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Michael Danby
Please see – Experts: Nuclear Talks Ignore Iran’s Missiles at World’s Peril
An abridged version of this article was published in The Daily Telegraph, 28 May 2015

When Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop visited Iran last month, she was the first high-ranking Western minister to visit the Islamic Republic since the framework deal between Iran, the USA and the Europeans.

Her visit was the clearest signal yet of Iran’s continuing passage from pariah to international acceptability, and what looks like its inexorable progress toward a nuclear weapons capability—something of great significance to peace in that tumultuous region and something that will affect Australia.

A military truck carrying a Shahab-3 missile drives by during a military parade commemorating the anniversary of the start of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, in Tehran, Sept. 21, 2008

Even though the Lausanne nuclear agreement has not been finalised, the negotiations have been a success for Iran.  Iran has managed over time to get the US to shift its basic position from preventing a nuclear capacity to limiting it. Iran has convinced its negotiators – the US led critics of the Iranian unclear program, that it need not dismantle any nuclear infrastructure. Instead, international inspections will be the unlikely guarantee that Iran will get the Bomb. Most significantly, and just in the last few days, both the Iranian Foreign Minister and the bloke who really calls the shots in Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, insist there will be no untrammelled inspections of their nuclear facilities.

The significance of Bishop’s visit is that it marks Iran’s continuing passage from pariah to accepted member of the international community. Western countries are hustling to be at the front of the queue when sanctions are officially dropped. Western diplomats (including Bishop) are lauding ‘a change in Iranian attitudes’. Yet there is little evidence of that. Bishop seems to have joined the Obama Admin chorus in lauding Iran’s acceptance of nuclear understandings. At the very time our Foreign Minister was in Iran, the Iranians continued undermining regional governments from Beirut to Baghdad (and beyond, to Sana’a in Yemen), as well as prolonging the Syrian civil war.

Bishop discussed with her counterpart Australia’s desire to sign an MOU on returning failed asylum seekers. She said she signed an intelligence-sharing agreement. Whatever the details of her discussions and agreement, Australia’s presence in Tehran mark Iran’s normalisation process, even though Iran has not stopped any of the activities that deservedly accorded it pariah status in the first place.

All other things being equal, it might be understandable that Bishop offered small operational cooperation on matters to do with Iranian asylum seekers. But the context of “cooperation” with Iran is Australian troops being on the ground in Iraq (where Iranian-backed militias also operate against a common foe) and that about 100 Australian jihadis—about which Australia wants information — are in the region.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As Australia’s opposition leader Bill Shorten put it, Iran has “a different view of the world to Australia and so we need to keep our eyes open whenever we deal with them”. Even if we were to put aside the proposed nuclear deal, we should remember Iran sponsors military action in Lebanon and Syria by its proxy paramilitary Hezbollah. Its dubious role in Iraq destroyed the internal consensus of the last Iraqi government. Should Australian or even American soldiers be working hand in glove with the mullah’s in Iran? Just as Julie Bishop visited there, Iran captured Sana’a the capital of Yemen and drove the President. And as for her primrose of ‘intelligence sharing” with Iran, that is particularly problematic given the fact that Hezbollah, Iran’s wholly and solely-owned Lebanese franchise, is classified as a terrorist organisation by Australia.


Former Sydney teen Adbullah Elmir, left, and former Melbourne man Yusuf Yusuf, right, with an unidentified fight in a photo posted on Facebook by the ‘ginger jihadi’ Elmir

Luckily, it is not Julie Bishop alone who can decide to reclassify Hezbollah as part of intelligence sharing with Iran. That may be the wish of the government, but it must be ratified by bi-partisan elders of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. The PJCIS would have to get a recommendation from Australia’s security services, and even then, knowing the good sense of most of the members of the committee, I doubt whether they would act as a simple rubber stamp, and give a kick to the Iranian terror outfit.

Hezbollah remains one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organisations. It has activists in Sydney. Maybe it isn’t as obviously blood-curdling as the barbarians in Da’esh, but its operatives have conducted and attempted to conduct numerous terrorist attacks far from Lebanon’s borders, including the headquarters of the Jewish community in Argentina in 1994, where 85 people were killed and hundreds injured, and a failed attack in Bangkok in 2012.

Robert Gates, Obama’s past Secretary of Defence says, the key components of the Obama’s Iran deal don’t really work:

ROBERT GATES (Former Defense Secretary/”Duty”): Well, first of all, getting the Iranians to the negotiating table in the first place was a success for U.S. foreign policy. They didn’t come to the table at a goodwill. They came to the table because their economy was being strangled and the leadership was afraid they might get overthrown. So they are there because they have to be there. I think that the agreement there’re some specifics in the agreement that are very encouraging, but I– I have several concerns that I hope can be addressed in the negotiations between now and June the first is the timing of the lifting of the sanctions. Is it– are they going to be lifted right away as long as the Iranians agree to implement the agreement. Or will be– they be phased over time based on performance which has been our position all along. The second is verification. Unless we have sort of on-demand inspection at all facilities, including military facilities, I think, there is a great potential to cheat. Third, I think that this– the– the idea of being able to have these snapback sanctions, that sanctions could be re-imposed once lifted is very unrealistic. I think that the pursuit of the agreement is based on the President’s hope that over a ten-year period with the sanctions being lifted that the Iranians will become a constructive stakeholder in the international community. That– that as their economy begins to grow again, that– that they will abandon their ideology, their theology, their revolutionary principles, their meddling in various parts of the region. And, frankly, I believe that’s very unrealistic.

BOB SCHIEFFER: What if we can’t get a deal? With is the alternative?

ROBERT GATES: Well, I don’t think the alternative is war. One alternative is better deal. I think that you go back to the sanctions, I think you reinforce the sanctions, and you basically say, here are the additional things we need for this agreement to work and to be worthwhile, and an agreement that reassures our allies or at least doesn’t scare them half to death. If they choose not to come back to the negotiations, but to race to a nuclear weapon, well my guess is that will show that they intended to do that all along. Despite all their protestations, that they have no interest in a nuclear weapon, but I think– I think that there is a potential for a better deal.
Former US Defence Secretary Bob Gates on CBS’s Face the Nation, 25 May 2015


Finally, Australia used to support autonomous sanctions by Australia against Iran. This follows several intense episodes of Iran trying to acquire specialist Australian know-how for its nuclear inventory. While it is unlikely these sanctions will be dropped before the UN sanctions are, I fear the government will drop them soon after. I think this benign view of Iran is just an unseemly grab for commercial benefit.  Surely the Australian people and Parliament, who supported sanctions on Iran, would not abandon them simply because of an apparent change in US policy to try and strike a nuclear deal.
All elements of the American Congress – left, right and centre – have as their minimum demand open inspections on controversial Iranian nuclear and weapons sites. Can the Australian Parliament agree to less?

This is how the Iranian newspaper Ghanoon Daily portrays to the Iranian Republic the implications of the Australian Foreign Minister’s visit, click here to read the article