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THE INDEX — January 29, 2010

Jonathan Power: Libya's Lesson for Iran

It is rapidly becoming a truism that the Middle East problems are so intertwined that they must be all negotiated into tolerance and disarmament at more or less the same time—not sequentially as before.

Still, it is better in an analysis such as this to single out Iran, because if Iran can be got right then a lot of the other dominoes will be easier to fit into place. It is Iran that Israel fears most. It is Iran that has so much influence on Hamas. It is Iran that can contribute significantly to peace in Iraq and Lebanon. And to discuss Iran we must talk about Libya. Libya only a few years ago had many of the same problems as Iran today. Not only was it on the cusp of producing nuclear weapons—it was a terrorist state writ large. The downing over Lockerbie, Scotland, of a U.S. airliner was only the apogee of a continuous line of terrorist activity over a 30-year period. Yet, by careful diplomacy, its teeth were gradually withdrawn and, in September of last year, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a visit to Tripoli, declared that the rapprochement with Libya was ”an historic event.” Former Vice-President Dick Cheney likes to assert that it was Iraq that did the trick; that Muammar el-Qaddafi finally got scared by American sabre-rattling. ”Five days after we captured Saddam Hussein, Qaddafi came forward and announced that he was going to surrender all his nuclear materials to the United States.” The record suggests otherwise. Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage flatly contradicted his boss. Libya's concessions ”didn't have anything to do” with Hussein's capture, he said.

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