How Do We Avoid War With Iran?

Over the weekend French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, warned the world that it must prepare for war with Iran:

The world should “prepare for war” with Iran, the French foreign minister has said, significantly escalating tensions over the country’s nuclear programme.

Bernard Kouchner said that while “we must negotiate right to the end” with Iran, if Teheran possessed an atomic weapon it would represent “a real danger for the whole world”.

The world should “prepare for the worst… which is war”, he said.

His comments came after Washington reminded Teheran that “all options were on the table” in confronting its nuclear policy, which many officials in the West believe has the ultimate aim of arming a nuclear warhead, despite Iran’s claim that it is for civilian purposes.

French PM François Filion stepped back from that position somewhat:

ANGOULEME, France — Everything must be done to avoid the prospect of war with Iran, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said on Monday, a day after his foreign minister said the country should prepare for that possibility.

The United States, Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China have backed two rounds of UN sanctions against Iran over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment and other sensitive work that could potentially be used to make nuclear weapons.

Washington is leading a drive in the Security Council for a third sanctions resolution to punish Iran over enrichment.

France has also called for more sanctions, and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner increased pressure on Tehran on Sunday, saying France had to prepare for the prospect of war with Iran, though that was not an immediate danger.

“Everything must be done to avoid war,” Mr. Fillon told reporters on a visit to the town of Angouleme in western France.

“France’s role is to lead towards a peaceful solution of a situation that would be extremely dangerous for the rest of the world,” he said. He added that Mr.Kouchner was right to say the situation was dangerous and should be taken seriously.

Blake Hounsell (the blogger formerly known as praktike) has helpfully provided a transcript of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s remarks on the subject of Iran on Sunday:

Well, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals about what we may or may not do. I will tell you that I think that the administration believes at this point that continuing to try an deal with the Iranian threat, the Iranian challenge, through diplomatic and economic means is by far the preferable approach. That’s the one we are using. We always say, “All options are on the table,” but clearly, the diplomatic and economic approach is the one that we are pursuing.

I agree with James Joyner that much of Washington’s sabre-rattling with respect to Iran are “simply exercises in maintaining some level of uncertainty in the minds of Iranian and Syrian officials to give more weight to negotiations”.

Iran has been doing some saber-rattling of its own:

Six hundred Iranian Shihab-3 missiles are pointed at targets throughout Israel, and will be launched if either Iran or Syria are attacked, an Iranian website affiliated with the regime reported on Monday.

“Iran will shoot at Israel 600 missiles if it is attacked,” the Iranian news website, Assar Iran, reported. “600 missiles will only be the first reaction.”

According to the report, dozens of locations throughout Iraq, which are being used by the US Army, have also been targeted.

The Shihab missile has a range of 1,300 km, and can reach anywhere in Israel.

Today an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman had words of his own for France:

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran on Monday accused French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of stoking a crisis after he said France must prepare for the possibility of war over Tehran’s disputed nuclear program.

The official IRNA news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini as saying Kouchner’s remarks were not in line with European Union policies.

“Using crisis-making words is against France’s high historical and cultural position and is against France’s civilization,” he said in a statement.

An earlier IRNA story quoted the spokesman as using the term “provocative words” in his statement, but in a later update the agency changed this to “crisis-making words.”

“It seems the French foreign minister has forgotten the EU’s policies,” Hosseini was quoted as saying. France is a leading member of the 27-nation EU.

I continue to believe that it’s possible to avoid war with Iran and that this brinksmanship is very dangerous particularly for Iran. I recognize that Iranian politicians have constituencies of their own to mollify. My concern is that the Iranian system of command isn’t as centralized as ours and elements of the Iranian military may not understand that the idea of brinksmanship is to stay on the brink.

As has been true for some years now I think we have to come to a realistic assessment of our intentions with respect to Iran. A “carrots and sticks” approach to the country assumes our willingness to offer carrots that really appeal to the Iranian leadership and show sticks that we’re willing to wield, neither of which I think is the case right now. That makes negotiation difficult.

Other Voices

QandO Blog has a lengthy commentary on the ongoing exchange of barbs with Iran.

2 comments… add one
  • I think that you are looking at the question from a decidedly americo-centric point of view. Looking at it as long ball, the real question, I would think, is how do we get them to want to avoid war with us?

Leave a Comment