Don’t punish your friends

The United States representative’s words in the Mail & Guardian a few weeks ago — “this is not hard stuff: Iran knows what it has to do” — are astonishing in their brevity and arrogance.

To stride around the world stage twisting the arms of First World countries with robust, solid economies is one thing, but for the US (whose companies are ironically the masters of circumventing their own government’s sanctions) to expect South Africa, an emerging Brics powerhouse but a developing country nonetheless, to suddenly cut up to an estimated 29% of its total crude-oil supply in response to their demands warrants a response.

Not least of all, responses should come from ordinary South Africans already struggling with the rising cost of living, for it’s the consumer who will be expected to pay the price as the country lurches into a potential energy crisis.

As an economist told the M&G, one consequence of using an alternative supply such as that of Saudi Arabia would be “infrastructure changes”. But crude-oil choices aren’t simply a question of choosing sunflower versus olive oil to fry your chips in: modifications will involve massive state spending to cope with the changes. Will the US be paying for that? Will it subsidising our costs at the filling station? Or is it our cross to bear so American consciences can be soothed?

Then there’s the issue of “paying the premium price” for oil sourced elsewhere — meaning the fuel price will to increase yet again. The world’s policeman would no doubt argue it’s a small price to pay for the world’s security and a nuclear-free world. Oh, and for the sake of human rights. Just like those observed against the Palestinian people of the Gaza Strip by that other possessor of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, Israel.

Hardly dissuaded by its military failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US war clouds are looming again — this time over the skies of Iran. Without a shred of evidence (except grainy seven-year-old satellite images of questionable origin), the US has successfully scared the world into believing Iran’s Islamic Republic is pursuing a nuclear-weapons programme.

And, in this theatre of the absurd, the accused is presumed guilty until proven innocent.

Iran has regularly hosted inspectors from the international nuclear watchdog agency, in the country to inspect its facilities. But this will not sate the US’s thirst for war. The judge and jury here is the only country in history to actually use a nuclear weapon — against innocent men, women and babies.

Despite the hand-on-heart assurances that the US is “continuing to have discussions” with other nations on the issue, the subtext is clear: toe the line or you’ll face the financial consequences.

The neo-colonialists (sorry, special partners) who now occupy the US embassy in Pretoria aren’t fooling anyone.

Barely a week after our Minister of Energy Dipuo Peters told reporters the country was looking at cost-effective alternatives, another deputy minister, Ebrahim Ebrahim, said that “no Iranian oil was flowing” into the country. Either our country’s geologists have found oil under some rocks in the Karoo, or somebody, as the Americans like to say, has been “leaned on”.

And who could blame them? Trade between the US and South Africa accounts for billions of dollars annually. As does that between South Africa and Iran, incidentally — but, unlike South Africa’s trade with the US, the trade flows both ways. Several big South African companies have heavily invested in Iran. Our companies haven’t really been able to crack the US market, except for a couple of apples here and there.

The wider issue, though, is not whether South Africa should say “yes, baas” to the US.

The country’s leadership has shown, against all odds and despite harsh criticism, that it follows an independent foreign policy, one based on non-interventionism, dialogue and non-aggression. It has courageously stood its ground when pressured to support illegal regime change (in Libya) and to “do something” about neighboring states such as Zimbabwe, when negotiation and dialogue will continue to be the best answer.

Now it is being asked to chuck away a quarter of the country’s oil supply to suit US whims.

No doubt it will make the right decision.

Today it is Iran who is the “threat to world peace”. Tomorrow it will be another country with which the US is engaged in a geopolitical fight. Mediating the crisis over Iran’s alleged nuclear programme demands not just dialogue but that the US’s claims against Iran are scrutinised before any decisions of such magnitude are made.

Seyed Abdullah Hoseini is an Iranian academic and chair of the South Africa-Iran Friendship Association

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