Only diplomacy can solve Iran problem

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 March, 2012, 12:00am


Trying to determine what is reality and what is bluster when it comes to Iran's nuclear programme is next to impossible. Its leaders claim their intentions are peaceful, but secrecy and uranium enrichment do not preclude the possibility that the country is making a bomb. Less uncertain is the country's malicious intent towards the US, Israel - which it repeatedly vows to destroy - and all its Arab neighbours, bar Syria. Whatever the threats and rhetoric, though, military strikes can never be resorted to without conclusive evidence and united UN backing and before every diplomatic avenue has been exhausted.

Israel's frustration is understandable. It tried for years to get the world's attention, but only since 2009 has there been a measure of concern and, even then, there is disagreement about what to do. US-led sanctions have had limited effect. A chance to defuse the crisis has arisen with the announcement on Tuesday that talks, which have been at a standstill for a year, will take place at a date to be decided between Iran and a six-nation grouping of China, the US, Germany, Britain, France and Russia.

The gap in approaches was plain during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington this week to convince American president Barack Obama to support military action. But with presidential elections in the US this year and the relationship between the leaders prickly, there was no possibility of any pledge. Netanyahu's going home empty-handed has increased the chance of unilateral air strikes, just as it did against a reactor in Iraq in 1981 and a nuclear plant under construction in Syria in 2007.

Such a decision could be disastrous, potentially sparking a war dragging in Israel's and Iran's allies. The sanctions regime would be undermined, joint efforts put in disarray and the hard-line Iranian regime's standing with its people strengthened. Diplomacy is the only viable option.