HOW TO TAME TEHRAN
By Ilan Berman
There is a vision and a method to Iran's policies. In the words of Mohsen Reza'i, Secretary of Iran's Expediency Council, Iran believes it is destined to become the "center of international power politics" in the post-Saddam Hussein Middle East.  Iran's new, more confrontational strategic doctrine even has a name: "deterrent defense." According to Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, this national security concept is designed to confront "a broad spectrum of threats to Iran's national security, among them foreign aggression, war, border incidents, espionage, sabotage, regional crises derived from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), state terrorism, and discrimination in manufacturing and storing WMD." 
Under the rubric of "deterrent defense," Iran is exploiting United States preoccupation with Iraq to build capabilities that will establish its hegemony in its immediate neighborhood and enhance its role across the Middle East. Iran's moves, if unchecked, will create a grave and growing challenge to U.S. aims in the region. At stake are nothing less than the geopolitical balance in the Middle East and the long-term achievement of U.S. goals, from stability in Iraq to regional peace.
How has Iran's policy changed? And what can the United States of America do to thwart Iran's new drive?
Then, in the Summer of 2002, an Iranian opposition group disclosed the existence of an extensive uranium enrichment complex at Natanz in central Iran. This revelation and a series of subsequent discoveries by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ranging from advanced clandestine nuclear development to the presence of trace weapons-grade uranium revealed the true extent of Iran's nuclear endeavor.
This effort turns out to have been far broader and more mature than originally believed. Iran is now thought to have some fourteen other facilities, including heavy-water and light-water reactors in Isfahan and Arak, and suspect sites in Fasa, Karaj, and Nekka. Together, these constitute all the makings of an ambitious national effort to develop nuclear weapons.  Iranian officials, meanwhile, have hinted at the existence of still other, as yet undisclosed, facilities essential to the country's nuclear program. 
Iran appears to have agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment activities under an October, 2003, deal with France, Germany, and Great Britain. Similarly, international pressure succeeded in prompting Iran to sign the Additional Protocol to the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), permitting snap inspections and invasive monitoring of segments of Iran's nuclear sector by the International Atomic Energy Agency. However, two of Iran's main atomic suppliers, Russia and China, wield veto power on the United Nations Security Council, making it improbable that Iranian nuclear violations would result in meaningful censure. And, in fact, ongoing IAEA deliberations have so far failed to yield decisive international action, despite mounting evidence of Iran's atomic breaches.
There is also a lingering uncertainty over Tehran's nuclear timeline. While informed American observers contend that Iran is still some two years (and possibly longer) away from an offensive nuclear capability,  others believe that an Iranian bomb could materialize much sooner. In November, 2003, testimony before the Israeli parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Mossad chief Meir Dagan warned that Iran could reach a "point of no return" in its nuclear development by mid-2004, following which time an Iranian offensive capability would become a virtual certainty.  U.S. President George Bush has himself warned that the United States "will not tolerate" a nuclear-armed Iran.  But, if estimates are off, even by a few months, Iran could present the world with a nuclear fait accompli.
At the same time, major breakthroughs in Iran's strategic arsenal have made it an emerging missile power. In June, 2003, the Islamic Republic conducted what it termed the final test of its 1,300-kilometer range Shahab-3 ballistic missile. The launch was a success, confirming Iran's ability to target U.S. allies Israel and Turkey, as well as U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf. Since then, with great fanfare, the Islamic Republic has inducted the advanced rocket into its Revolutionary Guards (the Pasdaran). 
This potential for proliferation is hardly the only worry. If recent signals are any indication, the Shahab-3 has already evolved well beyond its officially declared capabilities. In September, 2003, at a military parade commemorating the anniversary of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, the Shahab-3 was officially described as possessing a range of 1,700 kilometers.  Additionally, opposition groups have charged that Tehran's overt missile development actually masks a much broader clandestine endeavor one that includes development of the 4,000-kilometer range Shahab-5 and even a follow-on Shahab-6 intercontinental ballistic missile. 
Such efforts have only been strengthened by Iranian perceptions of U.S. policy. The Bush administration's rapid dispatch of Saddam Hussein's regime, and its contrasting hesitancy in dealing with a newly nuclear North Korea, has had a profound impact on Iran's calculus. North Korea's nuclear maneuvers, and its ability to successfully stymie U.S. strategy, have led Iranian officials to express their admiration for Pyongyang's resistance to U.S. "pressure, hegemony and superiority."  There has indeed been some internal debate in Iran about the risks of stepping over the nuclear threshold. Yet even leading Iranian reformers appear to have gravitated to the notion that nuclear weapons are necessary to shift the regional "equilibrium." 
For Tehran, the overthrow of Hussein's regime has only fueled mounting fears of a dangerous strategic encirclement. The U.S. destruction of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan had already ensconced the pro-Western albeit fragile government of Hamid Karzai in Kabul. For Iran, the extremist Sunni Taliban posed an ideological threat, but a U.S. foothold on Iran's eastern border is regarded as even more threatening. Regime change in Baghdad, therefore, confronted officials in Tehran with the two-fold danger that Iran could be pinioned between two U.S. client-states, and that Iraq's fall might be a prelude to a similar U.S. drive to transform their country.
In response, Iran formulated its new strategic doctrine of "deterrent defense." In practice, this has entailed a major expansion of Iran's military capabilities. Heavy defense expenditures, and ongoing strategic partnerships with both Russia and China, have made possible a far-reaching national military rearmament. Defense acquisitions made over the past several years have steadily broadened Iran's strategic reach over vital Persian Gulf shipping lanes, to the point that Tehran now possesses the ability to virtually control oil supplies from the region.  Iran has also increased its diplomatic activism in the region, redoubling its long-running efforts to erect an independent security framework as a counterweight to the expanding U.S. military footprint. 
As part of this effort, in February, 2004, Iran codified an unprecedented military and defense accord with Syria one formally enshrining an Iranian commitment to Syria's defense in the event of a U.S. or Israeli offensive. Iranian officials have subsequently made clear that these mutual defense guarantees also extend to Lebanon and to the Islamic Republic's most potent regional proxy: Hizbullah. 
Iran has also raised its military and diplomatic profile in the Caucasus. In April, 2003, foreign minister Kharrazi embarked on a diplomatic tour of the region, a diplomatic tour intended to marshal support for a common regional security framework for Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Iran and Turkey, as an alternative to cooperation with "external forces."  But lukewarm regional responses have prompted the Islamic Republic to nudge these countries into alignment through less subtle means. In mid-October, 2003, Iran commenced large-scale military maneuvers in its northwest region, near Azerbaijan. The exercises, reportedly the largest conducted by Iran in recent memory, massed troops on the Iranian-Azeri border in a clear show of force aimed at dissuading the former Soviet republic from expanding cooperation with the United States.  A corresponding Iranian naval build-up is now visible in the Caspian Sea in response to Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan's growing military relationships with Washington.
U.S. advances in the region are regarded by Iran as potential threats, but paradoxically they have also presented Iran with opportunities that it has been quick to exploit.
The Coalition campaign against Saddam Hussein's regime succeeded in eliminating the threat posed by Tehran's most immediate adversary, thereby cementing Iran's dominant regional standing. Iran has exploited the postwar political vacuum in Iraq to foment instability through a variety of measures, ranging from political support of radical Shiite elements to an increase in drug trafficking.  This broad offensive has reportedly included the infiltration of hundreds of Pasdaran operatives into Iraq, where they have engaged in active recruitment, influence operations, and assassinations at a cost to Iran of some $70 million per month. 
Hussein's overthrow has also effectively defanged a lingering threat to Tehran: the Mujahideen-e Khalq Organization (MKO), a wing of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Since the Spring of 2003, Coalition forces, under a U.S.-imposed ceasefire, have curtailed the anti-regime group's operations in Iraq. And a subsequent December decision by Iraq's new Governing Council has labeled the MKO previously tolerated and even supported by the Baathists as a terrorist organization. 
To Iran's east, meanwhile, the fall of the Taliban has removed an ideological competitor for Muslim hearts and minds, while lingering factionalism and tribal rivalries have allowed Iran to perpetuate Afghanistan's instability.
Iran is clearly determined to remake its strategic environment in its favor. Iran has mobilized its technological resources to give it greater reach and has used political, economic, and military clout to encourage a tilt in its direction in its immediate neighborhood. Paradoxically, the United States, by breaking up the old order in states neighboring Iran, has given Tehran hitherto unimagined opportunities to influence the region.
The United States has also wavered in its application of diplomatic pressure. The May, 1997, election of soft-line cleric Mohammed Khatami to the Iranian Presidency and his subsequent, much-publicized "dialogue of civilizations" interview on CNN convinced many in Washington that Iran was moving toward pragmatic accommodation. Since then, U.S. policymakers, despite reiterating their continued commitment to containment of Iran, have time and again qualified Iran's membership in the "axis of evil." Most notably, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, in a February, 2003, interview with the Los Angeles Times, distinguished between Iran on the one hand and North Korea and Iraq on the other on account of Iran's "democracy." 
This, too, is an illusion. The Islamic Republic, in recent years, has engaged in a widening governmental campaign of domestic repression one that includes stepped-up crackdowns on the press and the brutal persecution of regime opponents. The repression reflects a governmental effort to grapple with the groundswell of political opposition that has emerged among Iran's disaffected young population, in response to the country's rising unemployment and economic stagnation.
At the same time, Iran's theocrats remain deeply antagonistic to all U.S. overtures. This was demonstrated most recently by the quiet contacts between Washington and Tehran in the aftermath of the devastating December, 2003, earthquake in Bam, Iran. Despite deep support for dialogue among reformist parliamentarians, clerical hard-liners opposed to such a rapprochement ultimately cut short the contacts. 
If the United States wants to alter Iran's behavior, it cannot expect results from the tried-and-failed approaches of "critical dialogue," "dialogue of civilizations," and other false starts.
Far and away the most urgent task now facing Washington is arresting Iran's nuclear progress. Over the past year, U.S. policymakers have expressed increasingly vocal concerns over the corrosive global potential of an Iranian nuclear breakout, ranging from a nuclear arms race in the Middle East to Tehran's growing capacity for nuclear blackmail. Yet, the United States could assume a more proactive role in preventing the transfer of nuclear technology to Iran.
This is the concept behind the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), the counter-proliferation partnership launched by President Bush in May, 2003.  Since its inception, the PSI designed to prevent the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by rogue nations through more aggressive intelligence-sharing and interdiction efforts has already charted some notable successes vis-ΰ-vis North Korea, including a clampdown on illicit North Korean smuggling operations by both Australia and Japan. And recent maneuvers by PSI-member nations in the Coral Sea and the Mediterranean Sea suggest a growing role for the alliance in the Middle East, both as a mechanism to intercept illicit WMD trafficking in the Persian Gulf and as a means to target proliferation networks (such as the recently unearthed nuclear ring led by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan) now active in the region.
But the PSI is not the only tool in Washington's arsenal. In the Caucasus and Central Asia. The United States is quietly moving ahead with Caspian Guard, an initiative designed to bolster regional security through expanded maritime patrols, aerial and naval surveillance, and border protections. As part of this effort, the United States has stepped up military exercises with Azerbaijan and has committed some $10 million to strengthening the former Soviet republic's naval capability and border security. This includes beefing up Azerbaijan's communications infrastructure and helping to carry out counter-proliferation operations. 
Similarly, under a five-year defense accord signed with Kazakhstan in 2003, Washington has bankrolled the construction of a Kazakh military base in the Caspian coast city of Atyrau and has allocated millions to equipment and training for the Kazakh army and its maritime and border-patrol forces.  Central to this effort is the prevention of WMD proliferation through the region, not least the transfer of technology from Russia to Iran.
The early successes of the PSI and Caspian Guard suggest that both initiatives can and should be expanded to address more comprehensively the threat from the Islamic Republic.
Reviving Persian Gulf Defense
Over the past several years, fears of a rising Tehran have begun to drive many Arab states bordering the Persian Gulf toward accommodation with Iran. For example, such concerns led Oman to establish, in 2000, a modus vivendi with the Islamic Republic through the codification of a sweeping agreement on military cooperation (albeit one that has since been denied by Oman).  Kuwait subsequently followed suit, striking a similar bargain in October, 2002.  Even Saudi Arabia, previously a strategic competitor of Iran, capitulated on a long-discussed framework accord with Tehran in late 2001, in the wake of two multi-billion-dollar Russo-Iranian defense accords. 
But, for many of these countries, such bilateral partnerships are a product of necessity a function of the inadequacy of national defenses and regional alliances in addressing Iran's rising expansionism. The distrust of Iran still runs very deep. As a recent editorial in London's influential Arab-language Ash-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper emphasized, Iran now poses a threat to "Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, which share with Iran a land border of 5,400 kilometers and a sea border of 2,400 kilometers The Iranian nuclear danger threatens us, first and foremost, more than it threatens the Israelis and the Americans." 
Such worries have prompted the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), comprised of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, to initiate a feasibility study for an alliance-wide anti-missile system. At the same time, individual countries in the Persian Gulf (most notably Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) have initiated efforts to upgrade their individual missile defense capabilities.  Recently uncovered nuclear contacts between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan suggest that at least one of Iran's neighbors has begun to actively contemplate the need for a strategic deterrent against the Islamic Republic. 
All this suggests that a U.S. strategic initiative toward the Persian Gulf may find ready customers. On the one hand, a deepening of Washington's bilateral military dialogue and defense contacts with individual Gulf nations might lessen regional dependence, not only on Iran, but on an increasingly volatile and unpredictable Saudi Arabia as well.  On the other hand, the creation of a formalized American security architecture over the region could reinvigorate Washington's regional partnerships while excluding and isolating Iran.  Common to all of these efforts is the need to provide Tehran's neighbors with the tools to counter its growing potential for nuclear and ballistic missile blackmail.
Ties between the United States and Turkey have been tepid since Ankara's unexpected refusal to grant basing rights to U.S. troops on the eve of the Spring, 2003, Iraq campaign a move that torpedoed U.S. plans for a northern front against Hussein's regime. Since then, however, policymakers in both countries have begun to mend fences. As part of that process, the United States should insist that Turkey do more to hedge Iranian ambitions in the Caucasus and Central Asia.
Unfortunately, Turkey's historic role as a strategic competitor of Iran has been substantially eroded. Indeed, over the past two years, Ankara has steadily drifted toward a new relationship with Tehran. Much of this movement has been underpinned by energy. Turkey's growing dependence on Iran which could provide roughly 20 percent of total Turkish natural gas consumption by the end of the decade  has diminished Ankara's economic leverage vis-ΰ-vis Tehran.
But politics plays an important role as well. Since its assumption of power in November, 2002, Turkey's Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) has gravitated toward closer ties with its Muslim neighbors under the guise of an "independent" foreign policy. Iran has been one of the chief beneficiaries of these overtures, and bilateral contacts and economic trade between Ankara and Tehran have ballooned over the past year. This political proximity has only been reinforced by common worries over Iraqi instability in the aftermath of Hussein's ouster.
Nevertheless, Ankara's deep ethnic and historical ties to the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia make it a natural counterweight to Iranian-sponsored religious radicalism in those regions. Given Turkey's deep interest in expanding trade and development in the Caspian, Turkey also remains suspicious of Iran's maneuvers there. Meanwhile, Tehran's ongoing sponsorship of terrorism, including the Kurdish variety, has put Iran and Turkey on very different sides of the war on terrorism.
These commonalities have led observers to suggest that Turkey's most constructive role might be as a force multiplier for U.S. interests in its "northern neighborhood."  In fact, Ankara and Tehran's divergent strategic priorities on everything from Central Asian Islam to Caspian energy to the future political composition of postwar Iraq suggest that Turkey and Iran could become competitors again. The United States should encourage such competition by creating incentives for Turkey to play its historic role.
Wooing the Iranians
One of the Bush administration's most enduring challenges in prosecuting the war on terrorism has been effectively communicating its goals and objectives to a skeptical Muslim world. Over the past two and a half years, that need has spawned an expanded public diplomacy effort. This has included media outreach on the part of top administration officials like National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Iran, however, has been included only belatedly in these plans. More than nine months after September 11, 2001, with U.S. officials saturating the airwaves of Arabic networks like Qatar's al-Jazeera, not one high-ranking U.S. official had granted an interview to a Persian-language television outlet.  (This is despite the existence of dissident channels, such as the Los Angeles-based National Iranian Television [NITV], capable of effectively carrying the U.S. message.) Even when the United States did finally overhaul its public diplomacy toward Iran with the launch of the Persian-language Radio Farda in December, 2002, the station's entertainment-heavy format led critics to complain that the United States had diluted its democratic message.  Since then, broadcasting to Iran has continued to be funded at minimal levels, despite Congressional efforts to expand outreach. Such a lackluster effort reflects continuing confusion within the U.S. government about exactly whom to engage within Iran.
In fact, the success of public diplomacy hinges upon a clear American vision of Iran's desired direction and the sustained political will to assist Iran in reaching that goal. In that light, there should be only one answer to the question of whom to engage: the nascent democratic opposition. The United States should demonstrate its support for that opposition by expanding expatriate and government-sponsored broadcasting, using it to highlight and criticize Tehran's bankrupt clerical rule.
In fact, the U.S. objective in Iran is closer to the regime change it imposed on Iraq than to the behavioral change it brought about in Libya. The Iranian regime is not one mercurial man, whose behavior can be reversed by determined action. Iran has a ruling elite with many members, a shared sense of history, and a consistency of purpose that has been tested in revolution and war. This regime will not change, which is why the ultimate objective of U.S. policy must be to change it. That should not be forgotten, even if regime change in Iran cannot be pursued by the military means used in Iraq.
Short of military intervention, the United States needs a comprehensive strategy to block Iran's nuclear progress, check Iran's adventurism in the Persian Gulf and the Caucasus, and give encouragement to the Islamic Republic's nascent domestic opposition. Through a strategy that bolsters Iran's vulnerable regional neighbors, rolls back its military advances, and assists internal political alternatives, Washington can blunt the threat now posed by Tehran and set the stage for the later pursuit of its ultimate objective.
The Middle East & the Arabs
The Middle East & the Problem of Iraq
The Threat of Radical Islam
More on the Threat of Radical Islam
The Israeli-Arab Conflict
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Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.
Osama bin Laden & the Islamist Declaration of War
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Ilan Berman is Vice President for Policy at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, D.C., where he directs research and analysis on the Middle East and Central Asia.
The original version of the article appeared in the Middle East Quarterly (Spring, 2004) and can be found on the Internet website
maintained by the Middle East Forum.
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