Nuclear Strategy: Why President Ahmadinejad Chooses to Clash with the U.S.

On May 3rd, at the United Nation’s eighth review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in New York, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a statement criticizing the U.S. and its Western allies of holding a double standard for their nuclear policies, thereby breaking with the international system for preventing proliferation. –Xinhua News/Reuters

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lead the Iranian delegation in attendance for the two-day review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in New York. As the leader of a sovereign nation, Ahmadinejad’s attendance of a United Nations conference as a representative of his country is not news. However, due to the decades-long antagonistic relationship that has existed between the U.S. and Iran, as well as the sensitive nature of the present Iran nuclear crisis, Ahmadinejad’s attendance in New York has made international news headlines.

Just as when Ahmadinejad has attended other United Nations conferences in New York over the past few years, he has been uncompromising toward the U.S. When he arrived in New York, President Ahmadinejad emphasized that Iran does not need the confidence of the U.S., since the major Western countries have not attempted to build a “relationship of mutual understanding.”* From this, Ahmadinejad’s uncompromising nature and eloquence becomes apparent. Not only is he unafraid to argue with the U.S. as the leader of the Western countries, but he also places responsibility for the Iran nuclear crisis on the U.S., which he accuses of stockpiling, using and monopolizing nuclear weapons.

It is undeniable that President Ahmadinejad has the same purpose in going to New York as the leaders of other nations; that is, to hold a discussion on nuclear proliferation. However, the ways in which the United States and Iran perceive this subject are quite different. Iran wants to be in control of the purposes of its nuclear program, a position that has already obtained the sympathy of the international community and has eroded the alliance behind U.S. sanctions against Iran. According to Ahmadinejad, he merely wishes to provide the NPT conference with “pragmatic, fair, and clear suggestions.”

The U.S., however, wants Iran to honor its promises and obligations; the U.S. is taking advantage of the NPT conference to form a consensus in order to pressure Iran to do so. According to U.S. media, the purpose of the conference is to gather the consensus of the international community and to use the 25 days of the conference to improve and amend the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, with the aim of increasing the difficulty Iran, North Korea and other countries have developing nuclear weapons. Even more importantly, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley tried to lessen some of the contention prior to the conference by telling Ahmadinejad that he hoped Iran would play a “constructive role” in the conference. In addition, the U.S. emphasized that it would not be holding talks between itself and Iran. This demonstrates the fact that, while Ahmadinejad has the freedom to perform at the conference as he wishes, the U.S. is not willing to interact with him.

Because the U.S. and Iran are diametrically opposed to each other on the issue of nuclear proliferation, international observers universally agree that the international community is not counting on President Ahmadinejad to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis while in New York, and certainly does not hope for any warming of the frigid relationship between the U.S. and Iran. The most probable outcome will be the same as in the past: President Ahmadinejad will give a brilliant oration in front of the United Nations, but nothing more.

Though the U.S. seems to have an advantage, Iran’s ability to counter U.S. strategy within U.S.-Iranian nuclear diplomacy cannot be ignored.

Because it has already obtained the support of virtually all of the other six nations in the alliance (including Russia), the U.S. has the upper hand. Thus, if it made up its mind, it would be possible for the U.S. to intensify economic sanctions and even move toward war with Iran. However, the power held by the U.S. is a double-edged sword — practical experience shows that economic sanctions are not the best choice for resolving the Iranian nuclear problem. As for launching a war with Iran, the U.S. is not willing to act rashly. This cautiousness arises from the remnants of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, from which Obama has been able to learn from some of Bush’s failings. If the U.S. truly wanted to start a war with Iran, another paradox arises: The standpoints of Russia and Europe would reverse. This is especially true for Russia, who absolutely does not want a U.S. war with Iran to destroy the economic benefits of having carried on business inside Iran for the past few decades. Even more so, Obama, who has been riddled by the economic crisis, clearly understands that only by saving the American economy through a “New Deal” can he gain some historical footing.

But in the case of Iran, not only would using brute force to solve issues with Iran not improve his legacy, but he could become another George W. Bush if he is not careful.

Iran also has some points that it can use to counter the U.S.’s sharp sword: First, through international public relations, it can garner support in order to deter the U.S. Iran has already gained some positive results from this measure. Turkey, a predominant force in the Middle East, and Brazil have expressed their disagreement with sanctions on Iran. Both are willing to serve in the role of peacemaker between the U.S. and Iran. Turkey, a Middle Eastern ally of the U.S., and Brazil, a newly established power, both certainly have an influence on the U.S.

In addition, Iran also plans to drum up support from the 14 member nations of the U.N. Security Council to gain additional power. Iran held its own nuclear disarmament conference (April 17-18) in response to the Washington Nuclear Security Summit (April 12-13) in order to vie with U.S. rhetoric. In contrast to the U.S., which threatens to attack Iran and North Korea with nuclear weapons, Ahmadinejad emphasized that an “independent international group which plans and oversees nuclear disarmament and prevents proliferation should be set up.”

In comparison, the position President Ahmadinejad has committed himself to is

seemingly more reasonable.

Third, Iran has already prepared for the worst. It first implemented the “Great Prophet 5” war games, which was implemented to prepare for a possible U.S. military attack. At the same time, it increased oil reserves to more than 1 billion liters and also has plans to increase its capabilities for oil production in the event of economic sanctioning. Fourth, it understands what can greatly harm the U.S., and it holds an ace in playing the game of containment. Iraq and Afghanistan are two areas of concentration for Obama’s foreign policy. Following its elections, Iraq has yet to truly realize peace, as it continually experiences attacks. Iran holds great influence over Iraq’s Shiite Party. If Iran causes trouble, the state of affairs in Iraq would take a turn for the worse.

Aside from this, Ahmadinejad also recently paid a visit to Afghanistan, attempting to contend for some influential power in this region. Even though the effects have

not been as he would have liked, Ahmadinejad’s visit still has caused Obama a good amount of concern. After all, Afghanistan is Obama’s primary strategic location for combating terrorism.

Ahmadinejad’s trip to New York is yet another display of his consistently tough style of foreign policy. As such, the Iran nuclear crisis has yet to show any signs of improvement, and any harmonizing at the NPT conference is not possible. However, regardless of the relationship between the U.S. and Iran, no one wishes to see the Iran nuclear crisis resolve itself in an extreme manner. The clashing between both nations and the sharp tone of their rhetoric is merely a strategy for engaging in politics. More importantly, in addition to the U.S.-Iran relationship being one of pure hostility, it also serves the beneficial purpose of containment in the the Middle East and Afghanistan. Thus, in very vague terms, President Ahmadinejad’s trip to New York provides the international community with a thread of hope. Nevertheless, as for which direction U.S.-Iran relations will head and how the Iran nuclear crisis will unfold, we will have to see how wisdom guides the politics of both nations.

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