Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Iran should pursue its nuclear development programs with transparency and for peaceful purposes
NISHIKAWA Megumi / Journalist

March 28, 2023
It was in 2006, 27 years after the Iranian Revolution, that the UK's Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA) reported that Iran had emerged as a “powerful regional power spanning the Middle East to West Asia”.

After the 1979 revolution, Iran faced a number of challenges. Immediately after the revolution, the religiously conservative Khomeini faction and the leftist reformists, who had led the revolution together, parted company and engaged in an armed struggle. In the end, Khomeini's faction seized power, but in the process, many senior government officials fell victim to terrorism. In 1980, the year after the revolution, Saddam Hussein's regime in neighboring Iraq suddenly invaded Iran, apparently taking advantage of the chaos. It was believed that the goal was to take possession of Iran's oil fields.

While the West and the Gulf states rallied to support Iraq, Iran lacked weapons, and the eight-year war inflicted tremendous human and material damage on Iran. In the end, Ayatollah Khomeini was forced to accept the Iraqi-led ceasefire proposal, saying it was more painful than “drinking the cup of poison”.

While the Hussein regime remained a threat to Iraq, it also posed a threat to its neighbor to the east, Afghanistan, where the Taliban regime, which established control in 1995, adhered to the restorationist doctrine of Sunnism and viewed Shiite Iran as an enemy. Tense relations between the two verged on a military conflict.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. in 2001 provided an opportunity to remove the threats to Iran from the East and the West. The U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) led to the collapse of the Taliban and Hussein regimes one after the other, which greatly expanded Iran's security space. Given such assets as the country's large stretch of land and abundant oil resources, its future seemed to be open and full of hope. The 2006 RIIA report mentioned above was based on this outlook.

Seventeen years have passed since then. Notwithstanding the RIIA prediction, Iran is in dire straits at home and abroad. Isolated from the rest of the international community, it has its economy in deep distress due to the sanctions imposed by the West and other countries. Life is hard for its people, with the risk that the slightest provocation may trigger flare-ups. Last September, the death of a young woman detained by the revolutionary forces for wearing the hijab in an unIslamic manner sparked nationwide protests. There continues the exodus of young people who can have no dreams about the future of their country.

Iran has been driven to this point by the political and economic containment imposed by the international community for two reasons. One is the suspicion of Iran's nuclear development program, which came to light in 2002 when an Iranian dissident exposed the fact that Iran was secretly developing nuclear weapons. Twenty years have passed since then. The nuclear negotiations centering around the IAEA zigzagged, and the international community stepped up its sanctions. In 2015, a temporary deal was reached under the moderate Rouhani administration of Iran, but the deal went back to square one when the U.S. administration under President Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018. President Raisi’s hard-line conservative administration, which came into power in Iran in 2021, has refused to cooperate with the IAEA at all. IAEA is reported to have recently detected uranium enriched to 84%.

Another thing that has alarmed the international community is the economic and military support by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, a revolutionary organization, to the Shiite organizations in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. This has allowed Iran to project its influence onto the internal affairs of these countries and their neighbors. It has been viewed with suspicion as “exporting revolutions” not only by the West but also by the Sunni Muslim monarchies.

The Raisi regime has been leaning increasingly toward Russia politically, economically, and militarily, including providing drones to help Russia now struggling with the war in Ukraine. After its revolution, Iran had maintained a certain distance from the major powers, possibly drawing its lesson from the previous regime of the Pahlavi dynasty whose relationship with the United States was very close. The fact that it has swung so far from its previous course is a sign of its present plight. Recently, it has revived diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, its rival for leadership in the Middle East, through the mediation of China, apparently with the aim of alleviating its isolation. However, neither of the two elements that have caused alarm in the international community, namely, the suspicion of Iran’s nuclear development program and its Revolutionary Guard’s support to the Shiite organizations in its neighbors, has disappeared. It should probably be seen as a temporary adjustment of interests with Saudi Arabia rather than a reconciliation.

I once lived in Tehran for two years as a correspondent. Iran has a long history and civilization and its people are proud of their Persian ethnicity. The depth of its social and cultural roots and the high cultural level of its people place Iran a cut above the rest in the Middle East. For example, during the moderate Khatami regime, Iran called for a "dialogue of civilizations," which was supported by many countries, and the United Nations designated 2001 as the "Year of Dialogue among Civilizations" and held a variety of events. In launching this "dialogue of civilizations," many Iranian intellectuals were involved as advisors to the regime. Contrary to today's deteriorating image of Iran, it is essentially a country with this kind of intellectual conceptual power.

Iran cooperated with the international community when a moderate government was in power, but it took a tough stance toward the outside world when a hard-line conservative government was in power. This pattern was repeated again and again, only to drive it further towards greater isolation. Iran has the attributes to become a powerful regional power in terms of people, resources, and geography. But it is possible only if Iran chooses accommodation with the international community, as the twenty years of negotiations on its nuclear development have shown. Iran must cooperate with the IAEA, maintain transparency, and focus on nuclear energy development for peaceful purposes.

Megumi Nishikawa is a contributing editor of Mainichi Shimbun
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

西川 恵 / ジャーナリスト

2023年 3月 28日











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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Iran should pursue its nuclear development programs with transparency and for peaceful purposes