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Foreign Intervention will Harm Iran's Democratic Movement

Westminster Committee on Iran | 27.07.2010 08:09

As the British Parliament gets ready to break up for the summer an emergency meeting in the Palace of Westminster hears the views of experts and analysts on how to resolve the current standoff with Iran.

The head of BBC Persia Service, Sadeq Saba told an audience in Parliament yesterday that “any foreign intervention in any shape or form will harm Iran's democratic movement.” Speaking as part of an expert panel at the meeting - Iran: Which Way Forward? - he argued that the future of Iran will be determined by “the Iranian people, the struggle for democracy and also the economy.” With unprecidented levels of disunity within the regime Saba believes that the tipping point will come “if poor sections of the society come to the street and demonstrate and I think Iran is heading towards this situation.”

The meeting, convened by the Westminister Committee on Iran, explored the current crisis over Irans nuclear programme, bringing togther parlimentarians, security analysts and Middle East experts to explore ways to resolve the standoff and to assess both the dangers of military intervention and the risks associated with not taking action.

In his analysis Paul Ingram, executive director of the British American Security Information Council said that at the current rate of development Iran could “probably acquire a nuclear weapon in two years” but stressed that minituatization of such a weapon and development of a missile delivery system could take much longer. However, Mr Saba suggested that “both sides are exaggerating Iran's nuclear capacity for their own motives” and pointed out that since the election there has been significant shift in ordinary Iranian's attitude to the nuclear programme. “For a lot of Iranians the main priority has become the democratic issue rather than the nuclear issue.”

Warning of the impact of military intervention, Ben Zala from the Oxford Research Group referred to their new report published last week. “Military action would not involve surgical strikes but would be the start of an ongoing war” he said. The repercussions of such a war would be far reaching with Iran withdrawing from the Non Proliferation Treaty, redoubling its efforts to aquire nuclear weapons and resulting in far-reaching long-term acts of retaliation, said Zala.

“The idea of military intervention against Iran makes my blood run cold” said Lord Phillips who has been visiting Iran since 1961. “It would strengthen all the wrong elements in Iranian society” he said arguing that the way to resolve the issue is for the Western nations to “back off and to treat Iran we treat other countries.”

On the subject of airstrikes Alan Mendoza, executive Chair of the neo-conservative Henry Jackson Society, agreed that “it would be foolish to rush to that stage because the repercussions would be immense”. However he warned that Iran's expanding sphere of influence cannot go unchallenged. Highlighting Iran's support of Hizbollah and Hamas he said that Iran has “malicious intent and we can only imagine how that intent would be amplified were Iran to have nuclear weapons.” A significant tightening of the Western appoach would, he argued, “squeeze the regime” forcing it to shift position in order to stay in power. “One thing we know about this regime is that it does value its survive” Mendoza added.

With rhetoric on both sides ratcheting up. In the past months there has been a fourth round of UN sanctions, unilateral US and EU sanctions and reports of military build-up in the Gulf. Last week the Iranian parliament passed a Bill that forces President Amadinejad to continue uranium enrichment up to the more senstive level of 20 percent. “Both sides are throwing away their steering wheels in this game of chicken” said Paul Ingram. Although sanctions are see by some as an alternative to military action they can also be seen as a natural precursor. The enforcement of sanctions will require the inspection of Iranian vessels by Western navys and with Tehran making it clear that it will not tolerate such inspections, it is easy to see how the current standoff could rapidly escalate.

“The demonization of Iran is such that it appears we are on a one-track punitive response even though few believe it will work but lack the imagination or belief in other options” said Paul Ingram. This meeting, the first in a series, was intended to offer that imaginative space and according to Jermey Cobyn MP “represents the type of open dialogue that should be going on at all levels if we are to bridge the trust gap that exits between Iran and the West and avert a further disastrous military conflict in the Middle East"

Westminster Committee on Iran