Justice at Nuremberg

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

Some months ago, serious consideration was given to banning Iran from soccer’s World Cup in Germany as part of a diplomatic package of sanctions meant to isolate the mullahs. But next Monday in Nuremberg, Iran will play Mexico, aiming to reach the cup’s second round for the first time in its history.

Arriving yesterday in the northern German city of Friedrichshafen, the Iranian players were welcomed by the mayor, who expressed his “hope the team would emerge victorious,” according to the Iranian news agency IRNA.

International sporting events are meant to promote world harmony, but from Hitler’s Olympics in 1936 to the 1972 Munich massacre, Germany has had a poor track record as a host. According to the Israeli Web site Ynet, Israel recently warned European and American intelligence that Hezbollah sleeper cells in Germany, guided by the Iranian-backed master terrorist Imad Mugniyah, might attempt to carry out attacks during the World Cup.

Even if Iran’s quest for cup glory is benign, the mullahs still stand to gain. For mystics like President Ahmadinejad, who met the team on Saturday before it left Tehran, merely qualifying for the cup is seen as a sign the Islamic Republic is on the right path. On this account, the mostly anti-mullah Iranian public, which has rioted over soccer defeats, may agree. And so, instead of isolation, the mullahs receive world recognition.

On Friday, Secretary-General Annan placed a phone call to Mr. Ahmadinejad, urging him to consider seriously an incentive package expected to be delivered today in Tehran by the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana. Mr. Annan’s call was consistent with his policy of promoting dialogue, a Turtle Bay official told me yesterday.

Turtle Bay-inspired dialogue is on the march. Last week, following a groundbreaking visit by Mr. Annan’s envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, the emboldened junta in Burma announced that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi would remain in prison. Continued engagement with Khartoum has only intensified Darfur’s genocide. In Tel Aviv, left-wing demonstrators demanded negotiations with Hamas over the weekend, convinced they could solve the Arab-Israeli dispute.

The United Nations is premised on the notion that all regimes deserve a seat at the table. A former weapons inspector and nuclear watchdog chief, Hans Blix, told me last week that he disagreed with the National Rifle Association’s maxim that it is people, not guns, that kill. Mr. Blix said he hopes to rid the whole world of weapons of mass destruction, and sees no particular evil in Iran’s push to build a nuclear weapon.

Rooted in an intellectual tradition that rejected moral equivalence with the Soviets, the Bush administration is far from such wide-eyed thinking. Its policy reversal was perhaps aimed at calling Iran’s bluff and demonstrating that talks are impossible. But while Americans may be good at poker, the Iranians have proved better at haggling.

Mr. Annan urged the Iranian president not to prejudge the incentive package. Sure enough, Mr. Ahmadinejad told a crowd yesterday, “We won’t be in haste to judge.” But he added, “We are after negotiations, but fair and just negotiations. They must be without any conditions.”

The American and European diplomats’ precondition for negotiations with Iran is that it must first abandon its development of nuclear fuel, under threat of punitive action if it persists.

But in a speech broadcast on state run radio yesterday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, revived the threat that the “shipment of energy from this region will be seriously jeopardized” if Iran does not get its way. Can a Russian or Chinese demand that America drop its precondition for entering negotiations be far behind?

Those who believe it is best to engage Iran rather than threaten it stress the nuances in the mullahs’ pronouncements, and call for more encouragement of the “moderates” in the Iranian regime. But by doing so, besides ignoring Mr. Ahmadinejad’s genocidal calls for wiping countries off the map, they miss an important group that needs empowering.

The Iranian people might have made a bold move to positively influence their destiny had they seen their regime banned from the World Cup or even suffered from sanctions. Instead, the Iranians will cheer for their team, and all we can hope for is some measure of justice at Nuremberg. Go, Mexico.

The New York Sun

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