President Obama is fulfilling his campaign promise of ending all U.S combat operations in Iraq. And the Russian Federation, finally in 2010, after beginning work in 1995, completed the 1000 megawatt nuclear power plant in Bushehr, Iran, to the general satisfaction of the international community: the spent fuel would be sent back to Russia for reprocessing and nuclear fuel and other technologies would continue to be provided under close supervision by Russia. It is the necessary first step toward a global consortium for the processing of nuclear fuel to gradually detract the planet’s nuclear aspirants from its military uses until the world converges on Global Zero. The contract was worth $1 billion for the Russians. Concerns, however, continue to fester in the United States and in Western Europe about fathoming the nuclear intentions of Iran.
Iran maintains that its intentions are peaceful. The purpose of nuclearization, Iran says, is to save its oil and gas resources for export where they are needed most, elsewhere in the world such as in the West and in the major emerging market countries, particularly, in India and China, both of which are also in favor of steering a less confrontational course on Iran for the purpose of global economic stability. Most likely, Russia could also benefit significantly by helping Iran exploit its oil and natural gas resources. And, all of this is lost business and goodwill for the United States in particular, which is still a long way away from achieving any rapprochement with Iran. More importantly, even if the major energy consumers of the world aggressively start now to lower their dependence on oil and gas, it will take at least 20 years to achieve that goal, and they have only barely begun that transition. Meaning, standing where we are, the world will remain hooked to the ever depleting and unclean oil and gas (albeit gas being cleaner than oil in relative terms) until 2050.
Iran intends to convert nearly all of its annual electricity production to nuclear power. According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) World Fact Book, Iran produces about 200 billion kWH of electricity per year. This means about 20 nuclear power plants the size of Bushehr around Iran or about $20 billion worth of exports for any advanced country with significant nuclear power expertise, especially when the latest reading of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the United States dipped because of imports continuing to exceed exports, threatening to defeat the goal of the Obama administration to raise exports in the next 5 years. American exports thrive not on exporting toys, nuts and bolts but on large capital goods such as nuclear power plants.
Iran is a market that has now been lost for all practical purposes for both France and the United States, the two largest producers of nuclear power in the world, especially when economic engagement is the way to ensure, per international norms, peaceful uses of nuclear power, whether that be for electricity production or use in non-military research and development, such as in nuclear medicine, another area where Russia will most certainly help Iran.
The regional spillovers of achieving rapprochement with Iran must not be understated. For the Middle East to be stable, the antipodal crescents, the Iranian and Iraqi Shia and the Sunni in the other parts of the region must be balanced through peaceful economic power rather than through military power as they yearn to cater to the aspirations for a better life of the rising ranks of their young.
The stability of a democratic Iraq after the United States leaves the country is critically dependent on the relationship of Iraq with Iran and Saudi Arabia. It depends on the understanding of the Iranian Shiite theocratic democracy and the Shia democratic majority in Iraq that the Sunnis and other minorities must be well integrated in both countries, and that reciprocally Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Sunni Islamic countries must be tolerant of their non-Sunni Islamic minorities.
Stability in Iran and Iraq and regional economic integration rather than military threats to defend Israel can go a long way in solving the Israeli-Palestinian problem and to restore order and normalcy on Israeli streets. It will also help the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Afghanistan (where the United States recently purchased Russian helicopters as if outsourcing both Middle Eastern diplomacy and business continuity in Afghanistan to the Russians) and Pakistan to turn both of these countries away from militancy and toward economic development.
The Obama National Security Council (NSC) can be considered to have all but missed a historic opportunity in foreign policy of achieving with Iran the equivalent of the Nixon-Kissinger coup on China. It is, sadly, also unlikely that on Iran the Republicans will live up to their Kissingerian legacy. That era seems to have passed with Reagan, Bush and Baker.
If Medvedev and Putin opened Bushehr, it is time Obama re-opens the U.S embassy in Tehran unless the United States wants to be held hostage by both the regional and global sentiments around the world to begin to include Iran more, both within the region and in the rest of the world.
Instead of nuclear war (as former Cuban president Fidel Castro recently warned in the context of the American position on Iran), perhaps the world can begin talking in earnest about nuclear peace. And Bushehr could be that beginning.