Kosovo Crisis Presents Iran with Policy Dilemma
sratfor.com 9 April 1999 STRATFOR
STRATFOR's Global Intelligence Update April 9, 1999 Kosovo Crisis Presents Iran with Policy Dilemma Summary: Iran, particularly in its role as the current head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, has taken a great interest in the plight of the Moslem Kosovar Albanians. Tehran is torn, however, between its desire to stop and punish the Serbs and its opposition to U.S. military actions abroad.
Analysis: Replying to accusations of Iranian complacency leveled in the Saudi-owned, Beirut-based newspaper Al-Sharq al-Owsat, the Iranian English-language daily Tehran Times on April 8 wrote that "If any Iranian official denounced the NATO strikes, he simply meant that the Western powers had violated the international norms and tarnished the prestige of the world body." The Tehran Times' attempted clarification of Iran's position on Operation Allied Force illustrates the dilemma the conflict in Kosovo has presented Tehran. Iran is caught between its vehement condemnation of Serbian aggression and its opposition to U.S. global power projection.
And so, it has attempted to strike a balance that blames the UN Security Council for shirking its responsibility before the crisis erupted, thus making NATO air strikes necessary, while insisting that the strikes should have been launched under a UN mandate. Iran's stand on Belgrade's "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovo is unambiguous, and is shared by Tehran's moderates and conservatives alike. Speaking on April 7 at the conclusion of a foreign ministerial meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Contact Group in Geneva, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi warned the "extremist Serbs" that "the world of Islam cannot tolerate continuation of brutalities against Moslems in Kosovo... The world of Islam cannot witness atrocities against Moslems in Kosovo and not take any measures."
The trouble is, Iran can't figure out what effective measures to take. Tehran has sent two plane-loads of humanitarian aid to Kosovar Albanian refugees and has upgraded an Iranian-run clinic in Tirana. It has held consultations independently and in its role as the current head of the OIC with the UN, Bosnia, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, the Vatican, Russia, NATO members, and other countries. It has even offered, with the OIC, to participate in any future internationally-led peacekeeping efforts in Kosovo. But beyond issuing condemnations and continuing to appeal for a peaceful and speedy negotiated settlement of the crisis, Iran has found itself somewhat impotent. Adding to Iran's policy predicament, a number of Arab and Moslem countries have come out in support of NATO's bombing campaign, and among those opposed to the bombing are Iran's perennial enemies Iran and, initially, Israel.
Israeli Defense Minster Ariel Sharon has publicly warned against Kosovar Albanian independence, insisting it would create a greater Albanian "fundamentalist Islamic state" in the heart of Europe. Baghdad has claimed that the U.S. is "playing the Kosovo Moslem card" to neutralize Arab and Moslem opposition to NATO attacks on an independent sovereign country. "A country's internal problems should be settled within the country concerned, without any foreign interference," said an Iraqi statement. Both Iraq and Israel have reportedly had military contacts with the Yugoslav government before the current crisis as well.
Iran's best hope for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis -- Russia -- has not panned out. Tehran has appealed several times to Moscow to "take advantage of its influence over Belgrade" to intervene on behalf of the Kosovar Albanians, but with no success. Either Russia's influence has not been particularly strong or, as is more likely the case, Russia does not want to pressure Belgrade to accept NATO's ultimatum. In an interview with the English-language Iran Daily printed April 7, Russian Ambassador to Tehran Konstantin Shuvalov went so far as to suggest that the perceived plight of the Kosovar Albanians was in significant part mere NATO propaganda. No matter how eager Iran is to cooperate with Russia rather than NATO, this is not the answer Tehran wanted to hear.
And so we come back to NATO's bombing campaign -- not Iran's first choice and not really effective in stopping Serb aggression against Kosovar Albanians, but at least dishing out pain on the Serbs. The English language daily Kayhan International stated the case quite succinctly on April 6, arguing that U.S. attacks on Yugoslavia and Iraq "set a dangerous precedent in international affairs" and "rendered the world a lot more unsafe without ever inflicting heavy blows to the repressive reigns of the rulers in Baghdad and Belgrade." "However," the paper continued, "Milosevic and his criminal cronies deserve nothing but the eternal fire of damnation for the hell they broke loose on Moslems in the Balkans."
Interestingly, the newspaper argued that Operation Allied Force would have been "just and righteous" with the backing of the UN. Speaking to the OIC Contact Group meeting in Geneva, Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi laid the blame for the Kosovo crisis directly on Belgrade. Kharrazi charged that Belgrade's neglect for the legitimate rights of the Kosovars in clear violation of international norms and despite international condemnation, its constant inflexibility toward efforts to find a peaceful settlement of the crisis, and its intensification of the crisis through the massacre of innocent civilians, had given NATO an excuse to resort to military action. At the same time, Kharrazi blamed the UN Security Council, which he argued had the main responsibility under the UN charter to maintain international peace and security, for not taking timely action to prevent the crisis in Kosovo.
In essence, Kharrazi said NATO had to do what it did because Belgrade refused to behave and the UN Security Council didn't do its job. Iran's conservatives, including spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and speaker of the Iranian Majlis Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri, have condemned both Belgrade and NATO for the fate of the Kosovar Albanian Moslems. Khameini charged on April 5 that NATO air strikes were "an attempt to annihilate Moslems in this part of Europe."
On April 6, Nateq Nouri argued that the Serbs and NATO had reached a consensus for annihilation of Moslems, insisting that NATO military pressure only emboldened the Serbs to aggravate their crimes, with Moslems as the only victims. Nateq Nouri argued that the U.S. had used cases like Iraq and Yugoslavia to violate all international norms and follow the law of the jungle. But in the absence of a better solution, Iran's conservatives have joined the country's moderates in laying the blame at the UN's doorstep. Nateq Nouri blamed the "inefficiency" of the UN Security Council and other international organizations for the failure to find a diplomatic solution to the brewing crisis in Kosovo before NATO resorted to a military option, and for their similar failure to bring an end to both Belgrade and NATO's actions. Out of a perplexing policy dilemma -- where fighting the oppression of Moslems put it on the same side as NATO -- Iran has woven an interesting solution. It has concluded that the UN should do more to stave off global crises before they erupt and has given its grudging nod to U.S. power projection, with the caveat that it should take place under UN mandate.
Iran's relations with Russia have been strained by the crisis. And considering disagreements between Russia and Iran in the Caucasus and Central Asia, particularly over the CIS's Moslems, those relations may not recover any time soon. How Iranian policy evolves is still dependent on the eventual outcome and aftermath of the Kosovo crisis, but Tehran has, for the time being, made a definite shift in orientation.