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Threatened Israeli Airstrike on Iran: NZ Nuclear-free Liaison Proposed

Antipodean Village Connections Blogger writes:

Several Village-Connections blogs have been written about apprehensions that Iran is secretly developing nuclear-weapons. These fears are on the rise again.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been trying to persuade his colleagues to support airstrikes on Iranian nuclear sites and in late October the Israeli air force has practised for long-range attacks at a Nato base in Sardinia.

In a heated response the Iranian leader President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denounced Israel and declared that “Iran pursues nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and in line with the regulations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to which is a signatory.”

Now an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report of 9 November builds up a circumstantial case that Iran’s nuclear research appears to be oriented towards nuclear-weapons development.

International consensus on the need for negotiations

Village-Connections blogs have proposed that “nuclear-free New Zealand” sound out interested parties to help build up communication in which solutions can emerge.

The time is again particularly ripe to be doing so.

The major powers and the Secretary General of the United Nations have all said they want diplomatic negotiations, and for good reason. If attacked, Iran could disrupt the 40% of world oil that goes through the Hormuz Straits and foment considerable problems from Iraq through to Israel itself.

Consequently major international parties from the US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have called for negotiations. Even a former Israeli secret service head, Meir Dagan, called a strike on Iran “stupid idea” that could lead to a long war.

Blog sent to Foreign Minister McCully

The first Village-Connections blog proposing New Zealand take an interest in diplomatic liaison with Iran and other interested parties was published on 4 February, 2009. In the previous month the then US President-elect Barak Obama had proposed a “new direction” for US policy of engaging in talks with the Iranians.

A copy of the blog was sent to the New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Murray McCully (and to the Iranian embassy in Wellington, which replied that the ambassador was away).

The blog asked if the nuclear-free liaison between the United States and North Korea by Mr McCully’s predecessor Winston Peters (“First, Winston Peters and North Korea – now, Murray McCully and Iran?)  could become a precedent for developing liaison with Iran.

Mr McCully responded to the blog that New Zealand,

“like the United States also has concerns about Iran’s nuclear activities. New Zealand continues to monitor events and make our views known to the Iranian Government … through the Iranian Embassy in Wellington and the New Zealand Embassy in Tehran.”

Antipodean Village blogger would like to suggest that a “liaison-building” approach might be not so much about “making views known”  as about showing interest in listening so as to help establish two-way dialogue.

The Minister concluded that “mediation by a third country would not be necessary” for what is now a very interesting reason. The blog had proposed that one advantage New Zealand had that the United States did not, was an embassy in Iran. The Minister responded, however, that “the United States has raised the possibility of re-establishing direct contacts with Iran” so mediation would not be needed.

Well, the United States still has no embassy in Tehran, where its affairs are handled by the Swiss embassy there. The ability of the Swiss as neutrals to provide valued services between conflicting parties has become legendary in the history of diplomacy.

A direct question to the Minister

The writer of the blog also attended a meeting addressed by Mr McCully in July 2009, where he asked the Minister whether his predecessor Winston Peters liaison with North Korea could provide a precedent for taking an interest in Iran-United States and United Nations liaison. The Minister’s reply was along the lines that New Zealand could do so if it was asked.

Village-Connections blogs on these matters have always been carefully framed in terms of first showing an interest in being asked.

Close nuclear-free connections with the US?

Mr McCully’s National Government has been engaged in energetic attempts to build strong connections with the United States in the wake of the Anzus rift over nuclear ship visits in the 1980s.

In this context, nuclear-free liaison between the United States and Iran could be seen as an excellent way of building up good relations with the United States, especially given, as noted above, that the United States has again said it wishes to engage diplomatically with Iran.

Further, as noted in another blog,  it was only in April last year that none other than the US President Obama gave special recognition to NZ Prime Minister John Key at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington.

There Mr Key offered New Zealand “leadership on the nuclear issue.” He said to a working dinner with over 40 world leaders that “We’ve got to the position…. President Obama would like to see the rest of the world.” This was said in reference to New Zealand’s nuclear-free status and the US leader’s drive to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles. (c.f. “Key lends support to Obama nuclear efforts” (The Dominion Post 3/04/2010)

That Presidential endorsement has to be seen as a mandate for diplomatic liaison with all nuclear powers and potential nuclear powers, in the Middle East and elsewhere.

More than ever with President Barak Obama, New Zealand nuclear-free diplomacy could be seen as “pro-American”.

Should New Zealand work to build connections between conflicting parties like the United States and Iran, particularly over nuclear issues? What do you think?

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1 Comment

  1. Antipodean Village Blogger says:

    The storming by hundreds of Iranian protestors of the British embassy in Tehran is the latest deeply-concerning development in deteriorating relations between Iran and the West.

    (See: Storming of British embassy in Tehran worsens bilateral relations at
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/nov/29/british-embassy-attack-iran-uk-relations?newsfeed=true)

    Things will get worse before they get better, leading in the most drastic scenarios to widespread, Iranian-stimulated Middle East conflict triggered by Israeli air-strikes as in the above blog, and/or another Iraq-style US/Nato/UN war against Iran.

    As the Guardian article referred to above notes, the British have led the way in taking punitive measures against Iran, cutting ties to its banking system.

    As the bigger powers raise the stakes in a conflict like this one, it becomes all the more important for a small power like New Zealand to stand back so that it can help pick up communications threads and work to reduce otherwise increasing tensions and find peaceful solutions.

    As noted in the above blog, the neutral Swiss embassy in Tehran handles communication between the United States and Iran when they need it, something it has done since the United States embassy was invaded and occupied by students over three decades ago in 1979.

    Communications with the British have obviously been badly damaged for the foreseeable future, and a New Zealand with its historic and cultural British connections would be a natural choice to facilitate communication where this is needed.

    Accordingly, it is in the interests of all that New Zealand does not get caught up in this dispute by taking sides, but that instead it begins sounding out the parties to it about their perceptions and the possibilities of finding peaceful common ground.