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IA Forum Interview: Hossein Aryan
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International Affairs Forum discusses nuclear proliferation in Iran with Hossein Aryan. Mr. Aryan is a former naval officer, and is currently a defence analyst specialising in security issues in the Persian Gulf and part time lecturer at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. By Vanessa Kortekaas. (IA-Forum, 3/13/2007) International Affairs Forum: Last week the UN Security Council deadline for Iran to cease its uranium enrichment programme passed, unanswered, fueling tensions between Iran and the West. Evidently current economic sanctions have not deterred Iran. Considering sanctions require agreement among the SC permanent members, which can be a lengthy process, do you think further sanctions will be effective? What other possible international measures might encourage Iran to do so? Mr. Hossein Aryan: Sanctions from the Security Council depend on the level and on whether they are directed at the regime or on the people of Iran. In the past Iran lived under all kinds of economic sanctions which continue to some extent to this day. This shows that Iran can cope with economic sanctions and their effects cannot change government decisions when national interests and the regime’s security are concerned. Iran might change its direction depending on what is on offer by the West. If the West’s offer is no more than zero enrichment, then it is unlikely that Iran will accept such an offer. If the West opts for a limited enrichment option, then it has a chance of ending the crisis if the Islamic Republic can enrich uranium in Iran in cooperation with some Western countries and obviously under the supervision of the IAEA. IA-Forum: Though Washington continues to deny it, a former high-ranking CIA official has confirmed that the U.S. has been secretly funding militant ethnic separatist groups in Iran to destabilize President Ahmadinezhad’s regime. Do you think the Iranian regime is strong enough to withstand recent internal upheaval? What role does Ayatollah Al Khamene’i play in maintaining internal stability, if any? Mr. Aryan: Iranian officials are of the opinion that America and Britain are assisting militant ethnic separatist groups. As far as the Islamic regime is concerned these two countries are using the ethnic issue as a lever to exert more pressure on Iran. Let me emphasise that a Yugoslavia – like break up scenario has no chance of succeeding in Iran. Iran was and is a state- nation and all ethnic groups, especially Azerbaijanis have played a dominant role in political, economic and cultural life of Iran. All ethnic groups in Iran have been living side by side for centuries, shaping Iran and its history. Ethnic issues in Iran are, in the main due to the socio-economic gap between the centre and the peripheries. They are due to uneven economic development, unemployment and poverty. I believe the regime is able to cope with recent internal upheavals though it must address inequalities between provinces with firm policies. Khamene’i, as the spiritual leader, has been advocating closer Shi'i-Sunni ties, particularly after the recent incidents in the poverty-stricken Sistan va Baluchestan province. IA-Forum: The Islamic Revolutionary Mujahadin Organization has claimed that Iran’s drive for nuclear energy has endangered national security, and the Iranian people. Is there any validity to this claim? Mr. Aryan: Several organizations and factions have criticized the regime’s drive for nuclear energy as well as Present Ahmadinezhad ‘s approach to the nuclear issue. However, most organizations and the majority of the people of Iran seem to be behind Iran’s access to nuclear technology. This issue has become similar to that of the nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company by Mossadeq. IA-Forum: Does Iran risk alienating other countries in the Middle East by pursuing its nuclear programme, or do you think other countries will rally behind Iran, driven by anti-West sentiment? Mr. Aryan: In pursuing its nuclear programme and stressing its inalienable right of access to peaceful nuclear energy, Iran, however, has caused concerns in some neighbouring countries. Some Arab states are questioning Iran’s motives similar to that of Western countries. I do not see regional countries rallying behind Iran though Iran, with its active diplomatic activities has been doing its best to allay concerns of these countries and assuring them its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes. IA-Forum: If the U.S. resorts to the use of military action, do you think it will create an opportunity for ethnic opposition groups to rise to power, or serve to unify the Iranian people against the West? Mr. Aryan: Any military action by the United States would have grave consequences for Iran and the region. It would adversely affect political development in Iran. I believe all Iranians, irrespective of their political or ethnic affiliation will rally to the flag and anti-Americanism will be heightened in Iran and in the Muslim world. It will make Iran more determined to pursue its nuclear programme and even acquire weapons of mass destruction. Needless to say, attacks on Iran will have adverse effects on the current crisis in Iraq and would worsen the situation in Lebanon, Afghanistan. It would also have an adverse effect on the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. IA-Forum: Has Ahmadinezhad’s regime been overtly repressive against ethnic minorities in Iran? Given that non-Persians constitute 40% of Iran’s 69 million-strong population, do you think groups like the Azeris in the north-west (16 million), or the Kurds in the west (7 million) constitute a large enough population to pose a threat? Mr. Aryan: Ahmadinezhad’s regime has not been overtly repressive. In fact it does not have any ethnic policies. The demands of Azeris and Kurds in particular, range from cultural autonomy to separation. Azeris, as I indicated earlier play a major role in the life of Iran. There are more Azeris in Tehran than there are in Baku, but they have always been the guardians of Iranian identity even during the May 2006 demonstrations in Azerbaijani provinces arising from an insulting cartoon in a government run newspaper, there were not many voices asking for separation from Iran. Their demands in the main are focused on a degree of cultural autonomy and the government’s attention on the economic development of the region. Iranian Azeris are in fact, quite patriotic. Regarding Kurds, they have obviously been encouraged by events and developments in Iraqi Kurdistan and some armed opposition groups like, PEJAK, are active in Iranian Kurdistan and in Kurdish populated towns of West Azerbaijan Province. Overall, they do not pose s serious threat to Iran’s security. However I must emphasise that uneven economic development, unemployment and poverty play a major role in ethnic tensions. IA-Forum: Russia and China are Iran’s allied in the UN SC. Do you think this could inhibit a diplomatic solution to the crisis? Mr. Aryan: Because of their economic interests in Iran, Russia and China have been sympathetic towards Iran’s nuclear issue. However, past experience has shown that in the final analysis they side with the rest of the Security Council members. IA-Forum: If/when Iran successfully develops nuclear weapons, what effects might this have on Iran’s relationship with Iraq? Mr. Aryan: On many occasions, Iranian officials have said that they do not intend to develop nuclear weapons that their programme is for peaceful purposes and even Ayatollah Khamene'i issued a fatwa declaring nuclear weapons haram (religiously forbidden). However, Iran must take further measures in terms of confidence building to allay fears that its programme is peaceful. Needless to say, if Iran does gain access to nuclear weapons, it would have consequences in the region and beyond.

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