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Geneva: The New Munich?

09/07/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

On Saturday, Iran officially snubbed the latest efforts by the international community to negotiate over its nuclear programme. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his country would not retreat "one iota" as the 14 day deadline to reach a mutual agreement expired. At the Geneva meeting last month, the so-called P5+1 proposed a "freeze for freeze" package under which the international community would halt efforts to enact new sanctions on the condition that Iran would suspend efforts to install more centrifuges. This latest diplomatic breakdown should serve as a reminder that this threat is all too real.

Whilst following these events I could not help recalling my secondary school history lessons in Britain on the short-term consequences of World War II. The day after Chamberlain left Munich and declared -- Munich Accord in hand -- his hope for "peace in our time", Hitler still had not given clear assurance that he would curb his Fascio-Germanic expansionist aims. Fast-forward 70 years: At the conclusion of the Geneva talks last month, Iran provided no firm guarantees it would halt its ambitions to develop nuclear weaponry and curb its Islamic expansionist ideology, thus proving who has the upper hand in recent diplomacy.

Iran's oft-stated nuclear ambitions remain the single greatest threat to world peace. But instead of recognizing the Iranian threat for what it is, Europeans continue to focus on blaming themselves for past colonial failures. This ostrich head-in-the-sand approach undermines the imminent danger of Iran's expansionist Shiite ideology, ignores its strategic objectives in the region and plays right into the hands of the conservative, repressive Iranian regime.

Iran has already provided plenty of evidence of its intransigence and intent to charge ahead with gaining nuclear capabilities: it has repeatedly reneged on nuclear agreements; Ahmadinejad has continually sought to undermine the Middle East peace process; and Iran remains the world's largest state-sponsor of terrorism, arming and financing Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as well as Shiite insurgents in southern Iraq.

Iran's fiery brand of revolutionary militant Islam is no different than that of Britain's home-grown terrorists who bombed the London transport system in July 2005 or those who decided to launch a holy war on the United States in September 2001. Indifference to this reality jeopardises the peaceful and prosperous future that the region's responsible leaders, with the support of the USA, Europe and the rest of the international community, are striving to build.

For those who continue to question Iran's nuclear intentions, ask yourselves this: why has its nuclear authority deliberately constructed its installations underground if it has nothing to hide? Why has the regime repeatedly rejected packages designed to bolster its ability to develop nuclear power in return for providing basic proof that it is not developing nuclear weaponry? And why does Iran continue to work towards building long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles? The reality seems clear enough, but Western politicians continue to equivocate despite mounting evidence offered by Iranian leaders themselves.

Iran has made no illusions of its desire to eradicate the State of Israel, but its ambitions are not confined just to the Middle East, a significance that eludes many Western strategists. The security of the State of Israel is no longer just a Jewish issue. Israel's very existence should, in fact, be the paramount concern of every modern, forward-thinking nation. The ongoing struggle represents the divide between liberal humanism and autocratic barbarism, and Israel stands on the front line of this ideological battle. So when Ahmadinejad threatens Israel's existence and describes it as "a disgraceful stain on the Islamic world" and "a rotten, dried tree that will be eliminated by one storm", he is not simply dehumanising a sovereign nation state, but challenging the very foundations of enlightenment, humanism and liberalism.

It is high time we in Britain stopped blaming Israel as the sole contributor to global instability. The danger of the myth of Israeli responsibility for the Islamic world's unrest is that it gives us something to do rather than fight the Jihad. "Land for peace" will not resolve the conflict, as the issue is not about land but about ideology, about moderation in the face of extremism. And why do people reject this basic truth? Because we in Europe have an extremely hard time accepting that we cannot, through sincere effort, fix everything. If the problem is us, then why can't we change? We must transcend such useless social discourse and affirm the fundamental reality that it is Iran, not we that must make compromises and change its behaviour.

Prime Minister Brown's speech to the Israeli parliament last month, in which he reiterated the "shared values of liberty, democracy and justice" between the United Kingdom and Israel, should be taken seriously. His decision to pressure Iran with tougher sanctions and to continue with international diplomacy is the right approach. As Europe, the U.S. and other global leaders engage in increasingly active diplomacy, all avenues for a peaceful solution can now be taken.

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