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Matthew Gould Photo: Mati Milstein
Matthew Gould Photo: Mati Milstein
 
 

3 rules to understanding Iran

Op-ed: UK's ambassador to Israel says his country will work unwaveringly to prevent Iran from obtaining nukes

Matthew Gould
Published: 02.26.13, 20:15 / Israel Opinion

Today (Tuesday) in Almaty negotiators from the P5 +1 will sit down with Iranian negotiators to discuss Iran’s nuclear program. The facts are straightforward. Iran is flouting six United Nations resolutions and it continues to play games with the IAEA. The Iranian regime's claims that its nuclear program is intended for purely civilian purposes are not credible given its ongoing efforts to expand its enrichment capacity. We, and our international partners, are clear that Iran cannot be allowed to get nuclear weapons.

 

The key question is how we stop Iran getting nuclear weapons. The UK believes that we need to carry on the current route – engaging with Iran and holding out the prospect of a better future if Iran takes the concrete steps needed to reassure the international community, and pressure through tough economic sanctions until Iran does so.

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Ten years ago I was living in Iran, as Britain's deputy ambassador. I dealt daily with the Iranian regime, travelled the country, and learned Persian history and culture. Iran is complicated and hard to understand. But I took away three lessons that are important now.

 

First, to understand Iran's regime or attempt to predict how they will act, there is one cardinal rule. That in every decision the regime takes, they are focused on one overarching goal: To stay in power. One key reason they want nuclear capability is that they believe it will guarantee them their continuity in power.

 

Second, that the regime knows its economy is a huge vulnerability. It is inefficient, corrupt, badly managed and has millions of people paid directly or indirectly by the government. Without the regime's oil income, it's in trouble. That is why I believe that sanctions can work. We know that they are having a significant impact. The rial has collapsed in value. Unemployment is high. Inflation is rampant. The official inflation rate of 26% is an illusion; the true figure is double that. The cost of doing business with Iran has gone up dramatically. Iran's ability to sell its own oil has been curtailed by British, US and European sanctions that make it almost impossible to conduct financial transactions with Iran.

 

Iran is not getting the technology it needs to sustain its own oil production, and production is down 45%, costing the Iranian exchequer over $40 billion a year. The reserves of the Iranian regime are shrinking. As David Cameron has said, the Iranian regime is under unprecedented pressure and faces an acute dilemma. They are leading their people to global isolation and an economic collapse. And they know it. And they also know that there is a simple way to bring sanctions to an end. By giving the international community the confidence it needs that Iran is not and will not develop a nuclear weapon.

 

Some people say that sanctions have failed, because Iran has not yet changed course on its nuclear program. It is certainly true that despite the effect of sanctions, Iranian centrifuges are still spinning. But it is more correct to say the sanctions have not yet succeeded. This is my third lesson I took away from Iran - you don't know when they are going to change direction, until it happens. In 2003, when Iran last suspended its nuclear enrichment program, no one saw it coming. In 1989 when they decided to seek a ceasefire to end their war with Iraq, it was not signaled in advance. So the fact that Iran has not changed course in the face of sanctions so far does not mean it will not do so.

 

I am certain that for now, our best bet is to hold our nerve and continue down the path we are on. We continue to test Iranian willingness to negotiate in good faith. And until they take the concrete steps we need to see, we continue to implement ever tougher sanctions.

 

The UK remains firmly committed to reaching a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear issue with Iran. We do not advocate the use of military action, but Foreign Secretary William Hague has made clear that no option is off the table. A nuclear armed Iran is a threat to Israel, and a threat to the world, and the UK will work unwaveringly to prevent that from happening.

 

Matthew Gould is Britain's ambassador to Israel

 

 

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