Equilibrium rather than Exclusion


MUNICH/WASHINGTON/TEHERAN (Own report) - Prior to this year's Munich Security Conference, Berlin is pushing for a change in the Western Middle East policy. Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman and host of the Munich Security Conference is demanding a new approach to Teheran, and particularly that the USA establishes "normal relations with Teheran". High ranking Iranian politicians are expected in Munich this weekend for talks. This has to be seen in the context of Berlin's attempt to obtain access to Iran's extensive natural gas reserves. The planning of an appropriate pipeline ("Nabucco") was accelerated last week. US sanctions against Iran are presently an obstacle to the implementation of German plans. Think tanks in Berlin are elaborating strategies for facilitating access to the Iranian resources while simultaneously preventing Teheran's rise - not through open military threats but through a Western controlled balance of weakness in the Middle East.


For weeks, the chairman of the Munich Security Conference, Wolfgang Ischinger, has been publicly demanding a change in Western Middle East policy. Ischinger had served more than 30 years in the German Foreign Ministry, i.a. as Director-General of the Policy Planning Staff, as Director General for Political Affairs and as State Secretary and most recently, from 2001 to 2008, as German ambassador to the USA and Great Britain. He is "expecting" the new US administration "to break a 30-year taboo of not having direct contacts with Iran," declared Ischinger in mid-January [1], and is hoping for "normal relations" between the USA and Iran. "The unresolved Iran question is a burden for all of us" [2] Ischinger insisted in a radio interview a few days later. On his initiative, several high ranking Iranian political representatives, including Foreign Minister Mottaki and the President of the Iranian Parliament Laridschani, will attend the Munich Conference and will be ready to hold talks with US officials.

Iran as Ally

Over a dozen heads of states and governments, as well as approximately 50 ministers will participate and more than 50 countries will be represented at the Security Conference. Berlin is anxiously awaiting the conference, particularly because of the participation of Joseph R. Biden, the new U.S. Vice President, who is expected to give a first official exposé on the future US foreign and military policy. James Jones, President Obama's security advisor, David Petraeus, chief of the US Central Command (commander of US forces in the Middle East and Central Asia) and Richard Holbrooke, the new special representative to Afghanistan have also announced their attendance. The US is also giving top priority to Middle East policy at the Munich talks. High ranking political advisors in the Washington establishment have indeed announced a change in policy toward Iran. "Whether you like it or not, there is no way the USA can ignore Iran," a high ranking expert of the Cato Institute, the prestigious US think tank, said: "Iran is the ideal US ally in the struggle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan."[3]

Political Change

Berlin is interested in ending sanctions against Iran also because of the country's natural gas reserves, the second largest in the world. German energy companies are closely cooperating with the number 1 - Russia - and are also seeking access to the Iranian reserves. An international conference in Budapest last week decided to accelerate the construction of the Nabucco Pipeline. According to official information, the pipeline is to transport natural gas from the Caspian Basin to Europe (via Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria). Given the uncertainties in the Central Asian supply countries, experts actually assume that the pipeline will only be profitable if Middle Eastern and Iranian deposits are also tapped. "Ultimately" Europe "can not afford to exclude Iran from energy partnerships," explained an executive of the German energy company RWE. RWE is a member of the Nabucco consortium.[4] But a "precondition" for cooperation "is a change in political relationships."

Common Platform

Berlin is taking advantage of the US administration change to push for a change in relations. Prior to the Munich Security Conference, several think tanks presented strategy papers on how to end military threats against Iran to clear the way also for natural gas cooperation. Last week for example, the Bertelsmann Foundation published a strategy paper demanding a "common platform for dialogue" between all the Near and Middle Eastern countries, from Egypt to Iran with the participation of the USA and the EU. All the actors in the region "will be invited on the basis of equality", the paper states, suggesting equal treatment of all participants.[5] But the "platform for dialogue" would in fact be dominated by the USA and the EU.

Alleged Equality

The German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) is also supportive of cooperative dialogue. The US policy of threats against Iran has failed: "The West does not have the capacity to impose its concept of policy simply by excluding those, who contradict them."[6] Western interests can "no longer be maintained by pro-American spearheads or bridgeheads in the region". In the long run, Iran's interests must also be respected. This will impose an "equilibrium between the participating actors". The discussion will include a proposition on how to position Riad against Teheran. "In the interest of a regional equilibrium," SWP writes, "the policy of containment has to be supported with an engagement, like the one pursued by the Arab Gulf states, particularly by Saudi Arabia in relationship to Iran." Such a policy aimed at mutually neutralizing the various actors aspiring to attain positions of power in the Near and Middle East and - under the cover of alleged equality - is in fact seeking to secure a balance of weakness in the resource rich region along the Persian Gulf. And, as before, under Western hegemony.

[1] SWR2 Interview der Woche vom 17.01.2009
[2] "Amerika hat einen Schritt für sich selbst getan"; Deutschlandfunk 21.01.2009
[3] "Europa droht der Sturz in die Bedeutungslosigkeit"; Focus Online 02.02.2009
[4] Stefan Judisch - Nabucco wird kommen; Financial Times Deutschland 27.01.2009. See also Nabucco and Fundamentally Reoriented
[5] Christian-Peter Hanelt: Waffenstillstand in Gaza: Aber was kommt danach? spotlight europe 2009/02, Januar 2009
[6] Johannes Reissner: Irans Selbstverständnis als Regionalmacht. Machtstreben im Namen antikolonialer Modernität; SWP-Studie S 29, Oktober 2008. See also Containment Course