Danby updates Parliament on Iran

February 15, 2013 by J-Wire Staff
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Federal Labor MP Michael Danby this week addressed the Australian parliament on nuclear developments in Iran.

Danby’s address:

Michael Danby

Michael Danby

“I welcome this opportunity to speak about the grave threat that Iran’s nuclear ambitions pose to the peace and security of the Middle East and of the world. In the past eight years under President Ahmadinejad and Supreme Spiritual Guide, Ali Khamenei, Iran has progressed steadily towards building deployable nuclear weapons. Iranian leaders, including the Supreme Religious Leader Khamenei, repeatedly have called for the destruction of a member state of the United Nations: specifically, Israel. According to all of the international experts, including the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Iranians are moving towards acquiring nuclear weapons that would give them the capacity to carry out that threat.

Of course, the member for Cowan is to be commended on this resolution and has been speaking about their ballistic missile capacities which, together with the nuclear weapons acquisition, make it a truly frightening prospect for all people who are living in that part of the world.

No rational statesman would talk about such an atrocity as wiping out a state of the United Nations, but I would suggest that the leader of Iran is not a rational statesman. In fact, he is a religious Shi’ite fanatic, and his rhetoric should be taken seriously. The New York Times on 7 February this year quoted him as saying, ‘I am not a diplomat. I am a revolutionary, and speak frankly and directly. If anyone wants a return to the US dominance here’—and he was talking about the prospects of direct negotiations with the United States—‘the people’—and he was talking about the Iranian people—‘will grab his throat’. These are not the sentiments of a man who seeks to achieve peace for his country through negotiations with the democracy that is still the major superpower in the world, the United States.

Both the US and the European Union have warned Iran that they will not allow such a threat to develop, and they have imposed severe economic sanctions on Iran. As chairman of the foreign affairs committee, in every European capital where I have had an opportunity to speak I have commended their foreign ministers, foreign ministries and foreign affairs committees on imposing those sanctions midyear. In fact, that was the key factor in the change in the severity of the economic sanctions in Iran, and the one that is making them pay attention.

Iran now lacks the capacity to refine petrol; they are the 3rd largest oil producer and yet have lost the technical capabilities and the access to being able to rebuild their refineries.

Let us just look at the effect of the sanctions: Iran’s exports of oil have declined to about 1.25 million barrels a day as of December 2012, down from an average of 2.5 million the previous year. Considering that oil exports historically provided about 70 per cent of government revenue, this has had an astonishing effect on the Iranian economy. Iran’s oil exports declined to about 940,000 barrels in July 2012, the month the EU’s oil embargo came into effect. If you calculate the decline in oil exports at about $85 a barrel, this means a loss of $50 billion in hard currency in one year to the Iranian regime. So sanctions have certainly been very effective. The question is: are they working?

As the member for Cowan pointed out, the current Iranian president’s second term expires soon, and there will be elections in June. Iran’s last elections in 2009 were shamelessly stolen—rigged—by Ahmadinejad and his street thugs in the Basij. It was very ominous for the Iranian people who have never had this happen, before that suddenly all of the ballot boxes were seized by the interior ministry. Afterwards, we saw the bloodbath as the people of Iran realised that the election was stolen from them and this theocratic regime kept in office. The prospects do not seem much better for this year’s elections.

The Economist reported recently that Iran’s unelected Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is determined to get a new president who is completely compliant with his will. We do not know who that candidate will be. Ali Larijani, who has been one of the hardline negotiators on the nuclear matter, may be close enough to Khamenei to get his support.

Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have fallen out in recent years. Ahmadinejad may run his own candidate against the ayatollah’s nominee. There is one ray of hope: a reformist candidate, Mostafa Kavakebian, a professor of political science at Tehran university. He must be a very courageous man. After what happened in 2009 to the opposition forces in Iran, I am not optimistic about his chances. If the people of Iran peacefully brought about regime change, this would be the best way of halting Iran’s march towards nuclear weapons and its aggressive policy to countries in the region.

There are reports that Khamenei is concerned, however, about the damage the economic sanctions are doing to the Iranian economy, fearing it will weaken the Islamic republic’s grip on power. We must approach this peacefully with strong diplomacy and the aggressive sanctions that are taking place. I note that the United States introduced new sanctions which will block countries that have exemptions to receive Iranian oil exports remitting those finances back to Iran. Iran can only buy goods from those countries such as China. That is a further tightening of the sanctions that has happened only in the last few days.

US president, Obama has been very clear that the United States will not tolerate a nuclear Iran and he seems to have the full support of Europe on this. Remember he declared in 2012:

“Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

There has been a lot of talk at the same time about the unilateral action by Israel against Iran’s nuclear program. Perhaps we will learn more about that after the President of the United States visit to Israel in March, a development I certainly welcome.

Israel has a clear right to defend itself against such profound, repeated and verbal as well as existential threats such as Iran’s weapons program and ballistic missiles, but I hope it will not come to that. Combining diplomacy, including the fearless work of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and sanctions will hopefully persuade the regime in Iran, whether it is Khamenei or the next president, that developing nuclear weapon is not worth the risk.

Australia understands that Iran’s ambitions do not just threaten Israel; they threaten the whole region, particularly the West’s allies—Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The theocrats in Tehran are a threat to the Gulf States such as Kuwait and Bahrain, which Iran sees as part of its sphere of influence. In fact, Iran is a threat to the whole Sunni Arab world, where it seeks to establish a regional Shia hegemony, with allies in Syria and Iraq, and through its political robots, Hezbollah, in Lebanon. They are also a threat, obviously, to Europe and Japan and all of our friends in Asia, who rely heavily on Middle East oil.

People who claim Realpolitik is a sort of muscular foreign policy, ignore the vital fact of the regime’s nature. Iran’s treatment of the Baha’i in Iran—the terrible persecution of that peaceful religion; the hanging of gay people in public squares ; the judicial murder of children under 18; the kidnapping of foreign tourists as well as Iran’s own intellectual elite all says something important about the nature of the regime. Dealing with Iran as Dr Kissinger would have us deal with China, which is simply in terms of Realpolitik and ignoring the nature of the country, is actually an effete foreign policy. It is an effete foreign policy because it does not take into account the intent of the regime, or why a regime like Iran may act in a non-rational way.

Do we believe that the Soviet Union under Brezhnev or any of the people in the high communist period would have used nuclear weapons? Most people, even their enemies regarded the Soviets as rational actors. That is why the Western world was able to deal with them. That is why, in the end, we did not face nuclear conflagration. In Iran, there is a desire for a millenarian period in which Iran will dominate the world. It is important that there be a firm international stand against them; it is important that we all stand together. I hope that economic sanctions and firm diplomacy do work. I know that the President of the United States means what he says, and I hope they get that in Iran.

There is one last point I would make to the member for Cowan: Australia does perform a very important role for the Western alliance in Teheran, and you need to consider that when you make comments or judgement about this matter. I am not referring to your understandable references to the NAM conference. Australia’s diplomatic representation in Tehran, even if we loath it’s hate-filled leadership is very important. At least one western country needs to be there to present collective western positions to Tehran and relay their responses.

Finally, my assessment is that two contradictory facts are influencing whether there can be a non-military resolution to the Iranian drive to achieving nuclear weapons. Tightening the sanctions by preventing the repatriation of Iranian oil export income earned in exempted countries is a welcome development to achieving peaceful resolution. On the other hand reports that new Iranian centrifuges could cut by a third, the time needed to create a nuclear bomb are deeply alarming. This technical development may allow Tehran to wait for some international crisis and hope they can rush through their final dash to the bomb.

Australia, both in Tehran and at the UN Security Council is in an unusually crucial position to address this crucial issue on which the peace of the world hangs.”

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