VOICE OF ZAA NKWETA: What do growing relations between Russia and Iran mean for US influence in the Middle East? Senior Editor Paul Jay talks with Aijaz Ahmad, Senior News Analyst at the Real News.
October 17, 2007
GEORGE W. BUSH, US PRESIDENT: We’ve got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel. So I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Aijaz, when he says “I’ve told people if you want to avoid World War III,” I don’t know what other people he could be talking about except President Putin. This is a shot across the bow of Putin?
AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: I am amazed how casually the president of the United States can threaten World War III, as if it’s just round the corner and the US would just unleash it if the Iranis acquire the knowledge, the technology, to enrich uranium at all. The irresponsibility of a statement of that kind is the first thing that strikes me about this World War III [inaudible].
JAY: And is one left with the impression, a spontaneous remark or something that was planned before the press conference?
AHMAD: That is a minor distinction, because words coming out of the mouth of the US president are words of the US president.
JAY: And the rhetoric is heating up to Cold War levels.
AHMAD: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. There’s a way of saying that World War III’s already on. And this war is a war over resources, especially energy resources. And it is taking very much the form that the so-called Cold War used to have. Many of us outside the West were always offended by this phrase Cold War, because it was “cold” only between the Soviet Union and the United States. For lots of us in Asia, Africa, Latin America, it was not cold at all; it was very hot. And you’re witnessing the same kind of division now, in which a cold war is escalating between the United States and Russia; whereas real hot wars, lethal hot wars are multiplying.
JAY: With hundreds of thousands of people being killed.
AHMAD: Hundreds of thousands of people being killed directly, millions of people suffering, and so on. And if you have an invasion of Iran, it will be historically unprecedented in this level of destruction and ferocity.
JAY: I mean, the last few months, we’ve heard accusation of Putin starting a new Cold War, from the time when Bush said—I think it was a quote something like “I’ve seen into his heart, and this is a friend of mine.” The language Putin has been using is extremely strong. I don’t think it’s any less than what someone like Hugo Chavez has been saying.
AHMAD: Well, it began with his speech in Munich. And Putin blasted the United States as acting irresponsibly, acting without consulting the international community, as posing a threat to world peace. And all the heads of the state of EU were completely taken aback by that speech. Since then, Putin seems to have taken a very different kind of position on the global strategic matters. This I think has to do both with Russia’s growing strength in its internal economy, in its greater confidence in its relationship with China, with the Caspian Sea Basin countries. On the other hand, the kind of decline in US strategic power in the world, and thirdly, the kind of talk that is coming out of Washington about invasion of Iran in the near future. So these three elements I believe account for a very considerable shift in Putin’s rhetoric, certainly. He said categorically that no state of the region can be used for aggression against any other state. And that is referring directly to Azerbaijan, where the United States is wanting to build big forces for intervention in Iran.
JAY: Why was Moscow and Beijing being rather acquiescent as the United States put the pressure increasingly on Iran, given how serious Chinese and Russian interest in Iran is? Putin has come out in some ways swinging in the last few weeks.
AHMAD: China in a sense is more consistent. The Chinese position, which they often reiterate, is that the transition inside China from a backward country to an advanced country is going to take 20 years or so, and during this period China will not take any major role in global politics, it will not act as a global power, because it is not. Russia has been, actually, quite unpredictable. In the run-up to the Iraq war, Russia kept making all kinds of rhetorical noises. But when it came to actually doing something in the Security Council, it did not. On the question of Iran, it has made all kinds of noises—and not only noises; has provided Iran its most sophisticated defense weaponry.
JAY: Anti-missile technology.
AHMAD: Iran has actually not only anti-missile technology but good array of state-of-the-art missiles from Russia which would help defend Iran against a naval attack by the United States.
JAY: Is Putin’s position, the statements he made, and the fact that Russia is more or less saying “hands off Iran” in terms of any kind of military action, is that enough to stop the US from taking such action?
AHMAD: That is very hard, again, to tell. Everybody tried to prevent the United States from going into Iraq, or at least major powers tried to. They went unilaterally. How unilaterally they go into Iran we don’t know. They will have to make a very different kind of decision, which is that Iran is not Iraq, because Iraqi society had been profoundly damaged by the whole period of the sanctions, which had lasted for about 12 years by the time the invasion actually took place. Iran is quite different from that.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.