Saturday, 4 April 2009

Scheffer Denies NATO Role in Iran Crisis, Misses Opportunity

Yesterday at the NATO Youth Forum NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was asked about Iran.

Question: My question was, what could NATO do to aid in talks with Iran? Not just with regards to its nuclear program, but also in helping the country reintegrate into the international community, having been isolated so long?

His answer was disappointing in some ways. He did allow that NATO and Iran, who recently had their first official contact in 30 years, could work together to stabilise Afghanistan. But beyond that he said NATO doesn’t have a role: NATO is not involved and should not be involved in the Iranian nuclear dispute.

This is deeply disappointing. NATO is supposedly a body for coordinating political-military policy across the Atlantic. And yet it is ignoring a problem where it could have a fundamentally positive effect.

If Iran is seeking, and eventually obtains, nuclear weapons, then NATO will be called upon to deter and counter Iran. NATO member Turkey borders Iran, they would want Article V guarantees against a nuclear-armed Iran. So this is a security situation in which all NATO members have a profound interest.

If NATO were to make a declaration that it wishes peace with Iran, and enter into talks on confidence and security building measures, it could have a positive effect on Iran's engagement with the West. If NATO issued assurances that no non-nuclear state would ever be the subject of attack by NATO nuclear forces, then this could help move Iran down a more positive path. eventually, NATO could remove the small amount of forward-based tactical nuclear weapons from Europe, and its nuclear posture would become much less threatening to states in Europe's periphery, like Iran. This could only contribute to a more positive atmosphere. Let there be no mistake. If we are to achieve safety and security through a WMD Free Middle East, including Israel and Iran, NATO has a role to play.

Of course, any final agreement with Iran will require a bilateral deal with the US. The US must promise not to overthrow the government of Iran, and to deal with it in mutual respect. President Obama has made a start on this with his Nowruz message to Iran. But as a coordinating body for western strategic defence policy, NATO should have a role to play. That it doesn't shows how much it has declined as a forum for discussions of security issues since the end of the Cold War.

De Hoop Scheffer's Full Answer

De Hoop Scheffer:

Anyway, NATO is not involved. Let me start with the negative answer I have to. NATO is not involved and should not be involved in the Iranian nuclear dispute. We have other organizations for that, as you know, the IAA, the UN, the EU is playing a role. My friend and colleague Javier Solana is very active in this regard.

But—here comes the but—also with Iran, and I think your president is proof of this, also with Iran, and that's one of the things I've learned in a long, long career in foreign policy, it is always better to talk than not to talk.

Coming back to this Iron Curtain and the Cold War, we always talk to the Soviet Union before the Berlin Wall disappeared and the Iron Curtain fell. We always talked to the Soviet Union, despite huge differences. So that is the reason that, I think, President Obama set on the very right course by trying to reach out to Iran. And Iran was represented, as you know, at the meeting in The Hague I referred to in my speech. And I hope these contacts might intensify.

No misunderstanding, Iran should stop and make transparent a nuclear program, but NATO
doesn't play a role there. Where is Iran relevant for NATO? Iran is an important neighbour of Afghanistan. And stability in Afghanistan is dependent, to a large extent, on stability in the region. First of all, stability in Pakistan, but also in the region in a more wider sense.
So in that regard Iran is relevant for NATO and that's the reason that only a few weeks ago, for the very first time, there was a very informal discussion between one of the Assistant Secretaries General of NATO, for Political Affairs, and the Iranian ambassador in Brussels. That was not a formal conversation. It was just to talk to each other. But let us keep things in the box, and that box is called Afghanistan. And that box is not called nuclear or any other element in the discussions and debates going on with Iran. But talking is always better than not talking.

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