democratic gove rnment in Iraq, support for war rep a rations and respect for legitimate Iranian interests within Iraq;
  • Access to nuclear and chemical technology and biotechnology for peaceful purposes;
  • Recognition of Iran’s legitimate security interests within the region; and
  • A clampdown on anti-Iranian terrorist organizations, especially the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MKO).
Iran believes it has a strong negotiating position that has not been recognised by the US administration or European governments. The current situation represents an enormous opportunity for Iran to normalise its relations with the West and gain some significant economic and security guarantees. These are tangible benefits that Iranian moderates recognise only too well.

On the other hand, the pursuit of nu clear tech n o l ogy and perhaps a nu clear weapon cap ability has an enormous appeal for the more uncompromising factions rep resented by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei. Some within these groups see the possession of nuclear weapons as a clear deterrent to US and Israeli aggression as well as the defining capability for Iran to be the leading regional power.

Many Iranians, conservatives and reformists alike, are also upset by what they see as a lack of international recognition of their country’s contribution to the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. Despite clear cooperation within Afghanistan itself, the US rebuffed offers of negotiation with Iran, and instead President Bush surprised the Iranian leadership by labelling Iran as a member of the ‘axis of evil’ in his 2002 State of the Union address. From the perspective of many Iranians, the US’s tacit support of Israeli and Pakistani nuclear weapons programmes and its recent agreement to supply nuclear-armed India with nuclear technology is blatant hypocrisy and is illegal under the NPT.

After the splits caused by the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the war in Lebanon in 2006, EU/E3-Iranian negotiations are widely seen as a test case for a unified and effective European foreign policy. The EU initially viewed Iran’s temporary suspension of enrichment in November 2004 as a success, but Iran stresses that it was a voluntary Iranian initiative on which the EU failed to capitalise. The EU/E3 saw the resumption of Iranian enrichment operations in August 2005 as an affront to their position and hardened their stance. Opposition to military action is currently widespread, though key leaders (notably Tony Blair and Angela Merkel) have refused to rule it out, believing the threat to be an important negotiating tool.

The UK government shares many of the US’s concerns about Iran and agrees that preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon is a strategic priority. In 2006, then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that an attack on Iran would be ‘inconceivable.’ Shortly afterwards, in a cabinet reshuffle, Margaret Beckett replaced Straw as Foreign Secretary. Since taking up office, Beckett has reiterated that the goal of the UK and the EU is to solve the Iranian nu clear issue through diplomatic means, but she has questioned whether Iran is serious about negotiations and has stopped short of rep e ating Straw’s comments that military action was inconceivable.

Russia and China are anxious to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Russia, in particular, is fearful of the expansion of Islamic extremism. They both have strong interests in spoiling any durable rapprochement between Iran and the West that would undermine their current and future interests in Iran.

Russia is committed to finishing the Bushehr reactor and supplying it with fuel rods for start-up in 2007. It has also invested heavily in the Iranian oil industry’s infrastructure. With an increasingly adversarial relationship with the US and Europe, inflamed by the imposition of US sanctions in 2006 on two state-owned Russian companies for violation of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA), the chances of Russian support for increasingly tougher measures appear remote. Inevitably, China’s growing hunger for energy largely determines its foreign policy towards Iran and the Central Asian states to the north, and Chinese government officials have consistently called for a negotiated resolution of the dispute. Chinese diplomacy has focused on avoiding its own isolation, shying away from confrontation with the US in a manner that could harm relations but remaining open to joint opposition with Russia.

3.4 Alternative solutions

The route to a solution starts with identifying what each party ultimately hopes to achieve. Despite the US administration’s rejection of the term, a resolution to the current standoff could well take the form of a ‘Grand Bargain,’ with elements of the June 2006 proposal further developed through unconditional talks. This would involve addressing a range of security, economic and energy-related questions, as part of a process of normalisation in USIranian relations. Given the clear indication that military strikes would be counterproductive and highly damaging to US interests, the US may conclude that its objective of regime reform in Iran could be better achieved by puncturing Ahmadinejad’s demonisation of the US through engagement.

The P5+1 would be wise to give proper consideration to Iran’s August 2006 counterproposal. Though apparent breakthroughs in the Iranian nuclear programme (for example, Ahmadinejad’s inauguration of the heavy water production plant at Arak on 26 August 2006) give the impression of urgency, there is time to talk. Most experts, including those within the US Defense Intelligence Agency and the IAEA, do not believe Iran can create a nuclear weapon before 2009 or 2010 at the earliest.

The UK should operate on two tracks: supporting EU initiatives and working with the US administration to broker direct engagement with Iran. Flexibility, aimed at closing off the easier routes to developing nuclear weapons while ensuring remaining sensitive activities (such as limited enrichment) are closely scrutinized through rigorous inspections, could open up more palatable options for engagement in the future. Efforts to achieve these goals could be assisted by the explicit identification of those technologies that present the greatest threats of proliferation and an agreement on this analysis.

Iran's negotiators will most likely seek more detailed and specific security guarantees. As recommended in the Baker report, engaging with Iran on broader regional security issues could potentially be favourable. More than economic incentives, security cooperation has the potential not only to undermine Iranian ambitions for a nuclear weapon programme, but also to provide an opportunity to discuss Iranian support for radical groups in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine and perhaps to achieve concessions there as well. Recent events in Lebanon and its growing influence in Iraq and Afghanistan have raised Iran's status, and the Iranian leadership is looking for some acknowledgement of this. The idea of a 'Grand Bargain' cannot be rejected outright.


Even according to the worst-case scenario, there is time for further diplomacy. This time should be used to build confidence between the negotiating part n e rs, helping to break cycles of mutual hostility, and to develop Iranian interests in established and potential political and economic relationships with the international community. The possible consequences of military action could be so serious that gove rnments have a responsibility to ensure that a l l diplomatic options have been exhausted. At present, this is not the case.

The UK has a role to play in catalysing this process, mediating between EU member states and the US. Through genuine commitment to the diplomatic process, the UK can indicate that it is willing to treat Iran fairly in negotiations, which would strengthen the hand of moderates within Iran and send an important signal to the Iranian people.

The diplomatic track is clearly fraught with difficulties. But as long as fundamental obstacles remain in place – such as preconditions concerning the suspension of Iran’s enrichment activities – the potential of diplomacy cannot fully be tapped. Diplomatic strategies are most likely to progress if the UK government and other key parties agree:
  • To either remove preconditions for negotiations or find a compromise that allows both the US and Iran to move forward without having to concede on their respective red lines;
  • To seek direct negotiations between Iran and the US;
  • To prioritise proposals and demands by assessing the security risks associated with the different technologies being developed by Iran (i.e. enrichment and reprocessing) and to agree to this assessment within the UN Security Council – Iran’s plans to use reprocessing technology should be addressed promptly;
  • To develop the proposals offered by the P5+1 on 6 June 2006 in return for tighter inspections and a commitment from Iran to abandon all ambitions towards reprocessing (as offered by the Iranians in 2005);
  • To explicitly address mutual security guarantees for the US, Israel and Iran.
The UK has an important role to play in fostering a climate of pragmatism. It is recommended that the UK government continue to give full backing to the diplomatic process whilst directly addressing the need for full and direct negotiations between Iran and the US administration. The time available should be used to build confidence on both sides, and the UK has a crucial role to play in supporting that process. Only through direct US-Iranian engagement can an agreement be found and the potentially devastating consequences of military action be avoided.


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