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Chavez, Ahmadinejad and Iran’s nuclear program

The relationship between the United States and Iran seems to be always simmering in a pool of historical malcontent. However, since the West started suspecting that Iran’s nuclear program had more to do with acquiring a bomb than producing energy, the temperature of this “diplomatic kitchen” has reached its boiling point.

The recent discovery of an Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, the assassination of several Iranian scientist involved in their country’s nuclear program, and the crash of a US drone in Iran tells us that desperation is taking over both sides. This week, the media is buzzing about how the US should deal with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime if an escalation of conflict came to happen.

The options discussed range from a US Congressional proposal to outlaw all diplomatic contact with Iran, to imposing additional sanctions to Iran’s Central Bank, to directly bombing Iranian nuclear facilities. Yet, few observers have spoken about using a multi-party diplomatic negotiation such as the one employed to pressure North Korea to stop its nuclear weapons program.

The main reason why this is overlooked is that there is no valid interlocutor between Iran and the West. Or is there? Iran is described as a pariah state with few friends outside its zone of influence, yet for the past decade Tehran has been working to get closer to a particular region in the West: Latin America.

Amongst Iran friends in that area, Venezuela stands out as a good candidate to be the interlocutor in case of heightened tension. Why? An article published in 2009 by FRIDE researchers Susanne Gratius and Henner Fürtig point out that these regimes share political traits: “Both countries sustain their foreign policies with huge natural resources and use an ideological, radical discourse to create South-South alliances in and outside their regions (…) On the domestic front, the regimes represent a national, state-based reformation project and a backwards-oriented revolution. The opposition to imperialism, neo-liberalism, and globalization from the position of third world “victimism” is the main element of political affinity between Iran and Venezuela.”

President Hugo Chávez and President Ahmadinejad have met more than 11 times in the past decade, and their governments have signed 182 agreements to improve cooperation in the energy, industry, military, manufacture, social and finance sectors, says a report by Venezuelan newspaper El Universal. In the foreign relations department, they have worked together to push their interests: Iran has backed Venezuelan position in the OPEC, while Venezuela has helped Iranians to fund its nuclear program with financial schemes that avoid the economic roadblocks imposed by the United States.

Now, despite sharing an anti-American sentiment and dreams of global influence, there is something that ties Venezuela to US interests: money. Around 80 percent of the Venezuelan government revenue comes from the country’s oil exports and out of the 3 million barrels of crude oil and refined petroleum products produced by Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) every day about 1.5 million go to the U.S. market. In his 13 years in power, Mr. Chavez has done everything he can to diversify his country’s oil clientele, but still 60 percent of PDVSA’s earnings come from “The Great Satan.”

Another factor that makes the Venezuelan government a perfect interlocutor is the fact that Mr. Chavez is always looking for an opportunity to shine in the international arena. He has offered his connections with terrorist groups and shady regimes to negotiate everything from the liberation of guerilla hostages in Colombia to the curtailing of combat in Libya. For all his tough talk about war and asymmetrical confrontation, Chavez is always portraying himself as a peace seeker inside his country. So, what better way to reinforce that idea than helping with the non-proliferation efforts of the West in a year where Venezuelans will have to choose a President?

International recognition and domestic economic and political stability are good reasons to convince Mr. Chavez to help the West stop the Iranians from acquiring nuclear capability. Will it work? Does Mr. Chavez have the diplomatic clout to convince Iran to not build a nuclear bomb? We cannot know for sure, but one thing is certain: the more people/countries get involved in a cause, the more likely it is to succeed. So why not go ahead and try it?

Written by Guest Writer Rebeca Fernandez. Rebeca Fernandez is a Venezuelan journalist who is passionate about Latin American politics and the World Economy. She has a Master in International Relations and lives in Detroit, USA.

5 comments

  1. The above article is well written and makes several interesting points that are likely obvious to those with more than a passing interest. There is no need to overreact to such matters; relationships are very complicated and always in a state of flux. Iran will pursue programs it feels are in its best national interest, as is the case with most, if not all, countries. America, and President Obama, fully understand our options re Iran are very limited and it is critical we do not overreach in this regard and military action must be out of the question unless America is so provoked! We must use quiet diplomacy to develop a stable relationship with Iran and bring them into the world community, to flex our military muscle at this point is counter-intuitive and unproductive…

  2. Thank you for your comment dotcompolitics. I would not regard the buzz about Iran’s nuclear program as an overreaction. Another nuclear bomb in the Middle East, the World’s number one hotspot for conflict, is a very serious matter. If Tehran keeps working on acquiring nuclear capability I fear that Israel won’t think twice about striking Iranian nuclear facilities, with or without US consent. However, I agree with you that the best path to reach a solution for this “disagreement” concerning Iran’s nuclear program is quiet diplomacy. Isolating or attacking rogue states such as North Korea, Iran or Cuba has done very little for global harmony and even less for the people who have the misfortune of living under such regimes.

  3. Hi Rebeca, we seemingly agree, nations like people must talk through their issues, and it takes passion, determination and time! War is rarely a solution and the use of military force must be an absolute last resort-always! I trust the Iranians are not inclined to strike anyone with a nuclear weapon, esp another nation also in possession of nuclear weaponry as the consequences are obvious and devestating-devestating beyond belief… If Iran should develop a functional nuclear weapon the goal, as with any other nation, is to give them a reason not to use the weapon in the first place by including them in the community of nations! I hope my faith in humanity is not misplaced… take care!

  4. Why in the World should Iran not have both nuclear power and the bomb? Israel has both. Saudi Arabia has both. Pakistan has both etc. The US has troops surrounding their country. The US had been influencing events for their selfish means since the 70s. Iran should be supported and encouraged to fight back against the schoolyard bully who is the US.

  5. Thank you for your comment. I do not think that obtaining a nuclear weapon is the way to stand your ground in the international community. We have come a long way from the days of the Cold War, when the idea of Peace through nuclear deterrence was popular. There are many other ways in which a country can defend itself , ways that are more effective and have less terrible consequences for the general population than a nuclear bomb.

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