Since the advent of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has been the target of sustained political, economic and military pressure by the West led primarily by the US and the UK. This is in marked contrast with the pre-revolution era when Iran under the Shah was a close ally of the West. During those days, the US was building up Iran as the regional influential to act as the guardian of Western interests in the region. Iran under the Shah used its enormous oil wealth to buy from the US and other Western countries advanced technology for its economic development projects and highly-sophisticated weapon systems for strengthening itself militarily. Washington supported even Iran’s plans to acquire full nuclear fuel cycle facilities, which would have provided it with, inter alia, uranium enrichment capability, precisely something that the US is trying to deny to Iran currently. In return, Iran not only aligned its policies with those of the US, but also provided full freedom to the business corporations from the Western countries to exploit its economic resources. Further, American military advisers and civilian contractors in Iran were not subject to the jurisdiction of Iranian courts, according to the agreement signed between the two countries.

This cosy US relationship with Iran changed radically after the Islamic Revolution. The revolution was the outcome of the Iranian people’s resentment against the despotic rule of the Shah, over-westernisation of the society under his rule, vast inequalities of income and wealth, gross Western interference in Iran’s internal affairs and unjust exploitation of its economic resources by the Westerners. The occupation of the American Embassy in Tehran by the Islamic revolutionaries, which humiliated the US, was the beginning of deep animosity between the two countries. The expulsion of the Israeli Embassy from Tehran and the establishment of diplomatic relations with Palestine by the Islamic Republic of Iran further alienated the US. The real source of discord between the two countries, however, was the decision by Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini to pursue an independent foreign policy.

The US and some other Western countries paid back by supporting Iraq’s invasion of Iran. The Iraq-Iran war, which lasted for about eight years, weakened both the countries economically and militarily. The war and the consequent weakening of the two potentially most powerful states in the Persian Gulf region enabled the US to strengthen its stranglehold on the oil and gas resources of the region. The Iraq-Iran war, thus, fitted perfectly in the West’s imperial policy of divide and rule. Whatever was left of Iraq’s strength after its war with Iran in the 1980s was gradually destroyed under the weight of the UN sanctions in the 1990s, leading ultimately to the US invasion and Iraq’s capitulation in 2003.

The US and its allies are currently engaged in a sustained effort to achieve the same results in Iran on the pretext of its nuclear programme. However, the real problem is not Iran’s nuclear programme or its success in acquiring uranium enrichment capability to which in any case it is entitled under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The real problem for Washington is the audacity of the Islamic Republic of Iran to challenge the US hegemony in the Persian Gulf region and its control over the region’s oil and gas resources. Washington also cannot stomach Tehran’s criticism of Israel and its steadfast support to the Palestinian cause. The real US goal, therefore, is regime change in Iran more than anything else. This goal explains the US-engineered UN Security Council sanctions against Iran ostensibly because of its nuclear programme; the US national sanctions against Iran which were imposed initially even before the alleged objectionable elements of Iran’s nuclear came to the knowledge of the West; the US efforts to isolate the Iranian government and destabilise it through overt and covert means; and the occasional threats of military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Iran has inevitably suffered economically from the US and West European sanctions aimed at hurting its oil and gas sector, which is the mainstay of its economy and isolating it financially from the rest of the world. But it has stood its ground and refused to yield to the US and some West European countries’ the demand for suspending its uranium enrichment activities. It is ironical that while the US criticises Iran for not implementing the UN Security Council Resolutions relating to its nuclear programme, it has no hesitation in destabilising the Iranian government and threatening it militarily in a blatant violation of the UN Charter. It also does not see any contradiction in criticising Iran for its alleged intention to develop nuclear weapons, which Iran has denied at the highest level, and its overt and covert support, historically speaking, to Israel’s nuclear weapon development programme.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that great powers, despite all their professions of adherence to the principles of international law and morality, actually base their decisions on strategically important issues on realpolitik or cold-blooded calculation of their national interests. The US is no exception to this rule. John J. Mearsheimer points out in his seminal work, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, that while the pronouncements of the US policy elites are heavily flavoured by moralism, behind closed doors they “speak mostly the language of power, not that of principle, and the United States acts in the international system according to the dictates of the realist logic. In essence, a discernible gap separates public rhetoric from the conduct of American foreign policy.”

The successful hosting of the 16th Non-Aligned Summit by Iran last week enabled it to checkmate, to some extent, the Western attempts to isolate it politically on the international scene. The presence of the representatives of 118 NAM member states, including 29 heads of state or government, at the summit was an indirect expression of solidarity with Iran. Even more important from Tehran’s point of view was the affirmation by the Summit of the right of every country, including Iran, to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. However, it is easy to exaggerate the significance of NAM declarations, which in many cases paper over internal difference within the Movement and in some cases are ignored by the member states when the time comes for crucial decisions at the UN Security Council or other international forums. The reality is that Iran, despite the expressions of solidarity by the NAM Summit, remains under relentless Western pressure ostensibly because of its nuclear programme. Iran must, of course, continue and even redouble its efforts to find a negotiated settlement of the nuclear issue - a settlement, which should respect its right to acquire uranium enrichment capability, while meeting international concerns about its nuclear programme. It is equally important, however, from realpolitik point of view that it should coordinate its policy on the issue with China and Russia to overcome the enormous pressure being brought to bear upon it by the West.

In the face of the stand-off between Iran and the West, Pakistan must continue to support Iran’s right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, while fulfilling its obligations under the NPT. We must also call for dialogue and reject the use of force to resolve outstanding issues concerning Iran’s nuclear programme as President Zardari did at the Tehran NAM Summit. Finally, we must pursue vigorously mutually beneficial projects for Pakistan-Iran cooperation, like the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, irrespective of the US pressure in recognition of the reality that the security and the economic well being of the two neighbouring Islamic countries are closely interlinked.

 The writer is a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs. Email: javid.husain@gmail.com