Showdown with Iran

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Daily Telegraph – Leaders: After five visits to Teheran as Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw has seen his policy of “constructive engagement” turn to ashes. The Daily Telegraph

Leaders

After five visits to Teheran as Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw has seen his policy of “constructive engagement” turn to ashes.

In their pursuit of a nuclear bomb, the Iranians have defied the European Union triumvirate, of which he was a part, and the United Nations, first in the form of the International Atomic Energy Agency, now of the Security Council.

They have insisted on their right to complete the nuclear fuel cycle, for what they claim are exclusively peaceful purposes, and have threatened to begin making fissile material on an industrial scale.

Yesterday, Mr Straw spoke to the International Institute for Strategic Studies about the way ahead. The council should proceed one step at a time, he said, and its actions should be reversible, in case Teheran repented.

He laid strong emphasis on maintaining consensus and presumed to speak for the Americans when he said that military action was not on their agenda.

The Foreign Secretary’s cautious approach is familiar from previous confrontations with Iraq before the allied invasion, and with Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe. Yet there must be strong doubts about its effectiveness when dealing with a government that, riding confidently on the high price of oil, is a throwback to the days of Ayatollah Khomeini.

Given Russian and Chinese commercial interests, consensus on economic sanctions against Teheran is unlikely. As for military strikes being ruled out, that is not the impression gained from recent speeches by Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, and John Bolton, the UN Ambassador.

For the moment, though, Washington’s emphasis is on subverting the regime: it has asked Congress for an extra $75 million to pay for broadcasts into Iran and to enable its people to study abroad. Mr Straw likewise spoke of increasing the flow of information into the country, but said nothing about the necessary funding.

His caution is typical of the Foreign Office, and, in the light of Iraq, understandable. But it will not be the deciding factor in any showdown between revolutionary Iran and the West.

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