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IRAN - The Campaign Against Terror - Part 5.

Caught in the middle of America's global war against terror, Iran is poised in between major opportunities and risks. The strategic balance can swing either in favour of opportunities or in the direction of great risk, depending on the decisions made by the Iranian leadership in the coming months and years.

Iran now has the opportunity to benefit from the defeat of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and from the ouster of Saddam Hussein, if US President George W. Bush Jr has his way on Iraq. Alternatively, Iran could itself become a high-profile target in the war against terror. The challenge for the theologians leading the country is to benefit from the opportunities without appearing to compromise on the principles of the 1979 revolution.

The impact on Iran of the war against terror will be defined by its relationship with the US, which is evolving in very subtle way. There are both positive and negative signals, and it is never clear whether relations have improved since Sept. 11, 2001 or have become worse. It is clear that the dynamic between the two countries is changing, and will continue to change based on domestic developments in both states as well as on regional factors.

Iran was seen as one of the key winners in Phase One of the US war against terror, i.e. specifically the ouster of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Phase One has not yet been completed, as it would end only with the capture of Osama Bin Ladin, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and the top cadre of both the Taliban movement and the Al Qaida group. Some of the benefits have already become obvious. Iran's ally in Afghanistan, warlord Ismail Khan, is already in control of Herat province and looks well established there. Business opportunities have increased and Iranian companies are among those favoured by the interim government in the award of new contracts.

Phase Two of the anti-terror war has already begun, however, and the implications are more ambiguous for Iran - especially in view of Bush's decision to name the country as part of the "axis of evil". Moderates in Iran as well as in the US see a unique opportunity for breaking out of the stalemate in bilateral ties which has been in place since 1979, with US Secretary of State Colin Powell and his Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharrazi being ideal candidates to move things forward.

The two sides were quick to see the convergence of interests in the campaign against the Taliban movement, for example. Behind the scenes co-operation since the US started bombing Afghanistan in October 2001, played a role in the rapid advance of Afghan Northern Alliance forces on the ground. Kharrazi's speech at the swearing in of the Karzai administration on Dec. 22, 2001 - with US diplomats present - was another reflection of the underlying convergent interests.

A similar convergence will become evident if, or when, the US begins to widen its war against terror to Iraq. In that case, Iran's position will be even more important. In view of the predominantly Shiite community in southern Iraq, Tehran is in a good position to influence events in that area. If the US decides to push from the northern Kurdish region, along with Turkish soldiers, Iran could well back a rebellion in the south - a move that will have a direct positive impact on the American campaign to get rid of Saddam.

The question is whether the US would be willing to share the spoils thereafter. Iranian officials are upset that, after Tehran played a key role in rallying the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, the US showed no real appreciation of Iran's efforts but rather levelled accusations that Iranian intelligence was trying to undermine the Karzai regime by supporting warlords in western Afghanistan.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Strategic Balance in the Middle East
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:May 20, 2002
Previous Article:EGYPT - Domestic Dimension Of The War Against Terror.
Next Article:IRAN - Domestic Factors.

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