Mike Beversluis

Friday, May 29, 2009

More translation exercise

A trap in Teheran by Franco Venturini.

In diplomacy sensational developments are not a rarity, but the one that involved yesterday our (translator's note: Italian) Foreign minister is quite unprecedented. Franco Frattini had already prepared his suitcase and was ready to leave for Teheran when Iranian diplomatic officers, just one hour before the departure, called up the Farnesina (* see note) with a new, "non-negotiable", demand: a meeting with Ahmadinejad in Semnan should be set up. In the same place, that is, where Iran had just succesfully launched a new-generation-land-land missile, able to hit Israel, the U.S. bases in the Middle East and the south-east of Europe. Smelling out the trap, that would have associated him in some way to the dangerous ballistic experiment, Frattini decided not to leave, and rightly so. And following this there are two, unavoidable considerations.

The first consideration regards minister Frattini himself, that in scheduling the trip was quite imprudent. Not because his politics of involving Iran in the stabilization process in Afghanistan and Pakistan is wrong. Not because Italy has taken an initiative without consulting allies (Hillary Clinton was in fact in agreement and the Europeans knew that Frattini would be going to Iran by the end of May). But rather because an electoral campaign is underway in Iran, conducted in an opaque way and with a lot of dirty maneuvering. And it was quite predictable that in this climate Ahmadinejad, who is the favourite but is not quite sure of election, would have tried to use to his advantage the first visit of a western Foreign Minister in the last four years (the diplomatic mission of the EU representative Solana was a quite different occasion).

Ahmadinejad - and this is the second consideration - has in fact punctually confirmed his political profile: that of a full-time taunter that is trying to balance the effects of the disastrous state of Iranian economy by distributing plenty of opiate in form of hyper-nationalism and hate towards Israel. The nuclear pursuit (that, despite the skepticism of quite a few, he maintains being a peaceful pursuit) and the development of ballistic missiles (that cannot quite be peaceful) represent the electoral "promissory notes" of Ahmadinejad and the only ones that he can actually command. In the firm belief that it's the West that needs him and not the other way around, Ahmadinejad recognizes the US only as having the rank of conversation partner. But even then he does not express, even towards the US, a politics that justifies the hopes that are cultivated in Washington and that Frattini wanted to help strengthen.

The diplomatic incident of yesterday, in this way, reminds us that Iran is a problem that remains dangerously open. The White House will have to wait for the post-electoral period to have a somewhat clear view of the situation. Obama refused to set a definite limit to his own patience as he had been requested by Netanyahu, but notified that lack of progress before the end of 2009 will cause the West to adopt new and harsher sanctions. And this will subject the unity across the Atlantic Ocean to a serious stress test. And it will not be enough to prevent Israel to adopt a pre-emptive military strike. Our Foreign minister, even if moved by the best intentions, stepped on the land-mine we have delineated above: a land-mine which is luckily still just metaphorical.

* Note: the Farnesina is the building where the Italian foreign ministry is located, and with the name Farnesina the ministry itself is commonly designated.


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