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Can Rouhani Make the Right Bridge?!

08/22/2013 12:01 pm 12:01:23 | Updated Oct 22, 2013

Iran's nuclear program was one of the most talked about subjects in recent years. A program, which, Iran claims is for peaceful purposes, is contested by the West. The series of increasingly harsh international sanctions imposed on Iran has proven the negotiations with Iran have failed so far and that the international community does not believe Iran's claim.

Let's be frank and open about this subject and ask what Iran sincerely would do with nuclear weapons whether they are created a day sooner or later. Will Iran launch them against its Arab neighbors or Israel? Will the weapon make life easier for the regime, giving it prestige in the international community? Or will it cause the regime trouble and make life more dangerous?

It can be all these. A glance at the history of the stalled negotiations suggests that Iran's tricks and provocations come from a fundamental fear of the West, particularly the US.

It may look like a conspiracy theory but looking back to 2003 when the current president, Hassan Rouhani, was Iran's nuclear chief negotiator, he agreed to suspend uranium enrichment. But enrichment resumed when Ahmadinejad became president.

Why and under what condition would Rouhani take such a decision, since it is obvious that such a decision could not have taken place without the approval of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei?

Historical context may provide the explanation: at the time of the enrichment suspension, the US had occupied neighboring Iraq and had a heavy presence in Afghanistan too. With the US surrounding Iran both to the west and east it was quite possible for then-president George W. Bush to strike Iran -- and it seems that the American government was very close to taking such a decision. But Rouhani's excellent diplomacy saved Iran and the regime during this critical time. Then should we believe that the nuclear program is simply a card to play with Western powers?

I mention this sequence of events to support the argument that the nuclear program is a cover for another real program since the Islamic regime in Iran never felt safe or accepted by Western countries. This regime's strategy is to create a strong defensive capability to support and defend itself against all foreign threats.

This fear of foreign threat stems from the eight-year war with Iraq, when Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 and Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which calls for member states to defend the attacked country, did not protect Iran. Rather, the world either tacitly or openly supported Saddam Hussein's regime -- a fact that has remained in the Iranian psyche.

Over a decade later, with events unfolding in Iraq and Afghanistan post-9/11, the regime was convinced it needed a strong self-defense capability. But the sanctions prevented it from strengthening its air force, and so it was left to develop its missile program instead.

Jane's magazine, which is an outlet of HIS Jane's Military and Security Assessments Intelligence Center, published a photo taken last month of a newly discovered nuclear site, which is located 25 miles southeast of the city of Shahrud in northern Iran.

The center's analysts said the unfinished site has no storage for the liquid rocket fuel used in Iran's domestic satellite program, suggesting it is built for ballistic missiles using solid fuel.

According to the article, western intelligence analysts say a new missile launching facility in Iran will likely be used for testing ballistic missiles, not for launching satellites into space as claimed by the regime.

However Iran's achievements in launching a satellite into space was significant. Iran's first satellite was successfully placed in space eight years ago and made the country the ninth nation in the world to launch its own satellite in space. Iran is very ambitious in developing its Air and Space program and talks about sending astronauts to space too.

Many of Iran's missile and satellite projects have been interrupted due to the recent sanctions but the government continues to finance these projects despite the obstacles.

While world worries and focuses only on Iran's nuclear program, Iran achieved developing its missile program, which without doubt has the technology today to launch short- and long- range missiles.

The report about the missile notes that in the past the United States has worried that Iran could be able to test a ballistic missile by the end of 2015. It is too late to stop Iran's missile program but it may be the right time for Iran to fully cooperate and negotiate with international community over its nuclear program.

What Iran has been striving all of these years is nothing more than protecting the regime from potential foreign threats and if today Iran is confident enough with its missiles capability, it can simply negotiate with the 5+1 in a more cooperative manner to justify the peacefulness of its nuclear program.

Even if the international community begins lifting sanctions, it will take years for the Iranian economy to recover. Perhaps the first year of Rouhani's presidency is one of the most significant and important years for the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Can this man make the right bridge between the two sides?

This article has been syndicated from Al-Ahram weekly.